So, What Is It Like to Be Dr. Barchas’ Dog?

I reveal all: Buster's diet, exercise protocol, and health care routines, as well as my preferred brands of food, shampoo, and medications.


Several weeks ago I wrote a post about dogs owned by veterinarians. In the post I stated that vets, like dog owners in general, vary widely in the care that their dogs receive. Some take ideal care of their companions. Others are similar to physicians who smoke — they know what optimal care is and they recommend it to their clients, but they don’t practice what they preach. One thing I did not touch upon substantially in the article was my own dog. And that left some people wondering: What is it like to be my pal Buster? What sort of care does he receive, and what brands of food and medicine does he receive?

Buster certainly has a daily routine. His preference is to lounge in bed for as long as possible. And in case you’re wondering, yes, that bed. When I first started practicing as a veterinarian, most people allowed their dogs on their beds but few would admit it. Most people are open about the matter now. It is my firm belief that it is safe for healthy dogs to share their owners’ beds. In the matter of sleeping on the bed, I have only one concern about Buster: He is a terrible bed hog.

Buster’s generally lazy temperament is useful for a night shift worker such as myself. When I don’t take Buster to work with me (see below), he is generally happy to sleep the night away while I work, and then sleep the day away with me as well.

Most mornings, one thing motivates my pal to get out of bed: the prospect of food. If a person heads to the kitchen, Buster goes on high alert. Is the person merely making coffee, which is of no use to a dog? Or might food preparation be happening? If there is a hint of food preparation, Buster will promptly join the effort in the kitchen.

The other thing that invariably inspires Buster to get out of bed is the sound of his dog dish being filled. With what, you ask?

I’ll get to that in a moment. Once Buster is lured out of bed, usually by the promise of food, he receives his eye drops. Buster has a condition called bilateral keratoconjunctivitis sicca, also known as dry eye. The condition, when not treated, causes progressive redness, discharge, and pain in affected eyes. Fortunately we caught Buster’s condition early, and one drop of tacrolimus ophthalmic suspension in each eye once daily has it completely controlled. After Buster receives his eye drops, he gets a reward: breakfast.

For the first seven years of his life, Buster ate Science Diet. Some may wonder whether this because Hill’s had paid me off or offered free food. Here’s your answer: nope. Buster ate Science Diet for the same reason that his name is Buster: he came from the shelter that way. When Denise adopted him, his name was Buster and he’d been eating Science Diet. The name suited him and he responded to it, so he kept it. And Buster’s veterinarian (that’s me) at the time stated that unnecessary diet changes could lead to upset stomach. Science Diet was perfectly acceptable, so no change was made — for those first seven years.

For about six months preceding Buster’s diet change, he had significantly less interest in his regular food. He still begged like a Lab, but he didn’t eat his dog food like a Lab. Some days he ate slowly. Others he had to be coaxed. He occasionally even skipped meals.

Then he developed hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

To be clear: I do not believe Science Diet contributed to Buster’s illness in any way. And I fed Buster another Hill’s diet (i/d Intestinal Formula) during his recovery. But the Science Diet had not been working well for a while, and we saw the illness as an opportunity to make a permanent switch.

We tried a couple of different premium foods, and ultimately settled on Natural Balance Bison and Sweet Potato. How did we make this choice? Was it because the food, as noted by the store, was “holistic”? Or because it is, according to the manufacturer, grain free? Had Dick Van Patten paid me off?

Again, nope. We settled on this food because Buster loves it. And he does really well on it. He acts several years younger since the switch, and he eats the food very enthusiastically — in other words, he eats it like a Lab.

How about the holistic-ness of the food? It is in my opinion absurd to call a food holistic, and I have no idea what the pet food store that touts a food’s holistic-ness is trying to say. That it does not contain western medicines? That it is natural (in which case, why use the word holistic rather than natural)? When applied to food, the word holistic means nothing to me.

And how about the food’s being grain free? That’s a coincidence. Believe me, Buster gets his share of grains.

How does Buster get grains? Table scraps. That’s right, I said it: Buster gets table scraps. We feed him only easily digestible, non-fatty table scraps in small quantities. Some of his favorite items are bread and pasta (both made out of grains), Cheerios, and white meat chicken. Buster also does have one guilty pleasure (he does not feel guilty about it, but I sort of do): tortilla chips. These are given only in small quantities — too many corn chips could definitely cause GI upset or pancreatitis (from the oil used to fry them, not the corn).

After breakfast Buster generally takes a potty break in the backyard.

Buster likes to lounge about while Denise and I go about our day. He sometimes tries to coax us to throw his toys around the house, and he often succeeds. He gets at least one walk, on leash, every day. Many days he gets more than one. Some walks, I’m sorry to say, are short when the people in the house have busy schedules. Other walks consist of epic hikes or city walks. Some days we indulge Buster’s favorite activity and take him to a fetch field. Unfortunately, my pal now has arthritis and he can’t fetch like he used to. He does not receive any medications for the arthritis on a daily basis, but if he has a flare-up we give him tramadol.

Buster is an early-to-bed, late-to-rise fellow. He usually puts himself to bed at around 9 pm. Some nights his teeth are brushed before he goes to bed, and on others I brush them after he is in bed (it must be nice to have someone else brush your teeth in bed). But one thing is absolute: Buster’s teeth are brushed every day.

I have always recommended tooth brushing, and in this case I practice what I preach. I use a human soft-bristled tooth brush and a canine toothpaste. For years I endured ridicule, sometimes from other veterinarians, for brushing my pal’s teeth. But the tooth brushing has paid off well. Dental disease is the No. 1 health problem for dogs Buster’s age, and Buster is free of the disease.

And that is Buster’s daily routine. Things do of course change up now and then since Buster likes to camp and travel. But most of Buster’s days fit the pattern above.

There are several other details that are regular but not daily features of Buster’s life:

  • Baths and nail trims occur about every two weeks. This is the interval after which his nails start to click on the floor and his coat stops smelling like lavender and starts smelling like dog. My favorite shampoo is Buddy Wash — it has a nice lavender scent. I use a Dremel for the nail trims.
  • Flea control is administered on the fourth day of the month. For years I used Frontline Plus, but although Buster never had a visible flea infestation, he eventually developed seasonal itching. I switched to Comfortis and the itching resolved. I give the Comfortis with a meatball of Hill’s i/d — although it is supposedly a flavored tablet, my pal won’t eat it straight.

  • Heartgard Plus is administered on the first day of every month. My pal thinks this is the greatest treat ever, and I love that it protects him from heartworm and roundworms. It also protects my nieces and nephews from roundworms, which can spread from dogs to children. When my stashes of Heartgard Plus and Comfortis run out I’ll consider switching to Trifexis, which does the work of both.
  • About vaccines: Buster gets his rabies vaccine every three years as required by law. It has been four years and counting since he’s received other vaccines. Although the other vaccines are very important for puppies and young dogs, seniors such as Buster generally do well with reduced vaccination frequency. I’ll likely run titers for distemper and parvovirus within the next year.
  • Buster loves going to work with me, but I feel bad for him on busy nights when circumstances force him spend the entire night in a dog run. I therefore often leave him home. When he does come to work, I make a point of running regular blood work (for geriatric screening) and ultrasounding his spleen (Labs are prone to splenic tumors) on a regular basis.
  • Buster also loves playing with other dogs. We have several friends whose dogs often visit the house.

And there you have it: Buster’s life in detail. I’ll bet his life is not that different from the lives of most dogs whose owners are reading this post.

Learn more about dogs with Dogster:

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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