As owners, we all should once in a while “take inventory” concerning our German Shepherds, to make sure we are providing him or her with the basic requirements for vibrant health and wellbeing.
I am basing this article on the book, Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats (See end of article for details). The term “5 Pillars of Health…” is mine, not the author’s; but these five areas of focus that he discusses at length, concern the key factors impacting the health and wellbeing of your German Shepherd. While we have covered these matters in detail elsewhere on the website, here I’ll review them from Dr Pitcairn’s perspective; one which I find entirely sound, and backed by extensive study and field practice throughout a long professional career.
In case you have not followed recent blog posts here on German Shepherd Place, let me get you up to speed on earlier references to the work of Dr Pitcairn:
Biographical Sketch: A Vet Discovers Healthy Food
Care for Your Canine Holistically
Nutritional Food Ingredients for Dogs
Pitcairn Book Review – Summary
Health Pillar 1: Nutrition
The fact that nutrition is our first “pillar” will come as no surprise to you if you are familiar with this website, where we’ve always emphasized the importance of the right food for your German Shepherd. To read the article Nutritional Food Ingredients for Dogs (CLICK HERE)
Health Pillar 2: Exercise and Rest
Besides a healthy diet, animals need pure water, fresh air, sunlight, regular exercise and grooming and their own space. Pitcairn contrasts the modern, domestic dog to that of his ancient forebear. The first is often largely confined to his humans’ living quarters, with frequent stints in an automobile, and typically has little companionship beyond that of his sometimes-present humans. His wild ancestors, on the other hand, would run, hunt, and explore wide open spaces while continuously socializing with their kind.
Plenty of exercise is recommended for your dog. In the event that a sore foot prevents running, seek alternatives, such as swimming-in-place. Fill a bathtub with water, or use your pool. Placing a towel under your dog’s belly, let him paddle to his heart’s content. A remedy also appropriate in the event your dog has back problems.
Especially with big dogs, the need for quiet havens can be overlooked. In the wild, dogs have a cozy den to hide in. We need to provide similar spots to our companion dogs. While larger dogs don’t necessarily need a basket, what they do need is a couple of quiet corners, an old chair, and a favorite scrap of carpet is helpful – where they can retreat and be cozy; warm in winter and cool in summer.
Health Pillar 3: Grooming
Pitcairn covers this subject at some length and under the heading “Natural Grooming and Skin Care”. At any given time, about a third of the body’s cells are dying. A fourfold approach to helping your dog eliminate toxic waste is recommended:
- Daily exercise to stimulate waste removal through improved metabolism and circulation.
- An occasional day of fasting to relieve the digestive tract of its normal duties and free the organs to break down the toxins stored in the liver, fats and other tissues. During a fast. the organs also consume excess baggage, such as cysts, scars and growths.
- Feeding lightly. Fat stores toxins. Therefore keeping your dog lean, but not skinny, is a good defense against the buildup of toxins.
- Regular brushing of your dog’s coat removes the dead hairs and stimulates the skin’s natural elimination processes.
The author writes at length regarding recommendations for grooming and shampooing. While we don’t have the space to get into details here, it’s worth mentioning that one of my reasons for basing a number of recent blog posts including this one on Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats is to encourage you, my reader, to consider getting your own copy of this excellent publication (see options at end of article).
Health Pillar 4: Healthy Environment
A chapter on the subject of a healthy environment goes into some detail about the very real probability that, to one level or another, your pet is subject to daily doses of toxins and pollutants from both inside and outside the home. Furniture, carpet fibers, paints and cleaning substances all contain chemicals that often find their way into our pets’ systems. At the danger of oversimplifying, the solution is threefold:
Be vigilant about dusting and vacuuming the home regularly.
Look up cleaning products that may be healthier alternatives to the ones you are currently using.
Get rid of all old paints and chemicals you are not using. Local landfills typically providea safe means of disposal. Contact the local sanitation department and arrange to drop off items at the appropriate place. First make sure that lids are firmly in place.
Out-of-doors we can again become more selective about the products we use. There are many earth-friendly weed killers, fertilizers and pest-control products that can be used. Remember that our dogs and cats live a life in much closer proximity to the ground than we humans. Their four naked paws are in constant contact with ground surfaces wherever they go. In addition, their coats are magnets for airborne dust along with the various toxic substances it often contains. Then, pets do a lot of licking as a natural part of their cleaning regimen, resulting in them ingesting what’s on their coats.
A few thoughtful adjustments that we can make in and around the home will provide our pets with a healthier living environment.
Health Pillar 5: Start With a Healthy Animal
Clearly, choosing the right dog is the first logical step towards minimizing potential health problems. If you plan to breed your dog, making good decisions in this area is essential. You want to perpetuate good genes, and build all the health benefits possible into future generations.
In the event you have no intention of breeding your dog, then your criteria can be less stringent. And, you may decide to take a rescue dog from the local animal shelter. While this could be an admirable choice, the step still requires some forethought. First, as with any choice you’ll want the right fit for your human household. This would particularly apply where young children are part of the family. Second, any health problems in a potential rescue animal, will of course become your problem, along with the associated inconvenience and expense.
Dr Pitcairn draws attention to the fact that, especially with dogs, selective breeding has been practiced throughout the centuries, sometimes resulting in congenital health issues, which affect different breeds in a variety of ways. German Shepherds are predisposed towards hip dysplasia. Dogs with short snouts are prone to breathing problems. Curly-haired dogs can have an awful time with those prickly little burs that you can pick up on nature walks – the things that stick to your socks. Wolves and foxes, on the other hand, are the picture of vibrant health compared to so many of their overbred domesticated relatives.
When a dog breed becomes particularly popular, the rush to meet market demand often leads to poor breeding practices with less ethical operators. Inbreeding of animals closely related is inclined to “lock-in” undesirable qualities, both physical and behavioral. Pitcairn therefore recommends that a potential dog owner seek an animal that more closely resembles its wolf ancestors. The German Shepherd would fit that criterion. As we’ve recommended elsewhere, it’s a good practice to find a reputable breeder and, in addition, to obtain the appropriate health-screening certificates when you purchase your dog. For more, click the links below:
For more on Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats: