It was a relief to get up and find that my home-made flea trap had taken no hostages overnight. Not that I thought we had pests in the house, but I wanted to be doubly sure. After all, a female flea lays up to 50 eggs in a day. And adult fleas tuck themselves into a cocoon and lurk in your carpet or in between your floorboards for months – years if necessary – until the conditions are right for hatching. Yuk!
It all started when I sat down to read one of my Christmas presents: Top Dog by Kate Bendix. Bendix is a dog lover who got fed up with (and I quote the blurb) “the multinational gravy train that is the global pet market” and decided to find a more holistic way of looking after her dog. Top Dog is all about prevention rather than cure and looks at ways you can improve your dog’s diet and health. She attributes most canine health problems to a poor (over-processed) diet and other contributory factors such as lack or exercise or stimulation.
Like a convert to a new religion I devoured the book and was soon baking special biscuits with oat flour, bananas, peanut butter, mint, parsley and egg (they soon went mouldy as I forgot to put them in the fridge), stocking up on anti-bacterial colloidal silver to clean Bertie’s ears and scouring the internet for herbal flea prevention treatments. All good fun for those of us who would do ANYTHING for our pets. “Filtered water for Bertie?” asked my brother incredulously. “He’s a dog for God’s sake!” “Precisely”, I said, “he’s an organic, living being like us so why bombard him with chlorinated water when I have a filter tap on my sink?” I mean, hello…
And that’s one of the key points of the book. Dogs, like us, are sensitive to chemicals, pesticides, additives and food laden with sugar and salt (read the list of ingredients in some of your dog foods and you’ll be horrified). They can get yeast infections, allergies, depression, dental decay, arthritis, dermatitis and more.
Anyway, back to fleas – are you itching yet?! When I first got Bertie I used a liquid flea-killing preparation which you smear between the shoulder blades. It stinks, is poisonous, full of heavy duty chemicals and enough to give anyone an asthma attack. Bertie hated it and would writhe around on the floor trying to rub it off. Now I give him a pill as the lesser of two evils; it does the same thing from the inside out, but is still full of pesticides. Top Dog recommends a herbal flea treatment available in the UK called Billy No Mates , but I couldn’t find anything similar here and don’t fancy concocting my own remedy with neem oil (which she seems to recommend for just about every complaint) fenugreek, seaweed and other smelly substances.
Making the flea trap, however, was easy. You simply fill a shallow dish with water and liquid detergent, swish the water around and then leave the dish under a night light before you go to bed. Fleas will be drawn to the light and will hop in the water and drown. Thankfully, I only caught a small fly.
The chapter on what to feed your dog is excellent. She outlines the pros and cons of dry and wet foods, home-made and raw, or various combinations thereof. In our 20 months together Bertie has been through intestinal parasites, tummy upsets and a vicious virus which caused projectile ‘emissions’. After much experimentation, we’re now going well (meaning perfect poos) on a diet based on kibble which I supplement variously with soaked oats, raw carrot, some cooked veggies or a bit of kangaroo mince. When he starts devouring large chunks of grass in the park or gobbles up the pansies in my courtyard, I know I need to step up the green stuff in his diet. After reading the book, I also changed the brand of food he was on. Instead of the big name American product with an ingredient list that started with fillers like soy, corn, beet pulp and animal derivatives, he’s now on an all Australian product, which has a much more wholesome list of ingredients such as chicken, brown rice and oats. AND it happens to be cheaper.
Bertie also gets a raw chicken wing several times a week. He’s an exceptionally greedy dog and swallows his kibble without chewing. So the chicken wings give his jaws a work-out and help to remove plaque. I also give him dried kangaroo tendons (all natural) to chew on and tartar control biscuits containing bicarbonate of soda at bedtime. Anything to avoid cleaning his teeth with an old sock soaked in colloidal silver and/or doggie toothpaste.
It’s enough of a battle trying to groom him. That’s because he thinks he’s top dog. He doesn’t just think it, he knows it. “What was that about discipline?” he seems to ask, sitting regally on my bed, forelock flopped forward, eyes pleading and paw strategically placed over one of my slippers.
But that’s all about to change. We’ve just had the most brilliant training session – mostly focused on leadership, space access and boundaries. Dogs need to know the rules and where they stand. If you want a dog in tip top condition, he needs to know that you are Top Dog.