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Do we subconsciously sabotage our dog's health?

Do we subconsciously sabotage our dog's health?

An interesting thought on an important topic

Today, I would like to tie into last week's newsletter on the subject of Why I love being an “undercover agent”.

For most of us, the year 2020 has required extra effort to keep our spirits up. The pandemic, the elections, the economy, fires, weather, and a lack of opportunity to see those we love and care about, have all taken their toll.

Our world has been shaken, but it is also an opportunity to see how strong and resilient we are, and if our immune system is able to "weather the storm" or not.  

Last week, I touched on the topic of achieving our goals, whether they are for our own life or the goal of building happier and healthier lives for our dogs. There are 7.8 billion people on this planet, and each one of us belong to one of the following three categories:

1. People who have goals and dreams, try to achieve them, but repeatedly fail.

2. People who have achieved their goals and dreams, but subconsciously sabotage them.

3. People who no longer sabotage their lives, and love helping others achieve their goals and dreams.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention luck, even though luck may play a role in some instances, but it is relatively rare. More often children have not been taught how to form the right habits and build up the stamina to overcome obstacles. Fear of failing also plays a huge role, and only those who are willing to take risks and make mistakes reach their goals. 

I need to emphasize that people from group 3 are not any better than the others from groups 1 and 2, they have just figured out how to stop sabotaging their lives. They know that mistakes are part of success. 

How does this apply to dogs?

At first glance, it may seem that the health of our dogs is just a matter of good or bad luck too. In fact, genes are only responsible for about 15% of their expression and the rest depends greatly upon epigenetics, which are the sum of internal and external factors outside of DNA that makes a particular gene turn on or off. 

Working as a vet for more than 30 years, I have had countless opportunities to witness self-sabotage, and would like to share this one example: 

“John” adopted a healthy happy Labrador Retriever puppy, "Bailey", that he always wanted and dreamed of. 

As time progressed, Bailey became obsessed with ball and frisbee chasing, and John had no idea that Bailey’s addiction would lead to skin and back problems, which started happening when Bailey was barely 3 years old.

At the time, a well-meaning and caring friend told John that he may want to ease up on too much ball and frisbee play, but John didn’t want to hear any of it because he didn’t know what he didn’t know. He unknowingly sabotaged Bailey’s health by continuing to throw the ball and frisbee for hours on end. After all, it was fun!

Bailey came down with a severe skin infection and hot spots in the lumbar area, he also showed signs of stiffness and slowing down. John didn’t understand that these symptoms were connected and preventable if he had listened to his friend who knew that skin problems and hot spots are often connected with too much of one type of exercise.

Being a responsible dog lover, he took Bailey to the vet as soon as the hotspots showed up. The vet looked at Bailey, saw stiffness and skin problems, and then prescribed antibiotics and painkillers, which is the conventional approach to treatment.

It took only a few days for Bailey to recover, but the improvement didn’t last long. John decided to see another vet, who also prescribed antibiotics and painkillers. This time, Bailey’s condition didn’t improve much, and disappointed, frustrated, and worried, John decided to see vet No 3 who prescribed steroids and stronger painkillers.

From the outside, Bailey seemed better at first, but as time progressed, his skin worsened again and he didn’t seem to have the spark he used to have. More vet visits and thousands of dollars later, Bailey was eventually diagnosed with kidney disease and elevated liver enzymes, which were caused by all of the painkillers and steroids

The problems were never really resolved and the frequent rounds of antibiotics and immunosuppressive steroids took their toll on his body. Bailey’s liver and kidney failure progressed and John had to say goodbye to Bailey when he was just eight years young! 

But Bailey’s life wasn’t lost in vain. Despite John’s heartbreak, he was now open to listening to his friend, and also found a website where he could learn more about the connection between skin disease and excessive one-sided exercise

When he adopted his next dog “Bodie”, he knew that he would not repeat the same mistakes again…


I have witnessed stories similar to John’s a thousand times over, and sharing it with you helped to release my concern for many dogs out there, and also show you a practical example of “subconscious” sabotage of a dog’s health. 

I am certain John loved Bailey, he just didn’t know what he didn’t know, and at the time wasn’t open to hearing a well-intended suggestion from his friend. 

Is there any way we can prevent making mistakes with our dogs?

You know we can’t but if we keep our minds open and continue learning, we get better at making the right decisions. Similar to John’s case with his second dog Bodie, people usually learn and do much better with their second and third dog. As a result, these dogs usually live longer and healthier lives.

What you can do to skip learning the hard way.

This is actually my favourite part that I also apply when it comes to Pax, my dog. You can avoid making mistakes by reading and learning how to prevent health problems, choosing a vet you trust and STICKING with them. 

To improve your odds of choosing the right vet, read their online reviews and read this article on how to choose the right vet.

Is it ok to ask for a second opinion? 

Yes, there is a right time and place for second opinions. For example, when my mother’s doctor missed her abscessed gallbladder, I knew something was not right and insisted on getting a second opinion. If I didn’t she would have died. 

I can’t put enough emphasis on the importance of ongoing self-education and learning, because while we need to respect professionals, we shouldn’t blindly trust anyone simply because they have a medical degree. 

It is impossible not to make mistakes in life, but acquiring the right knowledge can propel you and your dog directly into group 3, helping you both live a healthy and abundant life together.


© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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