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Keeping ranch dogs healthy

Aimee Robinson for Progressive Cattle Published on 22 January 2021
Ranch dog

Our dogs are often by our side as our best companions, watching over us without even being asked. They selflessly just do, and they are more than deserving of the same protection and care in return.

He went to open the gate toward another pasture on the family’s south Texas ranch, and his dog Hilda, an Australian shepherd, wouldn’t let him take another step – soon, he learned why. Underneath a tumbleweed-like shrub, known as barba de chivo, was a rattlesnake. “Hilda kept me there long enough that when I made my way to the gate, the rattlesnake was gone. She was protecting me,” recalls Omar Hinojosa, president of Valley Vet Supply. “She was always with me and was my second set of eyes, watching over me – we had some very protective mama cows. Our dogs are always there for us, and we owe it to them to shield them from any potential health risks.”

For key dog health advice, we turn to Paul DeMars, DVM, DABVP, clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who says that, especially for our ranch dogs, “The biggest risks are parasites and tickborne illnesses, in which most are preventable. We have some great, easy-to-use and cost-effective preventatives for heartworm, flea and tick control, and parasites.”

Risk No. 1: Heartworm disease

Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease affecting a number of mammals. DeMars warns, “With heartworms being spread by mosquitoes, dogs that spend more time outdoors will get more mosquito bites.” Heartworm risk remains throughout the year, as mosquitoes will shelter from the colder months indoors or in other protected areas.

DeMars says, “Every dog should be on a year-round heartworm preventative.” Heartworm preventatives can cost an average of $10 per month compared to heartworm treatment, which can cost more than $1,000 or the priceless cost of a dog’s life. Make sure dogs never miss an annual heartworm test, and keep them on a heartworm pill to protect against the risk.

Unlike other worms that are detected in a fecal sample, heartworms are detected through a blood test in a yearly, scheduled veterinary exam. Ensure heartworm testing is included in your pet’s annual exam with your veterinarian, as the earlier heartworm disease is detected, the better the chances for survival should your dog test positive for heartworms.

Early on, most pets do not demonstrate symptoms, but as heartworm disease progresses, infected dogs may develop a persistent cough, fatigue, decreased appetite and weight loss. Dogs with increased numbers of heartworms are at risk for cardiovascular collapse, as the worms suddenly block blood flow within the heart.

Risk No. 2: Fleas and ticks

Fleas can transmit harmful bacterial pathogens and tapeworms when ingested during a pet’s self-grooming. Fleas also cause anemia and intense itching in pets. Some dogs may also develop flea allergy dermatitis, which results from an allergic reaction to flea saliva.

Like fleas, ticks also transmit harmful bacterial pathogens. One of the most dangerous and common tick-borne infectious diseases in dogs includes ehrlichia infection, which can cause lameness, eye issues such as blindness, neurological problems, weight loss and swollen limbs. “The most commonly recognized sign is low blood platelets (colorless blood cells that help blood clot), which then cause bleeding if the platelets are low enough,” warns DeMars. Among other diseases, ticks also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

It could take as long as 21 days for a pet to show signs of disease. In the case of Lyme disease, it can take as many as five months before signs become recognizable. Watch pets closely for changes in behavior or appetite if there is any concern they have been bitten by a tick.

Common tick- or flea-borne disease symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Enlarged spleen or lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Gum discoloration
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling or stiffness of joints

There are several types of flea and tick control products, including oral or topical medications, powders and sprays, collars or shampoos and dips.

Risk No. 3: Intestinal parasites

There are many different types of worms in the environment that can affect our dogs. Regularly deworming with a wormer specifically developed for dogs is the safest option to relieve their parasite burden. Learn about the four most common worms in dogs below.

1. Hookworms attach themselves to a dog’s intestines and generate thousands of eggs within days. Your dog can come in contact with them walking through contaminated grass and soil. Signs can include diarrhea, weight loss, poor coat, slow growth and dehydration.

2. Roundworms thrive in contaminated soil and feces, and are often found in young puppies as well as adults. Signs include diarrhea, blood in stools, weight loss, poor hair coat, vomiting, lethargy, swollen stomachs and even colic.

3. Whipworms reside in infected soil and especially present risks when dogs dig in the dirt. Signs can include severe diarrhea, weight loss, bloody or mucus-covered stools, blood loss, dehydration, anemia or worse.

4. Tapeworms can be seen caught in a dog’s fur around their rear. Often, they are transmitted through fleas, as the flea ingests the worm larvae and then the dog ingests the flea; they’re also transmitted through infected soil. Signs can include diarrhea or bloody stool, change in appetite, poor coat and weight loss, abdominal pain and scooting (less common).

DeMars also shares the importance of arthritis acknowledgement and prevention. Watch for signs of arthritis like limping, abnormal posture, reduced activity or mobility, decreased muscle mass or abnormal grooming, as arthritic pets often lick, bite or chew on painful areas.

“The older pets get, the more likely they are to have arthritis problems; however, arthritis can occur earlier in life and happen at any age,” says DeMars.

Do not wait until your dog has a serious arthritis problem to discuss the issue with your veterinarian, urges DeMars. “Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding they have to wait, but if an animal is no longer moving or rising as well as they once were, there are effective medications their vet can prescribe to help with mobility issues. Even if they think it’s just normal behavior from aging, like a change of attitude, appetite or mobility – bring it up with your veterinarian. It never hurts to say, ‘What do you think about this, Doc?’”

Special diets can support aging, arthritic dogs; joint supplements also help improve mobility. “We’re lucky to have many more tools available today than when I was growing up so we can give our dogs the best in preventive health care,” says Hinojosa. “We can take steps to keep them healthy and happy so they can live out as many days as possible alongside us on the ranch. They are part of the family.”  end mark

PHOTO: Ranch dog. Photo by Paul Marchant.

Visit Valley Vet for more information.

Aimee Robinson
  • Aimee Robinson

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  • Valley Vet Supply
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