A Healthy Briard is a Happy One
Maintaining your Briard’s health in many ways parallels recommendations for a person to stay healthy. There are four critical aspects of good health: diet, exercise, medical care, and grooming. Each of these applies just as critically to your Briard’s health as it does to your own.
Start with feeding a quality diet in appropriate amounts. We have all heard the old adage: “You are what you eat”. The dog food you choose to feed your Briard should have high-quality meat sources, instead of meat by-products, and either whole grains or be grain-free. We feed several different foods in our home, depending on the needs and preference of each of our dogs. We are happy to share our thoughts about the benefits and risks of different foods with Briard puppy owners. Although neither of us at Eiledon Briards is a veterinarian, between us we have 30 years experience living with Briards, and 60 years living with various breeds of dogs. Read more about feeding recommendations here.
One of the most critical factors in maintaining your pet’s health is keeping them at ideal body weight. Obesity is an epidemic in America and it has crossed the species lines into our pets. For example, a recent study on dogs published in the British Journal of Nutrition, linked a 25% reduction in caloric intake to a 1.8 year average extension of the dogs’ lifespan, when compared with like body-weight-at-birth litter mates who were free-fed. Additionally, annual x-rays of the dogs who were free-fed, showed evidence of hip arthritis at 6 years of age, while the dogs on a restricted calorie diet averaged a hip arthritis diagnoses at the age of 12. All Eiledon Briard puppies have parents with hips screened as normal by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or similar foreign agency. However, environmental factors such as diet and proper exercise, as well as genetics, play a role in the hip health of any large breed dog.
Exercise is important both to the physical and mental well-being of your Briard, and, in most cases, your mental health as well. A well-exercised Briard puppy tends to be less destructive and exhibit fewer behavior problems. The reason is two fold: they have gotten to work off excess energy, and generally the exercise involves time with their person. Whether that exercise is a couple daily long walks, or a game of ball in the back yard, it is critical to your Briard’s health.
With young Briards under 2 years of age we recommend ONLY natural, self-limiting exercise. Do not begin jogging or road-working your Briard until his or her second birthday. Agility training can begin ONLY if heights are well below competition heights. Competition height challenges or excessive stress put on young, growing limbs can cause lifetime health issues that can be otherwise avoided.
Medical and Dental Care
The next critical side of responsible Briard ownership is medical and dental care. These go together hand in hand. Good preventive care starts early with a ‘well puppy’ visit to your veterinarian within 72 hours of bringing your new dog home. Make sure to follow standard vaccination protocols and continue ‘wellness care’ with annual check-ups by your vet. During that checkup, your vet will test for heartworms. Be sure to bring along a fresh fecal sample so the vet can check for intestinal parasites. In some parts of the country, vets are also recommending an annual test for tick borne diseases, such as Lyme disease.
Dental hygiene is a major component of health care. Dogs are not immune to the effects of poor oral health. There are many preparations that can help maintain your dog’s oral hygiene, from chicken flavored tooth paste to drinking water additives. These are available from your vet, local pet store, or online from sources such as Foster’s and Smith, Pet Edge, and Care-a-Lot. If your pet’s teeth develop excess tartar, your veterinarian may recommend that their teeth be professionally cleaned, just the way your dentist cleans your own. There is the right path towards dental hygiene for every pet. There are also dental-friendly dry foods that do assist with maintaining dental health, Check with your veterinarian for brands that fall into that category. The dental-friendly aspect of a food can be balanced with overall quality of the food by reviewing those foods with the food scoring system discussed in Feeding Your Briard.
Preventing Harmful Parasites
Your vet will prescribe appropriate preventative medicines such as once-a-month heartworm medication, flea and tick repellent. Should your pet test positive for intestinal parasites during their annual exam, there are many harmless worming medications that treat round, hook, and whip worm, and improve your pet’s overall health greatly. Even a pet fed top-quality food can be malnourished if they carry intestinal parasites. We worm puppies prior to placement, but due to the life-cycle of certain intestinal parasites, it is best to check them periodically, or anytime you see any change in bowel movements. The park, a dog show, a training class, even a walk down the street can expose your Briard puppy to harmful parasites. Fleas and ticks can also spread diseases, but luckily are products, available both over the counter and from your vet, which will keep these pests from taking up residence on your Briard.
One preventative aspect of medical care that is under a certain amount of debate is vaccination frequency. We use a modified version of the vaccination protocol recommended by Dr. Jean Dobbs, D.M.V. We provide a first round of vaccinations prior to placing puppies in their new homes, but do delay them to help avoid maternal immunity interference. We recommend that you review Dr. Dobbs recommendations and supporting research, then decide with your veterinarian what course to follow with your Briard’s vaccinations.
As a coated breed, grooming is incredibly important to overall health. Details of the “how” of coat care are available separately in our grooming section. However, some of the basics include: coat care, nail care, and ear care.
Coat care relies on finding a schedule and method that works well for you and your Briard. Coat quality varies, and with coat quality the frequency and amount of time required to properly groom varies as well. We recommend that whatever your frequency, when you consider your Briard’s grooming “complete”, you should be able to pull a coarse comb through the coat without catching micro-mats or snagging. Some people choose to groom a portion of their Briard daily, while others will groom weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on the coat quality of their Briard. The key is monitoring the condition of your Briard’s coat and ensuring that there are no tight mats forming close to the skin. Problem areas tend to include: where legs join the body, areas on the belly, between the hind legs, and muzzle areas. If mats form and are not removed in a timely manner, they can make your Briard uncomfortable, cause skin irritation and eventually infections. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Nails should be kept short enough that your dog does not “click” on any flat, hard surface such as concrete, hardwood, or tile. Long nails can crack and break, at the least leading to discomfort for your Briard and at the worst to serious infections. Don’t forget the Dewclaws! The extra toes mean extra nails.
We recommend inspecting your dogs ears with each regular grooming session. Both cropped and natural eared Briards can experience ear infections or ear irritation from accumulations of dirt and wax. A soft terry cloth damp with warm water to clean the outer portion will usually suffice to maintain a healthy ear. Ears that smell bad/emit a foul odor need prompt veterinary attention.
The veterinarians are the health care professionals, so ask your vet to explain what they look for and risks to Briard health in your area. While you should never self-diagnose pet illnesses, it does not hurt to educate yourself in the signs and symptoms of common diseases. This education will make you more likely to notice early on if your Briard puppy is not well and get proper care in a timely manner, helping to prevent your Briard from becoming acutely ill.
Eat well, take a walk, see the doctor regularly before you are sick, and hygienic living. It is a solid health recommendation for all of us, human and Briard.