Dr Renee was appointed the Holistic Veterinary Expert for Dog’s Life Magazine in 2011 and regularly answers readers’ holistic veterinary questions.

The Natural Vets - Dr Renee

Here are a few of the questions and answered that have been published over the years:


Q: Hi Dr Renee, I have a Husky and recently have discovered his breath absolutely stinks! Do you have any advice on what I can do to improve the situation? – Elise, via email

A: ‘Halitosis’ (or stinky breath as it is more commonly known) is a common condition in our urban pets, but is certainly not normal.  A dog’s breath is never going to smell like roses, but it shouldn’t knock you down when you open their mouth.  I would take your dog to your Vet, as it sounds like he needs a thorough dental assessment to check for any problematic areas in his mouth (and a THOROUGH assessment is not always possible in an awake patient unfortunately – sedation and dental x-rays are sometimes needed).  Crowded teeth, malocclusions, oral tumours, and dental disease can all cause stinky breath, and problems can be happening BELOW the gumline, without any evidence of an issue on the visible crowns of the teeth – hence dental x-rays can be an important tool when looking for disease.  Poor dental hygiene, digestion issues, or inappropriate diets can all also cause odours in the mouth, as can diseases like diabetes.
So your first stop is your Vet. If there are any problem areas in the mouth, then a dental assessment and treatment under anaesthetic will be necessary, but be aware that even after a professional cleaning, tartar will start to build up on the teeth again within 24 hours.  This means that an effective HOME dental hygiene program that is consistently implemented is crucial in maintaining dental health.  The gold standard would be daily tooth brushing, offering dental chew toys or treats designed to clean the teeth on a daily basis, and using a mouth rinse proven to slow tartar development like Maxiguard.  Some pet owners also use natural products like essential oil based rinses and charcoal powder when brushing, with great results.
Make sure your dog is on a raw, natural diet that is appropriately balanced and combined (for example, don’t feed starches like rice with animal proteins, or you will get fermentation in the gut, which can contribute to stinky breath).  If you feed bones, be sure to follow safe bone feeding guidelines, by choosing soft, meaty, edible bones like chicken carcasses, not dense weight-bearing bones like marrow bones which wear and shatter teeth, and supervise your dog’s chewing behaviour.  Do not offer chew items that come with a great risk of choking or dental damage, such as marrow bones, hard deer antlers, or rawhide.  And rinse your pet’s mouth or clean their teeth after they finish their bone, if you don’t want the smell of decomposing meat to linger…


Q: Hi Dr Renee. My five-year-old Cavvie, Canada, seems like she has some swelling around the eye area. Do you have any idea what could be the cause of this and how it should be treated? – Karly, via email

A: I have recently treated a Pomeranian with a similar issue. He had been treated for a number of weeks by the referring Vet with both topical and oral antibiotics as well as oral prednisolone for possible allergies with no great effect. His eyes were itchy and he would use his paws to rub around them, and there was redness, swelling and tearing discharge present.  He was not itchy anywhere else, and the only event that preceded the onset of symptoms was that his owner (who he was very attached to) had started a full-time job and was away from home a lot more.  The only other current problem he had was that he was quite anxious and suffered from some separation anxiety.
We discussed many possible causes including allergies (both food and environmental), mites like Demodex, fungal infections, and local eye conditions such as blepharitis (which is basically inflamed eyelids and is usually caused by a hypersensitivity to bacteria.)
I started this little guy on two different Chinese herbal formulas, one to address the inflammation around his eyes, and one to support his emotional sensitivity and strengthen him.  I also prescribed a diluted essential oil eye spritz to settle the inflammation and give him some relief from the itching, and a homeopathic remedy to address his emotional weakness and feeling of being forsaken.  We discussed at length pack dynamics and causes of stress in dogs, and how to implement practices at home that would instill peace, calm and confidence into their furry baby, especially when left without human company (he did have a female doggy friend).
In less than a month his eye symptoms had resolved.
My advice to you would be to get your dog checked for any underlying causes of the swelling, including Demodex mites and fungal infections, and to keep an ‘allergy diary’ if there are any other symptoms such as sneezing or paw licking or itching or ear discharges or skin rashes.  A biopsy of the eyelids is sometimes required to determine the cause, or allergy testing may be indicated.  Holistic therapies can be very powerful to resolve conditions like these, and you may want to consider consulting with a Holistic Vet.


Q: To DOGSLife, I would like a pet but my partner is really quite allergic to dogs. Do you have any advice on which breed would be best suited to a family such as ours? – Julia, via email

A: Hi Julia. When looking to adopt a dog into your family, it is important to put a lot of thought into which breed is going to be the best fit for your lifestyle, and in your case which pet is least likely to cause allergy symptoms is an important consideration.  Dander, attached to pet fur, is the trigger for most allergies to pets, and some breeds have been developed that have a non-shedding coat and produce less dander, and so are considered to be ‘hypoallergenic’.  These breeds are generally a better choice for allergy-prone humans, and include Poodles and Poodle cross-breeds such as the Groodle and Labradoodle, Bichon Frise, Maltese Terriers, Schnauzers, and less common breeds like the Wheaten Terrier, Portugese Water Dog and the hairless Chinese Crested!  Funnily enough the Afghan Hound with its beautiful long coat is also a hypoallergenic choice.
When researching breed choices, take into consideration other lifestyle factors as well to determine which breed will best suit all of your family’s needs, such as exercise requirements, amount of space required, whether they are very vocal, how well they cope on their own (most dogs prefer company most of the time being pack animals), what they are like around children and so forth.  In my experience, Groodles and Wheaten Terriers are lovely dogs with beautiful temperaments, but you may also find the perfect fit at your local animal shelter.  Maltese Terriers are one of the most common dogs put up for rehoming!  Wherever possible, ‘adopt, don’t shop’ is a great motto to go by as there are many dogs out there looking for the perfect home.  Greyhounds are certainly in excess supply and make wonderful pets for many families. They are not ‘hypoallergenic’ as such, but due to their short coat with little to no undercoat, many allergy sufferers find they are less affected by Greys than other dogs.
With any allergy sufferer, there is often an adjustment time getting used to the new allergen in your home, and after the initial adjustment period symptoms should improve.


Q: Dear DOGSLife. My six-year-old Siberian cat, Goblin, has started to drink a lot more water than usual. She’s also urinating pretty frequently (probably because she’s drinking so much water!). Do you have any advice on whether this is a problem and what the reason behind it could be? – Ben, via email

A: An increase in urination and thirst usually go hand-in-hand, and can certainly be the first sign of a disease process starting.  Anything from diabetes, to an overactive thyroid, to kidney issues, and Cushing’s disease in dogs (which is very rare in cats) alter an animal’s ability to concentrate urine, and will cause changes to urination and thirst patterns.  Bladder inflammation and infection can also change urination patterns in cats.  Changes to the diet such as the inclusion of a higher proportion of dry food, and stress factors in the home can also increase thirst, which in turn causes an increase in urine production.
A vet check would certainly be advisable, and if possible try and catch a urine sample and take that along with you when you take your cat in.  This is most easily achieved by keeping the cat confined inside for a 24 hour period with access to water and a litter tray that has only a few strips or newspaper or other non-absorbent material in it.  Keep the urine in a clean glass jar in the fridge and get it to the Vet for analysis as soon as possible within the following 24 hour period.


Q: Dear DOGSLife.  My puppy keeps peeing in all the wrong places like on tyres and on all my husband’s stuff. We are finding it hard to solve this problem. Is there some way we can train him to pee in the right places? Thanks – Sanja, via email

A: Toilet training takes patience and commitment and relies on consistent observation and positive reinforcement.  This means observing your puppy closely for their toilet cues, such as waking after a nap, sniffing around the ground or looking to squat.  When you notice these cues, take them to the place you want them to toilet without any fuss so as not to stress them, then block them with your body so they cannot leave until they have toileted.  Follow toileting action immediately with a positive reward that motivates your dog – some dogs are motivated by food, others by cuddles and praise, and others by games such as a tug game.  Also be sure to prevent the puppy from eliminating in the wrong areas as much as possible – for example if the pup has a preference for weeing on fabric/clothes, make sure all clothes/towels are kept up off the floor, remove rugs, and keep carpeted areas off-limits.  Ensure adequate toileting opportunities through the day and night and reward EVERY toileting action in the right place.  Don’t fuss when the pup gets it wrong though as reprimands such as yelling or ‘rubbing their nose in it’ will only cause stress, confusion and anxiety and won’t actually teach the puppy anything.  The relationship with your pup needs to have a strong foundation of trust and security.  Some puppies take longer to toilet train than others but with the right approach they all get it eventually.


Q: Dear DOGSLife. I use a preventative to protect my Maltese, Lucille, from worms. We try to live with as naturally as possible, and with that in mind, I was wondering if there is a natural alternative available to help prevent against worms at all? – Kara, via email​

A: There are many natural alternatives available for deworming, some more effective than others.  Heavy worm burdens can be life-threatening for puppies, but many healthy adult dogs clear worm infestations themselves without the need for intervention.  Regular faecal floats to test their stool for worm eggs can be done to determine whether your dog actually has a worm problem that needs treating.  Any vet clinic can perform a faecal float, they just require a fresh stool sample.  This method is very effective at diagnosing roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm infestations, but tapeworm can be missed as their eggs are shed intermittently.  If a whipworm problem is suspected repeated faecal floats may need to be done.
Pet owners have had success with many different methods of natural worming, such as adding diatomaceous earth (food-grade) to the pet’s food, using herbal worming tinctures that are usually based on wormwood and black walnut,  using homeopathic worming remedies, and even essential oil blends.  I would suggest consulting with a holistic vet to determine which approach is the best for your dog, and checking their parasite load first.  Having your dog in optimal health is the best insurance against intestinal worms, and this means feeding a natural diet, minimising vaccinations, and ensuring exercise and lifestyle are meeting their needs.


Q: Dear DOGSLife, I have an adorable standard schnauzer named Harley, and she is a ball of fun! However, whenever it comes to getting her nails clipped, she just can’t stand it. She won’t let you touch her paws if you have a clipper. It’s beginning to become quite a problem as her nails are getting a bit long… Do you have any tips or alternate ideas? – Meika, via email

A: Many dogs do not enjoy having their feet touched let alone their nails clipped, and good breeders will start desensitizing young puppies to having their feet touched at a young age.  If this continues once adopted, nail clipping can become a routine no-fuss procedure.  Whereas dogs that do not have their paws touched regularly from a young age can be very sensitive around their feet and clipping can become a major operation!  Dr Karen Becker has an excellent video on Mercola Pets called ‘Trimming Your Dog’s Nails Without Pain or Stress’, and I suggest you check this out. Dr Sophia Yin also has great low-stress handling techniques for this procedure.  To be successful, you must create a positive association with having the feet touched by making it a part of your cuddle routine and using treats to promote acceptance.  Then you introduce clippers slowly, perhaps only doing one nail a day, and treating only when your dog allows you to actually clip the nail.  You will need very tasty treats for this exercise – use whatever is your dog’s most favourite treat.


Q: Dear DOGSLife. My dog Sansa has a very smelly problem — she seems to have troubles with gas! She farts a lot, to the point where I’m worried it could be a sign of some kind of problem. She’s a Cavvy and is four years old. The farting has really only been a problem these last six months, but we haven’t changed her diet or anything so I don’t think it’s related to that. Do you have any advice for us? – Jimmy, via email

A: Excess flatulence is certainly not normal and suggests there is something wrong! Gas in the digestive tract is the result of bacterial fermentation, and almost always has a dietary cause. You don’t have to change a dog’s diet for a problem to occur, sensitivities to foods can build up over time.  Is she on processed food? If you are feeding processed food, especially dry food, it is likely that the food contains indigestible carbohydrates and highly processed meats, neither of which get broken down well.  If is also possible that a starch + protein combination is no longer working for her, as the high starch levels in dog food lead to fermentation in the gut and also interfere with digestion of protein.  Soybeans and other beans in pet foods can also cause gas.  She may also have a food allergy or intolerance, an inflamed digestive tract (‘IBD’), or leaky gut.
Try changing her to a raw diet that includes only one protein, ideally a novel protein source she has not eaten before such as turkey.  Eliminate all grains, and feed a meal of baked sweet potato or pumpkin separate to her meat meals twice a week – this will provide soluble fibre to sooth the gut.  Add some finely minced greens such as parsley and sprouts to her meat meals, but avoid all cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale as these foods can cause gas.  A course of a quality probiotic may help, especially one designed to address gut dysbiosis.  Adding a digestive enzyme supplement and some slippery elm bark to her meals would also be of benefit.


Q: Hi DOGSLife! I have a Blue Heeler named Riley, and he’s developed an interesting problem — he’s started to eat his own poo! It’s not an every-day occurrence, but perhaps once a week I’ll be out in the yard and see him sniffing around his stools, then quickly munch them up when I move closer to clean the mess. Why is he doing this, and can the behaviour be harmful to his health? – Chris, via email

A: Hi Chris. What Riley is doing is called ‘coprophagia’ – the act of eating stool.  Some dogs will eat the stool of other animals such as horses and cattle and rabbits, and this can be quite normal as the stools of herbivorous pets contain many beneficial probiotics and enzymes.  When a dog starts eating the stool of other dogs, or their own stool, however, this suggests a problem.
One common cause of stool eating is a pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and other possibilities include intestinal parasites or a malabsorption syndrome.  Sometimes there can be behavioural reasons why a dog will eat their own stool, such as having been told off for eliminating in the wrong place in the past and now associating pooping with being bad, and trying to ‘hide the evidence’.  Some can also do it out of boredom, or if suffering from anxiety or stress.
If you aren’t already feeding a raw diet, then I suggest changing to this and adding digestive enzymes and probiotics to his meals – this will support his digestion and provide many micronutrients he may be lacking on a processed food diet that he could be going looking for in the stool.  Be sure Riley is getting adequate but not excessive amounts of exercise and isn’t left alone for long periods which can cause stress and boredom.  I would suggest also you have Riley checked over by your Vet who should do a faecal analysis to check for parasites and run a blood test to check pancreatic enzyme function (‘trypsin-like immunoreactivity test’).


Q: Hi DOGSLife, I have a four-year-old Golden Retriever named Mika. Mika loves to lick. Seriously. This dog will sit there and lick the air, his paws, us, the floor, the couch — anything that stays still long enough! Is there a medical reason he’s doing this, and should I be looking out for anything health wise that could be related to this behaviour? – Ollie, via email

A: A recent Canadian study showed that nearly 75% of dogs with excessive licking behaviour had some form of gastrointestinal disease, such as irritable bowel, pancreatitis, giardia infestation, and when the gastrointestinal disease was treated over a period of three months the excessive licking behaviour improved significantly or completely resolved in the majority of cases.  It is unclear why gastrointestinal disease can manifest with licking behaviour in some pets, perhaps there is nausea or intestinal discomfort that causes the licking.  If your pet has any other symptoms that suggest gastrointestinal disease may be present, such as sensitivity to certain foods, the occasional bout of loose stools or constipation, or difficulty maintaining weight, I would suggest getting his gastrointestinal function checked out.


Q: Hi DOGSLife, I have a four-year-old British Bulldog, Sam, and he is sadly a little overweight. My vet said I should take him for more walks, but every time I put the lead on and we stand out the front of our house, Sam stops and refuses to go any further. Do you have any advice on what I can do to either get him moving or get him healthier another way? I don’t want to put his life in danger due to his size. – Kyra, via email

A: What walking equipment are you using?  Many people assume a collar and a short or retractable leash are what is needed to walk dogs, but in fact any tension on a collar can cause many dogs an immense degree of discomfort.  Being a brachycephalic breed, Sam’s airway is already compromised by his build, and so any pressure on his airway in his neck could potentially cause a great degree of harm.
If you haven’t already done so, invest in a comfortable, well-fitted harness that doesn’t put any pressure on his neck or across his shoulders, such as a Haqihana harness, and buy a long leash, minimum 3m in length.  Get him used to the equipment in your home and garden at first, using tasty treats to encourage him to follow you, but allowing him the time to explore and sniff on his own as well without being pulled along.  A walk for a dog should be a time to express their natural curiosity in the world around them rather than a march around the block!  Then when he is showing interest in following you around at home, start to take him out on walks outside, making sure not to feed him beforehand and packing lots of tasty treats to encourage him to come along.  If he wants to walk in the opposite direction just stop and wait until he decides to come along again with you – he can’t get very far if you stay put!
Be sure to walk only during the cooler periods of the day or evening, as many brachycephalic breeds also have issues with heat regulation and are prone to overheating easily.  Most dogs are reluctant to walk in the middle of the day – this is their natural sleep time – and prefer to walk at dawn or dusk when they are naturally more active.  Also check what diet you are feeding – most processed foods are too high in starch and will promote excess weight gain in dogs.  Try a raw diet instead that is grain free and low in starch.


Q: Hi DOGSLife, My oldest dog, Dudley, a 20kg Staffordshire Bull Terrier, is on medication for his anxiety. It’s a Prozac-type of drug, and he’s been on it for a few weeks just to help control his stress while we move house.  However, we were wondering if there’s a natural alternative we could try? We’ve been down the path of Thunder Shirts and Adaptil before, and to no avail. Would love to hear of any other ideas you may have. – Fiona, via email

A: Hi Fiona.  Treating stress and anxiety in dogs requires a detailed analysis of what is causing the stress and what coping strategies your dog needs to build on in order to help him deal better with stress.  Is your dog the only dog? Dogs are social pack animals and generally do better with company.  Some dogs love canine company, others are perfectly happy with human company, but they do need company most of the time.  How much exercise does Dudley do? Exercise is a form of physiological stress and in a highly stressed or anxious dog can be too stimulating and actually detrimental.  It takes between 2 to 6 days for a dog’s cortisol levels to recover after a stressful experience, and so if he is struggling with stress and anxiety triggers on a daily basis, or is being exercised daily in a stimulating environment such as doggy daycare, a dog park or busy dog beach or a noisy environment, then his stress levels will never get a chance to recover.  With chronic stress, it can take up to 9 months for the brain to recover to the stage where it can start learning again!
Sleep is one of the best recuperative tools when dealing with stress, and so look at how much he sleeps and how deeply he sleeps.  Does he sleep outside or inside?  Dogs that sleep outside without the protection of their pack never achieve a fully rested sleep as they need to remain on guard for their own safety, and this contributes to a constant state of stress. Dogs that are busy guarding the perimeter also do not sleep enough through the day – dogs should sleep on average around 16 hours a day, everyday!
We use a variety of natural calming products in our practice for highly stressed dogs.  But without addressing the triggers and coping strategies your dog has, treatment will go nowhere.
A great book for you to read would be ‘Stress in Dogs – Learn How Dogs Show Stress and What You Can Do To Help’ by Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt.