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Health Considerations
Shiba Brochure written by Jacey Holden

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As a breed, Shibas can rightfully be described as sturdy, healthy little dogs, able to withstand the rigors of outdoor life as well as enjoying the comfort of indoor dwelling. They are easy keepers, requiring no special diet other than good commercial dog food. They can run for miles with an athletic companion or take their exercise chasing a tennis ball around the back yard. Their catlike agility and resilience provide good resistance to injury, and the "natural" size and symmetrical proportions lessen susceptibility to conditions caused by structural imbalances.

Despite these assets, Shibas can have some hereditary defects, which all reputable breeders screen their breeding stock for. Patellar luxation is common in toy breeds and sometimes appears in Shibas. It causes loose kneecaps and is usually not severe enough to be detrimental to a pet. An experienced veterinarian can detect this condition by palpation. Moderate to severe patellar luxation can easily be corrected by surgery and the dog will lead a normal, healthy life. Hip dysplasia occasionally occurs, but it is not as serious in the Shiba as it is in large breeds of dog. Mild dysplasia will not show any adverse clinical effects and the dog will lead a normal life. Good breeders will not breed to any dog whose hips have not received a rating of "fair" or better from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

Responsible breeders also check their Shibas' eyes for hereditary eye defects. No breed of dog is totally free of hereditary eye defects. Few defects are severe enough to cause blindness or interfere with a dog's life, but dogs with eye defects that are potentially blinding, such as progressive retinal atrophy and juvenile cataracts should not be bred. The majority of eye defects do not impair the dog's ability to be a good pet.

Allergies, especially to fleas (see flea section of this page) are the frequent nemesis of dogs, and Shibas are prone to them too. With the advent of the newer flea preparations, the problems should be minimized. Other allergies require veterinary help. A rule of thumb: If the itching is from the shoulders back, it is probably fleas. If the itching is somewhere else, it may be something else.

Occasionally, a Shiba puppy may exhibit a heart murmur (an unusual sound to the heartbeat). Usually these go away without treatment, and there is no cause for alarm. If an adult has a heart murmur, it should not be used for breeding.

A smattering of other defects have been reported, but none in numbers to cause concern at this time. Reputable breeders do all they can to screen for serious disabling hereditary-problems for the first few years of life. Defects and will guarantee their puppies to be free of disabling hereditary problems for the first few years of life.

Veterinarians & Vaccinations
Since Shibas are a healthy, hardy little breed, they seldom need trips to the vet except for routine vaccinations and an occasional teeth cleaning. Your new puppy should be taken to the vet of your choice within a few days of purchase. Most breeders require this as part of the puppy's health guarantee. The vet should check his overall condition, his heart for possible murmurs, and a stool sample for parasites. A puppy should already have had at least one vaccination from the breeder prior to his sale. You can set up a continued vaccination schedule with your vet during this first check-up.  Puppies should have a complete set of vaccinations before exposing them to situations where many other dogs have been. These vaccinations are against distemper, hepatitis, kennel cough, parvovirus and coronavirus. Often the first shots do not contain a vaccine against leptospirosis (lepto). Lepto has frequently been fingered as the "bad guy" in vaccine reaction. Many breeders and veterinarians prefer to wait until the puppy is three to four months old before giving an injection with lepto. Several Shiba puppies have experienced an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine on their second injection, even when it did not contain lepto. This is the same severe allergic reaction some people experience when stung by a bee. Epinephrine must be administered immediately, so a veterinarian should be warned of the possibility of a reaction. A puppy should remain in the waiting room of the vet's office for 15 to 20 minutes after his injection to ensure there is no reaction. Rabies shots are given at four months of age. Rabies is the only vaccination required by law. All others are for the puppy's health.

Spay & Neuter
For many people, the decision to neuter a male dog is somehow tied into their own sexuality. Maybe it should be, for the amorous intentions of the stimulated male Shiba are only rivaled by those of Geraldo Rivera and Wilt Chamberlain. Neutering a male dog has a great effect on his temperament, if it is done at a very early age. Neutering a male before the age of five months will usually prevent marking and other "big guy" ideas. Sometimes it takes up to eight months or more for a Shiba male's testicles to drop into the scrotum. They seldom fail to arrive, and if the vet can locate them at all, he can perform the castration. Don't postpone it.

Many people would rather have a female as a pet. They see the female as having a gentler nature and not having the desire to continually mark territory. Spaying a female does little to change her basic temperament, it just prevents pregnancy. Females should be spayed at about five months of age before they have their first heat cycle. This makes it easier on the little girl as the uterus is small and the female lean. Recovery is quick and after a few days, you won't know anything has been done. Both sexes make good pets and have equally affectionate natures.

Coat
Shibas shed. You would too if you were wearing a wool coat in summer. All dogs with double coats shed, even Dobermans and Labradors. Those breeds with single coats that don't shed, such as poodles and some terriers, need clipping or constant brushing to keep their coats from matting. You have a choice - clip, brush or vacuum. Shibas generally "blow" coat twice a year, but neutered animals will frequently just shed a little bit at a time without shedding completely. It varies with individuals, but you can usually count on a Shiba to have a full coat for Christmas. A Shiba could go his whole life without every experiencing a brush, comb or bath and be just as healthy and happy. Shibas have little odor to their fur unless they have rolled in something pungent. Show dogs are often bathed weekly while pets are occasionally shampooed at the owner's whim. All seem to have healthy coats.

Fleas
Fleas are the scourge of pet ownership. The flea most commonly found on the dog is the cat flea. Cats are flea farmers and outdoor cats spread fleas from yard to yard like dandelion seeds. Methods of treatment are so varied and controversial that they are a book in themselves. If fleas are eradicated from the environment, they will soon vanish from the dog. Fleas like warm, moist, sheltered surroundings and do not tolerate direct sun, dryness or extreme cold. Fleas do not survive outdoors in arid climates, but thrive in the warm, damp summers of the majority of the U.S.. To help create this dryness, the indoor environment can be treated with desiccating powders, and many professionals such as "Flea Busters" use these products with much success. It takes about six weeks for them to work. Most commercial flea products are toxic. How else could they kill the fleas? Start slow and work your way up to the "hard stuff."

There are some new and exciting products on the market for flea control. Personally, I am a little leery of using them on dogs used for breeding, but for pets, they are wonderful.

The first is a product called Program™, which renders the eggs of a female flea unable to hatch after she has bitten a dog that has taken the medication. It can be used in combination with topical medicines such as dips and powders, but does not prevent re-infestation from the outside (the neighbor's cat). Also, the adult flea will continue to live out its life on the dog, grazing its way from tail to nose for about three months. This is enough time for a Shiba to go ballistic, even if it only has one flea.

The most exciting new product on the market is called Front Line™. It sounds almost too good to be true, and maybe it will turn out to be that way. Just a couple of drops on the dog's shoulder blades will kill the fleas before they even bite the dog, and one application is supposed to last one to three months depending on how much the dog is bathed. Check with your veterinarian for use and availability.

There is a similar product available throughout the country called Advantage™. It is applied in the same manner as Front Line™, but has a distasteful odor and does not last as long. Independent tests published in breed magazines report excellent success with both products. The products are expensive and only available from a veterinarian, but they may prove invaluable for the all-too-common flea allergic Shiba.

Collars & Tattooing
It is a good idea for a Shiba to wear a collar with identification tags or plates attached. Some collar distributors will print the owner's phone number right on the collar in large letters that can be seen without touching the dog. Unfortunately, many Shibas that end up in the pound have lost their collars. Show dogs can't wear collars because it leaves a ring around the neck.

At this point, tattooing seems to be the best and most permanent methods of identification. The tattoo is usually placed on the inside of a dog's thigh. Although it is permanently attached to the dog, a person finding a lost dog may not look inside the dog's leg for a tattoo, and if he does look, may not know what to do about it. Hopefully most animal shelter personnel will look and know who to contact. The AKC is strongly encouraging all dog owners to tattoo their dogs for two reasons: One is the hope that a lost or stolen dog can be returned to its owner, and the other is for definitive identification. The second reason is because AKC wants it to be possible for any stranger to go into a household and identify the dogs. If the dogs are tattooed with the AKC registration number, the dogs can be identified with the registration papers or the records of the AKC. This would also assist in the dispute over ownership of a dog. The AKC registration number is like the dog's Social Security number; it's his identification for life.

The AKC is promoting the microchip as the wave of the future. It must be implanted by a veterinarian and needs a scanner to read it. The AKC has initiated the AKC Companion Animal Recovery Program. It registers both microchip and/or tattoo numbers for a small fee. It also registers other animals that have been permanently identified. Call the AKC in Raleigh, NC for further information.


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