Health and Longevity Course for Dogs Chapter 10
I love how real-life situations bring me the ideas for each chapter of the Health and Longevity Course for Dogs.
Just recently, I went for a dinner with a friend who asked me how life was when I lived in Europe, what the family structure was like and who is in charge in heterosexual marriages.
I thought for a moment and remembered a saying that answered the question perfectly. In Europe, a man may be called the head of the family, but a woman is the neck that moves the head!
The idea that ‘the neck moves the head’ definitely expresses the dynamics of an average European family very well. Women often enjoy a dominant position. They are the ‘generals,’ feminine yet strong, grounded and decisive. There may be some exceptions, but typically, when the matriarchs are in charge there is more love, peace and order in the family.
A story I recently heard confirms the above. Women from a Mexican village in a region with a very high crime rate one day decided enough was enough. They chased out the local drug lords, corrupt government officials and police to establish a local self-government that made their village the safest in the whole region. No drug lords, no corruption, just common-sense order.
The neck is the key to your dog's strong health
Good health reminds me of a matriarchal family structure. Some people believe the brain and the head are the center of the body, but that is not exactly true. Let’s think about a patient with a severe head trauma. Essential life functions still go on even when the brain is severely damaged and the patient is in a coma. The heart, lungs, digestion and other internal organs still function normally mainly because nerves in the brainstem and cervical and thoracic spine regulate the most life-essential functions.
This system is called the autonomous nervous system, or ANS.
If the brain is damaged, the body may survive, but with a damaged ANS, the patient will die.
For many years now, I've been observing the importance of the neck and cervical spine in health and medicine. The more I learn, the more focused I am on the neck when it comes to healing and disease prevention.
In previous parts of the Health and Longevity Course for Dogs, I mentioned energy, blood and nerve flow in the body. The neck is super important for flow to the head and also the rest of the body. Imagine spokes of energy that radiate away from the neck to the head and the body.
To summarize, the neck is a super important ‘control switch panel’ for the whole body.
What does electric circuitry have in common with your dog's neck?
If you have ever watched an electrician or a telephone company technician putting together a switch panel, you know how complex it is. They are a hodge-podge of colour-coded wires that makes ones’ head spin and when it comes to your dog's neck it is a thousand times more complex!
It conducts nerve flow to ensure organ function and also contains guides, and shields many important structures.
Parasympathetic nervous system
This system is the reason you don’t need to worry about your dog's heart beating and stomach digesting food. Instead, the parasympathetic nervous system looks after many of the body's functions without anyone’s worry or input. Imagine if you needed to monitor your dog's life functions 24/7!
Parasympathetic nerve fibres that regulate the body's essential organs, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, intestines and the liver are integrated into the vagus nerve. This nerve originates at the base of the skull and follows the neck. Based on its location, any neck injury or pressure from a collar when a dog is pulling and choking can have a profound effect on your dog's organs.
You can see the parasympathetic nervous system influence in this chart.
Now you can see why you need to be concerned if your dog is a puller or has a choke chain or prong collar on his or her neck.
Just remember the pinched hose principle in Chapter 7.
There is more to your dog’s neck
As if this wasn't enough, there are many other functions that are dependent on a healthy unobstructed flow through the neck:
1. Front leg movement and sensation
Front leg nerves originate in between the fourth and fifth cervical and the first thoracic vertebrae. This is why so many dogs with collar and neck injuries suffer from front leg lameness and paw licking.
The thymus is important, especially in the early development of your dog, as it is responsible for the development of T-cell (T-lymphocytes), which play a crucial role in fighting ‘foreign invaders’ in the body.
The thymus is most active in puppies. Puppies often pull on their leash and as a result, thymus function and the immune system are often affected. This is another reason why a puppy should wear a harness and never be on a leash attached to a collar.
This is the time where you either gain or lose your dog's precious years of life by causing or preventing early-age damage.
3. Thyroid gland - your dog's metabolic gas pedal
Many experts have written articles and books on hypothyroidism and often point out that hypothyroidism can be caused by genetic predisposition, processed foods and excessive vaccination, which is true. However, not many of them mention neck and collar injuries as a primary cause and I hope this will change.
The thyroid gland can be compared to the throttle or the gas pedal in a car - it optimizes the speed of metabolism the same way your car's gas pedal regulates speed. If the metabolism is too slow due to low thyroid hormone, it leads to hypothyroidism. If the metabolism is too high, it leads to hyperthyroidism, which is more common in cats than dogs.
Unfortunately, the thyroid gland is located exactly at the spot where the collar presses on the front portion of the neck. Repeated pulling and jerking cause serious trauma to the thyroid gland, which causes inflammation. As soon as the immune system registers inflammation, it starts removing inflamed tissues cells, which leads to a lack of thyroid hormone production.
4. Trachea and esophagus - Two pipes that like freedom
The trachea and esophagus are two more structures in the neck that deserve protection. Their location also makes them susceptible to injuries from collars. The two most common problems are megaesophagus (lack of muscle tone and esophagus enlargement) and collapsing trachea, especially in smaller dogs. Think of a ripped plastic vacuum cleaner hose. If you try to pull something using a vacuum cleaner hose, the pressure will eventually make it collapse. One does not need a medical school degree to see that a collar should only be used for attaching an ID tag and not to control dogs, especially those who pull or are high strung.
5. Jugular vein and carotid artery
In Chapter 9 of the Health and Longevity Course for Dogs, I asked you to see what it feels like to be a dog on a leash, by surrounding your neck with your hands and pulling.
I'm sure it didn't feel good and to be honest, I admire these little guys. Despite their discomfort when yanking and pulling on their leash, they are such good sports and still wag their tail.
But obstruction and repeated trauma of these two major blood vessels can cause many health conditions located around the head.
This is no joke
The energy, blood and nerve flow in your dog’s neck is super important to their health. You now know that untreated injury, the effect of collars especially choke, prong and electric shock collars, and even the regular ones, can create serious life-long consequences and shorten your dog's lifespan.
The effects of such trauma are not only local, but affect the whole body, including life-essential organs such as the heart, the lungs, the stomach, the liver, the guts and more.
The vagus nerve originates at the brainstem and passes through the neck to get to your dog's vital organs. It does not take a genius to see that collars are a bad idea and we need to tell more of our dog loving friends about this.
If you see people frustrated with their dog's health problems and the doctors are having a hard time reaching a final diagnosis, it is quite possible that the origin of the problem lies in the dog's neck.
What's the solution?
Only dogs that never pull or jump forward can be on a leash attached to a collar and even then I would only use a shock-absorbing leash to reduce the chances of an injury. The rest of them should be on a well-fitted harness, which I will be writing about in the next chapter.
I also recommend regular check-ups by a canine chiropractor, physiotherapist or a veterinarian who is trained in spinal alignment techniques.
What about dog trainers recommending prong and shock collars?
If you have any trainers telling you the use of a choke and prong collar is okay or if they teach you to jerk on the leash, talk to them or choose another trainer. I see some trainers are adamant that using collars for corrections is okay. In light of what you just learned this can't be true.
When I started writing articles about neck injuries and collar trauma a few years ago, I took the harsh comments and emails from the pro-choke/prong and e-collar crowd hard.
But then I realized that it takes time for people to understand why a leash attached to a collar of a dog that pulls or is high energy is risky. I hope this chapter helps you understand why and that you will help spread the word.
Thanks for sharing!.
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