Got a Velcro Dog that You’d like to Liberate?

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Some of you reading here today have dogs that are, shall we say, extremely bonded to you. They follow you from room to room all over the house. When you stand still or sit down, they immediately put their body in contact with yours. You’re never in the bathroom without an audience. The small ones are constantly, literally underfoot; the larger guys trot behind or next to you, an adoring look on their faces, as you move about.

“Velcro dog” behavior can be charming and lovable, but there are times when it can also be annoying or even dangerous. For example, a tiny dog at your feet trying to follow your every movement is a trip-and-fall accident waiting to happen.

Another potential issue is that clingy canine behavior can progress to or be a feature of separation anxiety, which in many dogs is a serious emotional and behavioral problem.

Most Velcro Dogs Are Made, Not Born

According to veterinarian Dr. Joanna Pendergrass in an article for PetMD, “Clinginess is often a learned dog behavior.”1 Needless to say, they learn it based on how we respond to them when they follow us about. If we reward them in some way (e.g., with a treat or a scratch behind the ears), the behavior will very quickly become imprinted.

“If we give puppies constant attention when they’re developing,” says Pendergrass, “they can become fearful of being alone and subsequently never want to leave our side. Dogs can also become clingy if we change their daily routine.”

Other reasons for clinginess can include the gradual loss of vision, hearing or cognition in older dogs, as well as illness or boredom in dogs of any age. Anxious dogs are often clingy, and because our canine companions are so attuned to our moods, they can also become clingy when they sense anxiety or stress in us.

“As if all of these reasons weren’t enough,” writes Pendergrass, “some dog breeds are prone to clinginess. For example, lapdogs, like Shih Tzus, tend be needy dogs. Also, working dogs, who are trained to be dependent, can become clingy.”

Clinginess Can Progress to Separation Anxiety in Some Dogs

While clingy dogs and those with separation anxiety share certain behavioral characteristics, the major difference between them is the way in which they handle being apart from their humans. In a nutshell, your Velcro dog wants to be as close as possible to you when you’re home but doesn’t have the canine version of panic attack when left home alone.

Separation anxiety is what triggers panic attacks in affected dogs, causing them to engage in behaviors that can be destructive and self-harming. It’s important to understand that dogs with true separation anxiety aren’t “acting out” because their owners are away — they’re feeling overwhelming panic they have no control over.

Unfortunately, clinginess can progress to separation anxiety in some dogs, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your Velcro pup for any signs of nervousness or panic when left alone. If you suspect your dog’s clingy behavior is moving in the direction of separation anxiety, it’s important to address the situation right away.

How to Discourage Your Dog’s Clinginess and Encourage Independence

The best approach to managing Velcro dogs is to help build confidence and encourage their independence while you’re at home with them, which will increase their ability to manage any anxiety they feel when you’re away. Pendergrass suggests increasing physical exercise and mental stimulation, creating a special space where they can hang out instead of trailing you around the house, and desensitization.

• Increase your dog’s daily exercise — Engage your dog in at least one rigorous exercise session daily. I can’t stress enough how beneficial intense exercise is for not only anxiety, but boredom and behavior problems as well.

If you’re concerned that your dog’s clinginess is heading into separation anxiety territory, go for a strenuous exercise (or ball playing) session before you leave the house. A tired dog gets into less physical and mental mischief when left alone.

• Stimulate her mind — Keeping your dog’s mind active is also critically important in preventing undesirable behaviors. Boredom is the breeding ground for all manner of “bad dog” behavior. In addition to daily activities to engage her brain, your dog should be continuously socialized throughout her life with frequent opportunities to interact with other dogs, cats, and people.

Regular training sessions are also a great way to keep her mind occupied and strengthen the bond you share with her. Nose work, which encourages her to use her natural hunting instincts and scenting abilities, can be a great way to keep her mentally stimulated. Even allowing your dog to have 10 minutes a day of sniff-time in a natural setting will enrich her senses and fulfill her need to experience the world through her nose.

And don’t overlook the value of treat-release and food puzzle toys, which not only challenge your dog’s mind, but also provide appropriate objects for her to chew. I find the Treat & Train Manners Minder a great tool for this purpose.

It’s also a good idea to rotate your dog’s toys regularly. If you leave all of them out in a big basket, she may lose interest in them quickly. A better idea is to leave out one or two and put the rest away. In a day or two, swap them out. Also be sure to play with your dog using her toys; rigorous, engaging play sessions several times a day are a great way to her pent-up energy and bond with her at the same time.

• Create a special dog-friendly space — This can be a crate (with the door left open) if your dog is crate trained (which I highly recommend), or a corner of the room outfitted with a comfy, nontoxic dog bed, perhaps an earthing mat or grounding pad, and a favorite toy.

Use positive reinforcement behavior training to teach your dog to respond reliably to a verbal cue such as “Go to your crate,” or “Go to your special space,” and give him the cue when you notice he’s obsessing over your every move.

• Desensitize your dog to your movements — If your dog is made of Velcro, she’s acutely aware of the movements you make as you prepare to leave the house, such as putting on your “outside” shoes, pulling on a coat/sweater/hat, grabbing your car keys, etc.

Pendergrass recommends “normalizing” these movements by performing them when you’re not planning to leave the house. Once these movements no longer signal to your dog that you’re leaving her, she’ll pay less attention to them.

Needless to say, the goal is always to prevent clinginess in the first place, which is best accomplished by asking a prospective breeder what socialization steps are taken with the litter as a part of your pre-purchase interview process. Good breeders know puppies should already have a month of focused, intentional, diversified socialization prior to going to their forever homes. Obviously, this is impossible if you rescue pups.

Once puppies reach their new homes, positive socialization must start immediately and include several opportunities for new experiences on a daily basis for the first year of life. Creating confident puppies that feel safe being alone is the best way to avoid this situation later on.

For adult dogs, if their extreme clinginess persists after you implement these suggestions, or you’re concerned it’s progressing to separation anxiety, it’s important to make an appointment with your integrative veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist.

You might also find these articles on soothing an anxious dog and helping a dog with separation anxiety helpful.

 

Can your Dog smell Fear?

As seen in PetMD By: Dr. Sarah Wooten

Have you ever noticed that when you are feeling fearful, your dog becomes more attentive and clingy?

Have you also noticed that your dog may behave differently around people who like dogs versus people who are afraid of dogs?

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, but can they smell fear? And if so, how?

Is It True That Dogs Can Smell Fear?

The science is in, and the answer is a resounding YES—dogs can smell fear. Dogs have olfactory superpowers that can detect a human’s emotional state by the scent that a human emits. That’s right—you can’t hide fear from dogs. They’ve got your number!

Until recently, the idea that dogs can smell fear was only a theory, but a study called “Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs” actually proves that dogs (or at least Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers) can smell human emotions and respond accordingly.

When a person gets scared, their sweat glands will start secreting moisture, especially in the armpits. This sweat contains chemical signals that dogs can pick up on.

Can Dogs Smell the Difference Between Fear and Happiness?

Researchers correctly postulated that dogs would respond differently to human odors that were emitted under different emotional states—namely, fear and happiness.

In the study, dogs were exposed to three stimuli—their owner, a stranger (the control) and an odor dispenser. Dogs were assigned to different odor conditions randomly.

They collected odors from humans in three different emotional states: fearful, happy and neutral (no sweat). The odors were collected from the armpits of random male donors who were not otherwise involved in the experiment procedures.

The dogs were then observed for responses, including behaviors directed at the three targets, stress behaviors and heart rate. Researchers found that when the dogs were exposed to “happy odors,” they interacted more with the stranger and had lower heart rates.

In contrast, when the dogs were exposed to the “fear odor,” they displayed more stress behaviors and had higher heart rates associated with the fight, flight or freeze response—a  bodily response of the autonomic nervous system that is essential for adaptation and survival.

The dogs also sought more reassurance from their owners and interacted with the stranger less than the dogs that were exposed to the “happy odor.”

Researchers concluded that chemosignals—odors that we emit in response to our emotional state—communicate across species to dogs. So, if we are scared, they can smell it and get scared, too.

What Your Dog’s Senses Can Tell You About Your Own Emotions

Dogs can help us recognize our own emotional states. Many people who have chronic anxiety may not even be aware that they are walking around in fight, flight or freeze mode.

A dog that’s in tune with how you exhibit stress or fear can help signal the onset of these emotions and help you better work through feelings of anxiety.

It’s also important to acknowledge that dogs can feed off of your energy. So, try to temper your mindset throughout tense situations—say, like at your next vet visit—to help keep your pet more at ease.

Your mental health and that of your pet are both important. If you take note of how your dog is behaving, you might learn more about your own mood and mental state than expected.

 

5 Types of Dog Eye Discharge (and What They Mean)

5 Types of Dog Eye Discharge (and What They Mean)

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on February 13, 2020, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

Eye discharge is a common problem in dogs. Some types are completely normal, while others are associated with potentially serious health concerns.

 

In order to determine when you need to take your dog to the vet, you’ll need to understand the various types of dog eye discharge and what each may mean.

 

5 Common Types of Eye Discharge in Dogs

 

Let’s take a look at five common types of dog eye discharge and what you should do about them.

 

1. A Little Goop or Crust

 

Tears play an essential role in maintaining eye health. They provide oxygen and nourishment to the cornea (the clear layer of tissue at the front of the eye) and help remove debris from the eye’s surface.

 

Tears normally drain through ducts located at the inner corner of each eye, but sometimes a little bit of goop or crust will accumulate there. This material is made out of dried tears, oil, mucus, dead cells, dust, etc., and is typically clear or a slightly reddish-brown color.

 

It’s most evident in the morning and is often perfectly normal. The amount of eye goop a dog produces each night (or after long naps) should stay relatively constant.

 

The goop or crust should be easy to remove with a warm, damp cloth. The eyes shouldn’t be red, and your dog should not exhibit any signs of eye discomfort (rubbing, squinting, blinking, and/or sensitivity to light).

 

If at any point you notice an increase in your dog’s eye goop or other worrisome symptoms, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

 

2. Watery Eyes

 

Excessive eye watering (epiphora) is associated with many different conditions that run the range from relatively benign to serious. Here are a few common causes of watery eyes in dogs:

 

·         Allergies

·         Irritants

·         Foreign material in the eye

·         Anatomical abnormalities (e.g., prominent eyes or rolled-in eyelids),

·         Blocked tear ducts

·         Corneal wounds

·         Glaucoma (increased eye pressure)

 

If your dog has a relatively mild increase in tearing, but his eyes look normal in all other respects—and he doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort—it’s reasonable to monitor the situation for a day or two.

 

Your dog may have simply received a face full of pollen or dust, and the increased tearing is working to solve the problem. But if his eyes continue to be watery or your dog develops red, painful eyes or other types of eye discharge, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

 

3. Reddish-Brown Tear Stains

 

Light-colored dogs often develop a reddish-brown discoloration to the fur near the inner corner of their eyes. This occurs because tears contain a pigment called porphyrin that turns reddish-brown with prolonged exposure to air.

 

In the absence of other problems, tear staining in this area is normal and is just a cosmetic concern. If you want to minimize your dog’s tear stains, try one or more of these solutions:

 

·         Wipe the area a few times a day with a cloth dampened with warm water or an eye-cleaning solution that’s made specifically for dogs

·         Keep the fur around your dog’s eyes trimmed short

·         Try giving your dog an antibiotic-free nutritional supplement that reduces tear staining

 

Keep in mind that it can take several months for porphyrin-stained fur to grow out and for the effects of any of these remedies to become obvious.

 

Make an appointment with your veterinarian for an eye examination if you notice any of the following:

 

·         An increase in the amount of tear staining

·         A change in the appearance of your dog’s tear staining

·         Your dog’s eyes become red and painful

 

4. White-Gray Mucus

 

Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS) is a condition that usually develops when a dog’s immune system attacks and destroys the glands that produce tears.

 

With fewer tears, the body tries to compensate by making more mucus to lubricate the eyes. But mucus can’t replace all the functions of tears, so the eyes become red and painful and may develop ulcers and abnormal corneal pigmentation.

 

Left untreated, KCS can result in severe discomfort and blindness.

 

If you notice white-gray mucus collecting around your dog’s eyes, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can perform a simple procedure called a “Schirmer Tear Test” to differentiate KCS from other diseases that are associated with increased eye mucus production.

 

Most dogs respond well to treatment for KCS, which may involve cyclosporine, tacrolimus, artificial tears, and/or other medications.

 

Surgery can also be considered but should be reserved for those cases when medical treatment is unsuccessful.

 

5. Yellow or Green Eye Discharge

 

A dog whose eyes produce yellow or green discharge often has an eye infection, particularly if eye redness and discomfort are also evident.

 

Eye infections can develop as a primary problem or as a result of another condition (wounds, dry eye, etc.) that weakens the eye’s natural defenses against infection.

 

Sometimes what looks to be an eye infection is actually a sign that a dog has a systemic illness or a problem affecting the respiratory tract, nervous system, or other part of the body.

 

Any dog who looks like he might have an eye infection should be seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible.

 

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

 

Arthritis In your dog?

Arthritis In your dog?

By Dr. Karen Becker

Just like older people, many dogs who are getting up in years develop arthritis, and while the condition is more often seen in large and giant breeds, it can affect dogs of any age, any size, and either sex.

The good news is that if your own dog is dealing with arthritis, there are many things you can do to help him remain comfortable and mobile in spite of his condition.

5 Critical Areas to Focus on If Your Dog Has Arthritis

In many cases, dogs with degenerative joint disease can be well managed with a natural, nontoxic protocol. The earlier supportive joint protocols are started, the better. In my experience, which is fortunately also a growing trend in the conventional veterinary community, a multimodal approach is best for slowing the progression of the disease and keeping arthritic dogs comfortable.

  1. Weight management — Keeping your four-legged family member at a lean, healthy weight is absolutely crucial in alleviating arthritis symptoms. An overweight dog with arthritis can have noticeable improvement in symptoms after losing just a small amount of body weight.
  2. Exercise — Dogs need to move their bodies more, not less, as they age. Although the intensity, duration and type of exercise will change, daily activity is still crucial to prevent musculoskeletal weakness. Muscles maintain your dog’s frame, so preserving muscle tone will also slow the amount of joint laxity (which causes arthritis) as well.

Daily, consistent, lifelong aerobic exercise is the very best long-term strategy to delay the onset of arthritis symptoms. Without it, dogs exhibit more profound symptoms much earlier in life.

  1. An anti-inflammatory diet — All dogs, and especially those with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, should be fed a moisture-rich, nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate diet that is naturally anti-inflammatory, consisting of real, whole foods, preferably raw, organic, and non-GMO. It should include:
High-quality, lean protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone (protein coming from animal sources should make up more than 80 percent of a cat’s diet)
Low to moderate levels of animal fat (depending on your pet’s activity level)
High levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 essential fatty acids)
A few fresh cut, fibrous vegetables, pureed
No grains or starches
A whole food vitamin/mineral supplement that meets the additional E, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, iodine and vitamin D deficiencies often found in homemade diets OR enough of these hard-to-source foods in whole food forms, daily
Beneficial additions such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and super green foods

There is one commercially available “veterinary recommended” raw, therapeutic diet on the market that takes the guess work out of creating a balanced, fresh food diet for arthritic dogs.

Along with a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet, it’s important to practice portion control at every meal. For most pets, this means a carefully measured morning and evening meal. And don’t forget to factor in any calories from treats.

You also need to know exactly how many calories your dog or cat should be eating per day. Use these calorie calculators to determine how many calories your pet should take in to lose weight or maintain his or her current weight.

  1. Increasing comfort and mobility at home — Arthritic dogs should be provided with non-toxic, well-padded bedding located in a warm, dry area of the house. A carpet-covered ramp or steps to access the bed or couch can be very helpful, along with a gently sloped ramp to the outdoors. Slippery floors should be covered with throw rugs or runners.
  2. Physical therapy — Physical therapy is an absolute must for arthritic dogs and should be designed to maintain and increase joint strength, muscle tone, and range of motion. This can be accomplished with therapeutic exercises, swimming, and massage.

In addition to therapies such as laser treatments and the Assisi loop, I’ve found that incorporating maintenance chiropractic, underwater treadmill, massage, acupuncture, and daily stretching, along with an oral protocol (discussed below) to manage pain and inflammation yields the best results possible for an arthritic dog, and can dramatically delay the need for pharmaceutical interventions if instituted early on in the disease process.

Essential Beneficial Supplements for Arthritic Dogs

Chondroprotective agents (CPAs) that protect the joints (e.g., glucosamine sulfate, collagen, MSM, eggshell membrane, perna mussel aka green-lipped clam, Adequan and cetyl myristoleate) are essential for dogs with arthritis.

CPAs slow the rate of cartilage degeneration, which is critical. The form, dose and type of CPA your veterinarian prescribes should be based on a careful assessment of your dog’s individual needs. CPAs should be blended with pain control options as necessary.

There are many natural remedies for arthritis that can reduce or eliminate the need for painkillers in the early stages, including:

High-quality omega-3 supplement (krill oil) Devil’s Claw
Ubiquinol Supergreen foods (spirulina, astaxanthin)
Turmeric (curcumin) Natural anti-inflammatory formulas (e.g., proteolytic enzymes and SOD)
Traditional Chinese Herbs Homeopathic remedies such as Rhus tox, Bryonia, and Arnica
Boswellia serrata Esterified Fatty Acid Complex (EFAC)
Corydalis CBD oil

There are also ayurvedic herbs and nutraceuticals that can be very beneficial for dogs with arthritis, depending on their individual symptoms.

Why It’s so Important to Continually Monitor Your Dog’s Condition

It’s important to monitor your pet’s symptoms on an ongoing basis, since arthritis is a progressive disease. Your dog’s body is constantly changing, and her treatment protocol will need to evolve as well, which is why partnering with an integrative veterinarian is so important toward your goal of maintaining your furry BFF’s quality of life for as long as possible without drugs.

In the vast majority of mild to moderate joint pain cases, if CPAs and natural pain control options are initiated early, the need for intermittent NSAID therapy can be minimized to those occasional bad days when the weather or activities temporarily exacerbate the dog’s discomfort.

Moderate to severe joint pain cases (requiring consistent NSAID drug administration to maintain quality of life) can rely on lower drug doses by using an integrative protocol that is instituted early on and evolves with a patient’s age.

I definitely recommend finding an integrative or proactive, functional medicine veterinarian to work with you to customize a comprehensive protocol for your pet. Practitioners who’ve gone beyond their traditional veterinary school training of simply prescribing nonsteroidal pain medication, to learn and incorporate complimentary therapies into their practice, will have many more options to offer your dog over the course of her lifetime.

Some newer regenerative medicine options reaching small animal medicine include stem cell therapy and PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections, as well as Prolo therapy. The safety and efficacy of these treatments depends on the condition and technique used, which is another reason to partner with a functional medicine or integrative veterinarian who is well-versed in these promising, emerging procedures.

I also recommend bringing your dog for a wellness checkup with your proactive veterinarian at least twice a year to review the status of her health, and to check the range of motion in her joints, the muscle mass she’s either gaining or losing, and to make adjustments to her protocol as necessary to ensure her quality of life is optimal.

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Got yourself a Door Dasher?

Got yourself a Door Dasher? 

By Dr. Karen Becker DVM

Many of you who have dogs or have friends or family with dogs are familiar with the phrase “door darting.” Door darting is what happens when an unrestrained, untrained dog spies an open door and dashes through it to parts unknown.

The frustrated owners of these dogs are uniformly desperate to get the situation under control. Not only is door darting dangerous, it can also be embarrassing when there’s a visitor at your door who witnesses your furry family member making his wild-eyed escape.

So why does your extravagantly well-kept canine companion, who wants for absolutely nothing, launch himself out open doors like he’s leading a prison break? In the words of certified dog behavior consultant and dog trainer Pat Miller, because it’s fun!

“The outside world can be endlessly reinforcing for a dog,” Miller writes in Bark magazine. “If you have an ‘investigate-and-sniff-everything-on-walks’ kind of dog, you know that from experience. The door-darter has also learned that dashing outside is a great way to get his couch-potato human to play with him — which is also very reinforcing.

Finally, if you’ve ever made the mistake of being angry at your dog when you finally got your hands on him, you’ve taught him that being captured makes good stuff go away (he doesn’t get to play anymore) and makes bad stuff happen (you yell at him).

Making good stuff go away is the definition of ‘negative punishment’ and making bad stuff happen is ‘positive punishment.’ Basically, he’s punished twice, and neither punishment is associated with the act of dashing out the door! Rather, both are connected with you catching him, which will make it even harder to retrieve him the next time he gets loose.”1

Profile of a Door Darter

Many canine escape artists are first and foremost in dire need of more physical exercise and mental stimulation. Often, they are high-energy breeds, or dogs who spend all day inside by themselves. Generally speaking, dogs who aren’t given sufficient opportunities to exercise and explore are much more likely to seek out those opportunities for themselves.

A dog who is well-exercised through structured activities (walking, running, hiking, playing fetch, trips to the dog park, etc.) is typically more relaxed and compliant than an under-exercised dog.

Another consideration is your dog’s breed and temperament. Some breeds naturally prefer to stick close to home and their humans, while others are more inclined to be adventurers. For example, certain dogs, including some terriers, were bred to work independently and at a distance from humans. Those dogs are more likely to feel the urge to dash out the door than dogs bred for companionship.

Breeds whose nature is to track and hunt wildlife (e.g., scenthounds and sighthounds) are also more likely to run out an open door to pursue an enticing smell or a small animal.

Dangers of Door Dashing

The dangers for a dog running free through the neighborhood are countless. They include being hit by a moving vehicle, encountering an aggressive dog or wild animal, or getting lost, stolen, or picked up by animal control. There’s also the possibility a dog running wild could knock over a small child or an elderly person or run through a neighbor’s open door or backyard gate and cause a problem.

Unfortunately, most door darters, even after being scared or hurt during an escape, aren’t able to associate the act of running loose with the consequence of fear or pain. As soon as there’s another opportunity to bolt through an open door, these dogs are in the wind once again.

The thrill the dog gets by running loose and having the opportunity to chase other animals (or people) provides instant reinforcement and self-reward for the behavior.

Taking Action: First, Get Your Dog Back

Just as preventing your dog from darting out the door is easier said than done, so is retrieving him in many cases.

“An accomplished door-darter is often an accomplished keep-away player as well,” writes Miller. “Don’t chase your dog; you’ll just be playing his game. Play a different game. Grab a squeaky toy, take it outside and squeak. It may be counter-intuitive, but when your dog looks, run away from him, still squeaking.

If the dog chases you, let him grab one end of the toy. Play tug, trade him for a treat, then squeak and play some more. Let him follow you, playing tug-the-squeaky, into your fenced yard, then close the gate (or into your garage or house, if you don’t have a fence). Play more squeaky with him.”

If your dog happens to love trips in the car, Miller suggests asking him if he wants to go for a ride. Open the door, wait for him to jump in, and take him for short ride. If he loves taking walks or visits to the dog park, offer them instead. The idea is to propose an alternate activity he enjoys so you can get him back under your control.

Once you have him back, no matter how upset you are, do not punish him. Don’t yell, don’t even calmly read him the riot act. And don’t take him back inside immediately, Miller advises, because that’s punishment, too. Stay outside and play with him a while.

“I promise, if you punish him or march him sternly back into the house, he’ll be harder to catch the next time,” she writes. “Instead, happily and genuinely reinforce him with whatever he loves best.”

Needless to say, all dogs, and especially escape artists, should wear an up-to-date ID collar or tag at all times. If your dog is microchipped, make sure to keep his registration current in the microchip company’s database. Other methods for identifying pets include GPS tracking devices and permanent tattoos.

If you have a dog that is a genuine Houdini, I recommend you also safeguard him with a multitude of restraints. I always recommend that pets have a standard up-to-date ID collar or tag in addition to whatever other ID method you choose, since the easiest, fastest way for someone who has found your pet to find you, is to take a quick look at the contact info contained on his tag or collar.

9 Tips for Curbing Door Dashing

There are many different ways to train dogs to perform desirable behaviors. The steps listed below are among several that can be used to successfully teach your dog not to dash out open doors.

The most effective and humane training method, and the one I always recommend, involves setting your dog up for success, using positive reinforcement to train the behaviors you want to see more of, and ignoring (not punishing) undesirable behaviors.

With a door darting dog, the first order of business is to put an immediate and permanent stop to her ability to scoot out the door. This means gaining the cooperation of everyone in the household, and all visitors to your home.

  1. Doorknob rule — A technique many people use is the dog-doorknob rule. Everyone living in and visiting your home should be trained not to turn the doorknob until they know where the dog is and ensure she can’t get loose and get to the door. The door should never be opened until the dog is secure, which means confined in another room, on a leash someone is holding, or reliably following a verbal command to “stay” or “wait.”
  2. Secure the yard — If you have a fence around your yard or a driveway gate, make sure to close and even lock any access points so that in the event someone breaks the doorknob rule, you’ve got a second opportunity to recapture your escapee before she disappears down the street.
  3. Leash rule — Until your dog is trained not to run out the door, keep a leash on her at all times throughout the day when someone is due to enter or leave your home. If there tends to be constant activity at your door, it means your dog will be on leash most of the time in the beginning. Yes, this is a pain, but remember the goal is to put an immediate and permanent stop to her ability to bolt out the door.
  4. Before training sessions, take your dog out to relieve herself — Before attempting any at-the-door training, make sure your dog has an opportunity to relieve herself. If she really needs to go, she might wind up confused about what you want from her, since she’s accustomed to charging out the door to go pee or poop — an activity you normally encourage.
  5. Teach a “back” command at the door — While inside your home, grab some training treats and go to the door with your dog. As you open the door, tell her “back.” As you give the command, shuffle your feet forward toward her, which should cause her to back up to avoid being crowded.

When she backs up, immediately give her a treat. Repeat this exercise as often as necessary until she automatically backs up whenever the door starts to open.

  1. Teach a “wait” command at the door — Again, grab some treats, go to the door with your dog, and tell her to sit. Hold a treat close to her nose with one hand, tell her to “wait,” and open the door with the other hand. If she stays still, give her the treat and lots of praise. If she dives for the door, close it, tell her to sit again, and repeat the exercise. Continue training the “wait” command until she sits and waits at the door reliably.
  2. Teach “back” and “wait” at every door — Don’t assume once your dog is consistently following “back” and “wait” commands at one door that she’ll do the same at another door. Habituate her to the behavior at all entrances to your home by practicing at each door a couple of times a day.
  3. Introduce distractions — Once your dog is reliably obeying your commands at each door, clip on her leash, grab some treats, and begin introducing distractions so that you can teach her to pay attention to you in a distracting environment.

For example, have people arrive at the door to greet you while she waits beside you. Bring her to the door for package or mail deliveries. Ask a neighbor or friend with a dog to stand on the sidewalk or curbside in front of your house and open the door so your dog can see them.

  1. Never let your guard down — Preventing escapes and training your dog to behave properly at the door should extinguish most door-dashing behavior. However, it’s impossible to extinguish your pet’s natural curiosity, nor would you want to. So, it’s important to never let your guard down when it comes to your adventurous canine companion and open doors.
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The Most Common Dog Health Issue – Are You Doing Your Part?

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Dental disease remains the most common medical problem in dogs today, with the majority suffering some form of periodontal (gum) disease by the age of 3. The reason for this is most family dogs don’t eat the kind of food that helps keep their teeth clean.

In addition, most dogs don’t receive regular home and/or professional dental care, and they don’t show signs of discomfort or pain until there’s a significant problem in their mouth.

Unfortunately, the risk of painful mouth conditions — in particular, gum disease, tooth resorption and oral cancer — is dramatically increased for older dogs. This means that for your senior or geriatric pet, proper dental care is especially important.

Oral Disease Can Set the Stage for Heart Disease

When plaque isn’t removed from your dog’s teeth, it collects there and around the gum line and within a few days hardens into tartar. Tartar sticks to the teeth and ultimately irritates the gums. Irritated gums become inflamed — a condition known as gingivitis.

If your dog has gingivitis, the gums will be red rather than pink and his breath may be noticeably smelly. If the tartar isn’t removed, it will build up under the gums, eventually causing them to pull away from the teeth. This creates small pockets in the gum tissue that become repositories for additional bacteria.

At this stage, your pet has developed an irreversible condition, periodontal disease, which causes considerable pain and can result in abscesses, infections, loose teeth and bone loss.

When periodontal disease is present, the surface of the gums is weakened. The breakdown of gum tissue allows mouth bacteria to invade your pet’s bloodstream and travel throughout his body. If his immune system doesn’t kill off the bacteria, it can reach the heart and infect it.

Studies have shown that oral bacteria, once in the bloodstream, seem able to fight off attacks by the immune system. What many pet parents don’t realize is there’s an established link between gum disease and endocarditis, which is an inflammatory condition of the valves or inner lining of the heart.

Researchers also suspect certain strains of oral bacteria may lead to heart problems. Some types of bacteria found in the mouths of dogs produce sticky proteins that can adhere to artery walls, causing them to thicken. Mouth bacteria are also known to promote the formation of blood clots that can damage the heart.

How quickly these events take place depends on a number of factors, including your dog’s age, breed, genetics, diet, overall health, and the frequency and quality of dental care he receives. It’s also important to realize that some pets will require regular professional cleanings even when their owners are doing everything right in terms of home care.

Why Dental Procedures to Treat Moderate to Severe Oral Disease Require Anesthesia

Veterinary dental cleanings for dogs with moderate to severe oral disease require general anesthesia, because a truly thorough oral exam and cleaning (and extractions, if needed) can’t be accomplished on a pet who is awake. It’s dangerous to use sharp instruments in the mouth of a conscious animal, and needless to say, the procedure is very stressful for the pet with significant oral disease.

Prior to the oral exam and cleaning, your pet will undergo a physical exam and blood tests to ensure she can be safely anesthetized for the procedure. The day of the cleaning, she’ll be sedated, and a tube will be placed to maintain a clear airway and so that oxygen and anesthetic gas can be given.

An intravenous (IV) catheter should also be placed so that fluids and anesthesia can be administered as appropriate throughout the procedure and your pet should be monitored by sophisticated anesthetic monitoring equipment. Make sure your veterinarian does both these things.

If you’re wondering why pets require general anesthesia and intubation for a seemingly simple procedure, there are a number of benefits:

·         Anesthesia immobilizes your dog to ensure her safety and cooperation during a confusing, stressful procedure

·         It provides for effective pain management during the procedure

·         It allows for a careful and complete examination of all surfaces inside the oral cavity, as well as the taking of digital x-rays, which are necessary to address issues that are brewing below the surface of the gums that can’t been seen and could cause problems down the road

·         It permits your veterinarian to probe and scale as deeply as necessary below the gum line where 60% or more of plaque and tartar accumulate

·         Intubation while the patient is under general anesthesia protects the trachea and prevents aspiration of water and oral debris

What Actually Happens During Your Dog’s Dental Cleaning

While your pet is anesthetized, her teeth will be cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler as well as a hand scaler to clean under and around every tooth. Your veterinarian will use dental probes to measure the depths of the pockets in the gum around each tooth, and x-rays should be taken.

Most vets use digital technology now, so you don’t have to panic about overwhelming radiation exposure from dental x-rays. Digital x-rays are important because they identify issues we can’t see externally.

I’ve had patients require a second anesthesia and dental procedure within several months of the first, because x-rays were refused, and a retained baby tooth or festering tooth root infection wasn’t caught on the first go-round. The only way to know what’s happening below the crown of the tooth is to check by taking a digital x-ray.

Once all the plaque and tartar are off the teeth, your dog’s mouth will be rinsed, and each tooth will be polished. The reason for polishing is to smooth any tiny grooves on the teeth left by the cleaning so they don’t attract more plaque and tartar. After polishing, the mouth is rinsed again.

Average Costs for Canine Dental Procedures

The cost of veterinary dental procedures is influenced by a number of factors, including where you live, and the degree of disease involved. Some veterinary practices bill for dental work according to the type of procedure performed, while others price their services based on the time it takes to complete a procedure.

An oral exam, x-rays and cleaning with no tooth extractions usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Average costs range from around $300 to $1,000, plus x-rays at $150 to $200. Veterinary dental specialists often charge more.

It’s important if you comparison-shop to ensure quotes on the low end don’t involve skimping on important items that help ensure your dog’s safety, such as pre-op screening, IV fluids, x-rays, and certified veterinary technicians. Ask for itemized quotes.

Extractions are typically priced according to the type of tooth and the time and work needed to remove it. There are simple extractions that can run as little as $10 to $15, elevated extractions that can average $25 to $35, and extractions of teeth with multiple roots, which tend to be the priciest — up to $100 in some cases.

Root canals are commonly priced by the root. A root canal on a tooth with three roots can range from $1,000 to $3,000, hence most owners opting for extraction.

Tips to Help Keep Your Dog’s Mouth Healthy

·         Feed a nutritionally balanced, species-specific, fresh food diet, and feed it raw if possible. When your dog gnaws on raw meat, it acts as a kind of natural toothbrush and dental floss.

·         Offer recreational bones and/or a fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew to help control plaque and tartar. The effect of dental chews is similar to raw bones, but safer for power chewers or dogs who have restorative dental work and can’t chew raw bones.

·         Brush your pet’s teeth, preferably every day. If every day is too tall an order, commit to do it several times a week. A little time spent each day brushing your dog’s teeth can be tremendously beneficial in maintaining her oral health and overall well-being.

·         Perform routine mouth inspections. Your dog should allow you to open his mouth, look inside, and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on the tongue, under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of the mouth. After you do this a few times, you’ll become aware of any changes that occur from one inspection to the next. You should also make note of any differences in the smell of your pet’s breath that aren’t diet-related.

·         Arrange for regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian. He or she will alert you to any existing or potential problems in your pet’s mouth, and recommend professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.

Daily homecare and as-needed professional cleanings by your veterinarian or dental professional are the best way to keep your pet’s mouth healthy and disease-free. They’re also important for dogs with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure.

Ear’s have it!

Ear’s have it!

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Otitis externa is the medical term for inflammation or infection of the outer ear canal, and unfortunately, recurring ear problems are very common in dogs. In my experience, many stubborn ear infections have been treated (often repeatedly), but never actually resolved. I also suspect many veterinarians don’t emphasize the importance of routine ear maintenance to dog parents, so many dogs end up with recurrent ear infections because their humans wait for problems to occur, then try to address them after the fact.

There are two primary causes of ear problems in dogs: chronic inflammation, and infection. Untreated inflammation can lead to infection. If your dog’s ears are warm to the touch, red, swollen and/or itchy, but there’s little to no discharge, chances are the problem is inflammation. However, if one or more of those symptoms is present along with obvious discharge, it’s usually a sign of infection.

Causes of Ear Inflammation

Allergies — The most common reason for ear inflammation in dogs is allergies. An allergic response to food or something in the environment can cause inflammation throughout your pet’s body, including the ears.

A dog with ear inflammation caused by an allergy will sometimes push his head along furniture or the carpet trying to relieve his misery. He may also scratch at his ears or shake his head a lot. If you see any of these behaviors, check his ears for redness and swelling.

Wax accumulation — A second major reason for ear problems is wax buildup. The presence of earwax is normal, but dogs have varying amounts. Some dogs need their ears cleaned daily, while others never have a buildup.

Certain breeds produce more wax than others, such as Labradors and other retrievers who tend to love the water. If you have one of these breeds, you should get your dog accustomed to having her ears cleaned while she’s a puppy. Other breeds, such as Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels and Poodles can also produce an abundance of wax that needs regular attention.

Moisture in the ear — Another cause of ear inflammation is moisture, also known as “swimmer’s ear.” We see this primarily during the summer months when dogs are outdoors playing in lakes, ponds and pools.

Wet ear canals and a warm body temperature are the perfect environment for inflammation and/or infection to occur. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears each time he comes out of the water, has been outdoors in the rain or snow, and after baths.

When Infection Follows Inflammation

Ear infections in dogs usually involve the outer canal, which is very deep. If the infection recurs or never really goes away, the condition progresses from otitis externa to chronic otitis. There are a number of things that can cause an infection in your dog’s ear, including:

·         Heavy, hanging ears

·         Excess glands in the ears that produce wax and sebum

·         Water that remains in the ear canal and creates a moist, warm environment perfect for growing bacteria or fungi

·         Foreign material in the ear, such as foxtails

·         Narrowing of the ear canal

If your dog has an ear infection, it’s very important to identify whether it’s a bacterial or fungal infection, or both, in order to successfully treat the problem. By far, the most common cause of fungal ear infections in dogs is yeast. Yeast is always present on the bodies of animals, but when the immune system isn’t in prime condition, the fungus can grow out of control and cause an infection.

Most dogs prone to yeast infections need to have their ears cleaned and dried frequently. If the problem seems chronic or there’s a persistent infection that just won’t clear up, there’s probably an underlying immunological cause that should be investigated. For much more information on yeast, including how to deal with yeasty ears, view my video and article on yeast infections in dogs.

Bacterial infections of the ear are actually more common than fungal infections. Bacteria are either pathogenic or nonpathogenic. Pathogenic bacteria are abnormal inhabitants of your pet’s body, picked up from an outside source, for example, contaminated pond water.

Non-pathogenic bacteria are typically staph bacteria that are normal inhabitants of your dog’s body. Occasionally these bacteria can overgrow and overwhelm the ear canal. Any normal, helpful bacteria can grow out of control and cause an infection in a dog with an underperforming immune system.

Insist on an Accurate Diagnosis of Your Dog’s Ear Infection

Veterinarians diagnose yeast infections with cytology, which means we look at a smear of the ear debris under a microscope. An accurate diagnosis of a bacterial ear infection requires an ear culture. Your veterinarian will swab your dog’s ear and send the sample to a lab to determine what type of organism is present, and what medication will most effectively treat it. Never let your veterinarian simply guess at what bacteria is causing your pet’s ear infection. Instead, ask them to find out.

It’s very important to finish the medication your veterinarian prescribes, even if your dog’s ear infection seems to clear up before the medication is gone. Stopping the medication early can lead to regrowth of resistant organisms. In addition, while your dog is being treated for an ear infection, be sure to keep his ears clean and clear of gunk so the topical medication you put into the ears can reach the infected tissue.

Treating a Bacterial Ear Infection

Unfortunately, these days more and more ear infection culture results are showing the presence of bacteria that are resistant to most conventional medications. These are cases in which complementary therapies are not only a last hope, but can provide highly effective, non-toxic relief.

One example: A 2016 study tested the effectiveness of manuka honey to treat bacterial ear infections in 15 dogs.1 Researchers applied 1 milliliter (mL) of medical grade honey in the dogs’ ears for 21 days. The results showed the honey “promoted rapid clinical progress,” with 70 percent of the dogs achieving a “clinical cure” between 7 and 14 days, and 90 percent by day 21.

In addition, the bacteria-killing activity of the honey worked against all bacteria species tested, including multiple strains of drug-resistant bacteria. It’s important to note that it doesn’t appear the antimicrobial activity of honey is enough on its own to resolve every ear infection. Most of the dogs in the study had complete symptom relief by day 21; however, several still had bacterial infections.

Another remedy for resistant ear infections that’s receiving a lot of attention is medicinal clay. Green clay has been shown to effectively treat a variety of bacteria that have been implicated in chronic ear infections, including pseudomonas and MRSA.2

How to Help Your Dog Avoid Ear Problems

If your dog is prone to ear problems or you want to make sure she doesn’t ever have to deal with them, develop the habit of checking her ears daily or every other day for wax, moisture, or other debris that has accumulated in the outer ear canal. If you’re consistent with your inspections, you’ll know soon enough how often your dog needs to be checked to keep her ears clean, dry, and clear of debris. The cleaning itself is simple, as long as you do it whenever the ears need it.

If they collect a lot of wax every day, they need to be cleaned every day. If they don’t produce much wax or other gunk you can clean them less often, but you should still check them every day and take action as soon as you see the ear canal isn’t 100 percent clean and dry.

If you think your dog might already have an ear infection, it’s important to make an appointment with your veterinarian before you begin a cleaning regimen. In many cases an infection leads to rupture of the eardrum, which requires special cleaning solutions and medications. For healthy canine ears, a few of my favorite cleaning agents include:

1.    Witch hazel

2.    Organic apple cider vinegar mixed with an equal amount of purified water

3.    Hydrogen peroxide, a few drops on a cotton round dabbed in coconut oil

4.    Green tea or calendula infusion (using cooled tea)

5.    One drop of tea tree oil mixed with 1 tablespoon coconut oil (for dogs only — never cats)

6.    Colloidal silver

You should never use rubbing alcohol to clean your dog’s ears. It can cause burning and irritation, especially if the skin is inflamed. Use cotton balls or cotton rounds only to clean the inside of the ear canal. You can use cotton swabs to clean the outer area of the ear, but never inside the canal, as they can damage your dog’s eardrums.

The best method for cleaning most dogs’ ears is to saturate a cotton ball with cleaning solution and swab out the inside of the ear. Use as many cotton balls as necessary to remove all the dirt and debris. Just a few minutes spent cleaning and drying your pet’s ears as often as necessary will make a huge difference in the frequency and severity of ear infections, especially in dogs who are prone to them.

 

Canine Equivalent of Alzheimer’s – Can You Spot the Signs

Canine Equivalent of Alzheimer’s – Can You Spot the Signs

By Dr. Karen Becker

Just like you, your canine BFF is getting older, and unfortunately, it’s happening at a greatly accelerated rate compared to your own aging process. The good news is that the care you’ve lovingly provided your dog up to this point will go a long way toward ensuring she continues to thrive during her golden years.

Once your pet begins to show signs of aging, it’s important to focus on making her senior and geriatric life stages as happy, healthy, and comfortable as possible. One age-related condition that many older dogs develop is canine cognitive dysfunc­tion (CCD), which is similar to Alzheimer’s diseases in people and is the result of an aging brain.

Clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction are found in 50% of dogs over the age of 11, and by the age of 15, 68% display at least one sign.1 And because large and giant breed dogs age more quickly than smaller breeds, dogs as young as 6 can begin to experience mental decline.

Signs of Cognitive Decline in Older Dogs

There are five classic signs of cognitive decline in dogs:

·         Decreased attention to surroundings, disinterest, apathy

·         Decreased purposeful activity

·         Increased total amount of sleep during a 24-hour period·         Intermittent anxiety expressed through apprehension, panting, moaning or shivering

·         Loss of formerly acquired knowledge, which includes housetraining

Other symptoms include failure to respond to commands and/or difficulty hearing, inability to recognize familiar people and difficulty navigating the environment. Additional physical manifestations of CCD can include excessive licking, lack of grooming, fecal and urinary incontinence, and loss of appetite.

5 Ways to Help Your Aging Pet Stay Mentally Sharp

1. Offer your dog lots of opportunities for exercise, socialization, and mental stimulation — Senior and even geriatric dogs still need daily exercise to maintain good health and physical conditioning.

While older dogs can’t exercise or compete with the same intensity as their younger counterparts, they still derive tremendous benefit from regular walks and other age-appropriate physical activity on a daily basis, or even better, twice daily. There are three types of strengthening exercises that can also be of tremendous help to aging canine bodies:

· Passive range-of-motion (PROM) exercises can benefit both incapacitated and physically healthy pets

· Balance and proprioception (spatial orientation and movement) exercises help older pets remain flexible while also encouraging improved balance and physical stability

· Targeted strengthening exercises are designed to work the big muscle groups that help with standing, walking and running

No matter how old your dog is he still needs regular social interaction with other pets and/or people. As is the case with humans as we age, if dogs don’t stay active and involved in life, their world can become a confusing, intimidating place. Your pet needs regular exposure to other pets and people, but never to the point of overstimulation. Short periods of socialization and playtime in controlled situations are ideal.

Food puzzle and treat release toys provide fun and a good mental workout, as does nose work and brief training sessions to refresh his memory or teach him a new skill.

2. Schedule regular senior wellness check-ups — I recommend twice-yearly wellness visits for pets no matter the age, but this becomes even more important for dogs getting up in years. Keeping abreast of your animal companion’s physical and mental changes as she ages is the best way to catch any disease process early.

Ask your functional medicine veterinarian to perform a blood test, including an A1c test to check your pet’s internal organ and metabolic health to make sure you’re identifying possible issues early on. Keeping abreast of her physical and mental changes as she ages is the very best way to catch any disease process early.

Over-vaccinating is something older animals do not need, so advocate for your older dog by refusing additional vaccines and insisting on titer tests instead. A titer is a blood test that measures protective immunity. Chances are your dog is very well-protected. Switch to titering to help reduce her toxic load.

3. Minimize stress in all aspects of your dog’s life — Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimize anxiety and stress in your older dog. Senior and geriatric dogs, especially those with CCD, are often disoriented, so sticking to a consistent daily routine your pet can count on can help him stay oriented, which will in turn reduce his anxiety. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time each day, feed him at the same times, and go for walks on a set schedule.

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight and physically active will help control arthritis and degenerative joint disease as he ages, insuring he remains comfortable and mobile. Acupuncture and chiropractic care, stretching, and hydrotherapy (exercising in water) can also provide enormous benefits in keeping dogs mobile in their later years.

Regular massage can help keep your senior dog’s muscles toned and reduce the slackening that comes with aging. Massaged muscles are looser, which makes it easier for your pet to move around comfortably. Massage also improves circulation and encourages lymphatic drainage. It can ease the stiffness of arthritis, which helps him maintain his normal gait and active lifestyle. Massage also loosens the muscles around joints, which helps promote ease of movement.

If your dog is having some urine dribbling or incontinence as a result of his age (and not caused by an underlying condition that should be addressed), provide him with more frequent potty trips outside. You can also reintroduce him to a crate if he was crate trained initially. Acupuncture can also be very beneficial for age-related incontinence.

If your dog has problems hearing or seeing, use odor cues like essential oils or pheromone products to help him find his way around. Also consider purchasing or building ramps if he’s having trouble getting into the car or up on the bed or a favorite chair, and if he’s slipping or unsure on bare floors, add some runners, yoga mats or area rugs.

For sleep problems, try increasing his daytime activity level. Let him sleep in your bedroom. Sleeping near you should help ease any anxiety that may be contributing to his nighttime restlessness. Guide him with clear cues and easy-to-follow instructions, and when you talk to him, keep your voice quiet, calm and loving.

4. Feed a nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate fresh food diet — A species-appropriate, nutritionally balanced diet rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids such as krill oil and others such as MCT oil, is very important for cognitive health.

The best fuel for an aging dog is a variety of living, whole foods suitable for a carnivore. Eliminate all refined carbohydrates (which are just unnecessary sugar), as well as grains, potatoes and legumes. Replace those unnecessary carbs with extra high-quality protein. Eliminate extruded diets (kibble) to avoid the toxic byproducts of the manufacturing process.

Processed dog foods are manufactured in a way that creates byproducts that can affect cognitive health, including heterocyclic amines, acrylamides and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Fresh, biologically appropriate foods provide the whole food nutrients your pet’s aging brain requires. The right diet will also support the microbiome, which has been linked to improved cognitive health in humans, and I’ve seen an improvement in dogs as well.

5. Provide beneficial supplements — When it comes to supplements, I typically recommend digestive enzymes and probiotics for all older pets. If your dog needs additional fiber in the diet, choose natural sources such as psyllium husk powder, ground dark green leafy veggies, coconut fiber, or canned 100 percent pumpkin.

I also almost always recommend an omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as krill oil (my favorite), another fish body oil (but not cod liver oil), or algal DHA for pets who can’t tolerate seafood.

Most aging dogs can benefit from joint and antioxidant supplements such as glucosamine sulfate with MSM, cetyl myristoleate, egg­shell membrane, perna mussel (green-lipped clam), several homeopathic remedies, ubiquinol, supergreen foods, and natural anti-inflammatory formulas (herbs such as turmeric and yucca, proteolytic enzymes, SOD and nutraceuticals).

Is your Dog Depressed?

By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

Dogs may or may not suffer from depression in the same way humans do, but they definitely experience mood and behavior changes that are typically short-lived and the result of a recent event in a dog’s life.

Some dogs feel let down at the start of the school year when their playmates are no longer around. Often, an existing dog shows signs of sadness when a second dog is added to the family. Dogs who suffer the loss of a family member (human or pet) often go through a grieving period. And of course, many new canine residents at animal shelters suffer a period of sorrow and uncertainty.

The problem with diagnosing clinical depression (which is different from transient episodes of depressed behavior) is that even in humans, there’s no biological test to identify the condition. A physician makes note of symptoms and what the patient tells them about their feelings and arrives at an “educated guess” diagnosis.

Using our powers of observation you can determine if your animal companion is feeling blue. Generally speaking, when a vet or veterinary behaviorist describes a patient as depressed, the dog is displaying a change in normal behavior.  Dogs can talk with an animal communicator so please contact Diane at dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com if you believe your dog is suffering from depression.

Possible Causes of Depression in Dogs

Lack of exercise — Some dogs actually become socially inhibited when they aren’t getting enough exercise and playtime. This can take the form of a decrease in interaction with other family members or choosing to isolate themselves in their crate or another room. If your normally happy dog suddenly isn’t, consider the possibility that she needs more exercise. A lot more daily exercise.

Most dogs need much more physical activity than their owners realize. Your dog should be getting an absolute minimum of 20 minutes of sustained heart-thumping exercise three times a week. Thirty minutes is better than 20, and six or seven days a week is better than three.

Minimum exercise requirements prevent muscle atrophy, but don’t necessarily build muscle mass, strengthen tendons and ligaments, hone balance and proprioception, or enhance cardiovascular fitness, which is why more is always better. If you can provide your dog daily walks as well as additional daily training sessions to meet your other exercise goals, even better!

Lots of long smell sessions, as a part of your dog’s “cool down” period after exercise, is a fantastic way to let your dog meet her daily outdoor sniffing requirements, another important behavior that can provide tremendous mental enrichment. I believe sniffing isn’t just enjoyable for dogs, it’s a requirement for healthy cognitive stimulation.

Lack of human interaction — A healthy dog who is feeling depressed may lose interest in eating or playing, become destructive, have accidents in the house, or stop running to greet you when you come through the door. Like a sleepy, sluggish dog, a depressed pooch often just needs more quality time with his human.

Get into the habit of spending an uninterrupted hour with your dog each day engaging in physical pursuits, grooming rituals, training exercises, and good old belly rubs. It will lighten both your moods!

Punishment — Dogs who are punished for undesirable behavior instead of being rewarded for positive behavior may stop interacting with their owners in an attempt to avoid mistreatment. They adopt a depressive state of mind called “learned helplessness” because they feel powerless to avoid negative situations.

I can’t stress strongly enough the importance of positive reinforcement behavior training, not only to help your dog become a good canine citizen, but also to preserve and protect the all-important bond you share with him.

Undiagnosed medical problem — If your dog’s behavior changes, even if you suspect you know why, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Many changes in behavior symptomatic of depression, including lack of appetite, potty accidents in the house, sleeping more than usual, reluctance to exercise and sudden aggressive behavior in a dog who has never shown aggression, can also be signs of any number of underlying medical conditions.

You’re depressed — Your dog is very sensitive to your emotional state, which she can detect by observing the tone of your voice, your body language and other subtle clues, including your pheromones (how you smell). The way you move, speak and behave all send subtle signals to your dog that indicate your mood.

For example, when you’re in a situation that’s stressful to your dog, such as at your veterinarian’s office, she’ll look to you to help her calm down. If she senses tension in you, she’ll likely become even more anxious. Your dog is extremely intuitive; so, if you’re feeling blue, don’t be surprised if she seems depressed as well.

Loss of a human family member or pet — It’s not unusual for dogs to grieve the loss of a person or animal friend they’re bonded with. Experts in animal behavior believe dogs feel the same basic emotions humans do, including grief, fear, anger, happiness, sadness, and even possessiveness.

When a dog is mourning a loss, depression is common. Signs of depression in dogs mimic those in people, and include sleeping more than normal, moving more slowly, eating less, and showing a limited interest in playing.

If your dog seems depressed at the loss of a person or animal he was close to, engage him in daily activities he enjoys, such as a walk, a game of fetch, or a trip to the dog park. It’s really a matter of distracting him with things he enjoys until sufficient time has passed and he’s no longer looking around every corner for the one who is now absent from his life.

And it’s best not to expect a quick fix. It can take from a few weeks to a few months before your dog’s depressed mood begins to lift. Planning several engaging activities each day during this time is the best way to help him out of his funk.

5 Tips for Helping a Depressed Dog

  1. Keep daily routines as consistent as possible — Pets do best when they know what to expect from one day to the next. Try to keep mealtimes, exercise, walks, playtime, grooming, bedtime and other daily activities on a consistent schedule. Exercise is a powerful tool to help increase your pooch’s endorphins, or “feel good” hormones. Lots of walks (with plenty of opportunities to sniff) can be a powerful mood enhancer.
  2. Keep your dog’s diet and mealtimes the same and spice up the menu — It’s important to continue to offer him the same food he’s used to, at the same time each day, but if you find your dog isn’t interested in eating much, consider offering a yummy knucklebone for dessert, or make a tasty treat for training time that he hasn’t had before.

Store what he doesn’t eat in the fridge and offer it to him again at his next regularly scheduled mealtime. Use his hunger to help him get his appetite back by resisting the urge to entice him with unhealthy food toppers.

  1. Use natural remedies, if needed — There are some excellent homeopathic and Bach flower remedies that can be easily administered to your depressed dog until you see an emotional shift for the better. Some of my favorites include homeopathic Ignatia, several Bach flower remedies including Mustard and Honeysuckle, and Green Hope Farm Grief and Loss. Diane can make a special blend of Bach Flower essences for grief and loss if your pet has experienced these issues.
  2. Be careful not to inadvertently reward your dog’s depression — It’s only natural to want to comfort your sad pet, but unfortunately, giving attention to a dog who is displaying an undesirable behavior can reinforce the behavior. Obviously, the last thing you want to do is reward a lack of appetite, inactivity or other types of depressed behavior in your dog. Instead, you want to help her over the hump.

A better idea is to try to distract her with healthy, fun activities that provide opportunities for positive behavior reinforcement. This can be a walk, short training sessions, a game of fetch, nose work or offering her a food puzzle toy or recreational bone.

  1. Give it time — Your dog’s depression may take a few days or even weeks to blow over, but eventually most pets return to their normal lively selves. If at any point you feel your pet is suffering unnecessarily or there is something more going on than a case of the blues, I recommend discussing the situation with your animal communicator, vet or a veterinary behaviorist.

 

Additionally there are essential oils that can lift the spirits of both humans and pets that can be used daily.  Contact Diane for recommendations and links to purchase these oils. Dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com

Cushing disease in Dogs

Cushing disease in Dogs

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Cushing’s disease is most often seen in dogs — especially Terriers, Poodles, Dachshunds and the American Eskimo/Spitz. It rarely occurs in cats.

The medical term for this condition is hyperadrenocorticism. Hyper means too much, adreno refers to the adrenal glands, and corticism refers to a syndrome involving the hormone cortisol. Simply put, hyperadrenocorticism describes a condition in which too much cortisol is released by the adrenal glands.

Overproduction of This Powerful Hormone Can Trigger a Cascade of Health Problems

In a healthy dog’s body, cortisol, known as the fight-or-flight hormone, is released in small amounts by the adrenal glands in response to perceived stress, so the dog can prepare to battle or run for his life. A release of cortisol also triggers a release of glucose from the liver. Glucose provides energy to the cells of the muscles used to fight or take flight.

Cortisol also impacts a number of other important functions in your dog’s body, including blood pressure, electrolyte balance, bone and fat metabolism, and immune function. Cortisol is secreted in response to any type of stress in your pet’s body; physical or emotional, short-term or long-term.

If for some reason your dog’s body up-regulates its demand for cortisol, the adrenal glands begin overproducing the hormone, which can lead to a state of toxicity. In dogs who experience chronic stress in any form, the adrenals release more cortisol than their bodies need.

This situation can result in a number of serious disorders, including elevated blood sugar that can lead to diabetes, elevated blood pressure that can result in heart and kidney disease, extreme hunger in response to lots of excess glucose being burned, thinning of the skin and coat, decreased muscle and bone mass, and increased risk of infection.

If your dog’s body is continuously overproducing cortisol, his immune function is compromised, which opens the door for infections anywhere in the body — especially the gums, eyes, ears, skin and urinary tract. If your dog has recurrent infections or a persistent infection, it’s possible too much cortisol is the cause.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease

Most dogs have a few, but not all of the symptoms of the disorder unless diagnosis comes very late in the disease. Symptoms most commonly seen in dogs with early Cushing’s include:

Increased thirst and urination, which can lead to incontinence Bruising
Increased panting Hair loss
Abdominal weight gain (pot belly appearance), despite a reduction in calorie intake Irritability or restlessness
Thinning skin and change of skin color from pink to grey or black, symmetrical flank hair loss Much less commonly, rear limb weakness and blood clots

These symptoms are so diverse and can affect so many organs because every inch of a dog’s body contains cortisol receptors.

Typical or Atypical Cushing’s?

If your dog is diagnosed with hyperadrenocorticism, it’s important to know which type of Cushing’s she has. Typical Cushing’s is either adrenal dependent or, much more commonly, pituitary dependent. About 85% of affected dogs develop the latter form, in which the pituitary gland sends too much stimulating hormone to the adrenals. The adrenal glands respond by over-secreting cortisol.

The remaining 15% of cases are adrenal dependent, in which a tumor develops in an adrenal gland and triggers an up regulation of cortisol production. It’s not uncommon for veterinarians to unintentionally trigger typical Cushing’s by prescribing a too-high dose of oral prednisone (synthetic cortisone), or a course of prednisone therapy that is too long in duration. If your dog has taken prednisone for any length of time, she’s predisposed to Cushing’s disease.

The atypical form of hyperadrenocorticism occurs when the adrenals overproduce aldosterone, a hormone that balances electrolytes in the body. Atypical Cushing’s can also result from an overproduction of sex hormone (estrogen, progesterone, and rarely, testosterone) precursors.

Diagnosing Hyperadrenocorticism Can Be Challenging

The actual diagnosis of Cushing’s is often complicated. It’s typically done with blood tests like the ACTH stimulation (stim) test and the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test. Both these tests require at least two blood draws to compare cortisol levels for a definitive diagnosis of Cushing’s.

When Cushing’s is confirmed, your veterinarian will want to determine if it’s pituitary or adrenal dependent. In my opinion, the best way to rule out an adrenal gland tumor is with a non-invasive ultrasound test. However, some vets prefer to do a third blood test called a high-dose dexamethasone suppression test.

Whichever method is used, it’s important not only to establish a definitive diagnosis for Cushing’s, but also to determine whether the form of the disease is adrenal or pituitary dependent.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, the disease is diagnosed only after it is full-blown and there’s no holding it back. Once a dog has full-blown Cushing’s, she will live with the disease for the rest of her life. It’s a horrible illness that can be managed in many cases, but never cured.

Many veterinarians tend to ignore repeated and progressive elevations in serum Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), one of the commonly elevated enzymes found on routine bloodwork, until several Cushing’s symptoms are present, or a pet parent becomes concerned that their dog is suddenly urinating in the house or losing her hair.

The better, proactive approach is to try to prevent the disease from taking hold. That’s why I recommend getting a copy of your pet’s yearly bloodwork results. Your pet should age with picture-perfect bloodwork, or there’s work to be done.

Never let a veterinarian tell you your pet’s abnormal bloodwork is “normal for their age,” as this means disease is taking place without anyone addressing it. If your dog’s ALP is two to three times higher than normal, ask your vet if your dog could be in the early stages hyperadrenocorticism.

The Importance of Catching This Disease Early

Most of the drugs currently available to treat Cushing’s disease have many undesirable side effects. It’s extremely important to discuss your concerns about possible side effects with your veterinarian. I recommend you do your own research as well.

I try to avoid using Lysodren and other potent Cushing’s drugs because in my opinion, the side effects are often worse than the symptoms the animal is dealing with. If Cushing’s drugs must be used, I prefer to use Trilostane, which has fewer side effects. Obviously, the goal is to catch the disease before high drug doses are required.

If, however, your dog requires drugs to manage full-blown Cushing’s, I recommend starting with the lowest possible effective dose, and using it in conjunction with a natural protocol to reduce potential side effects. Identifying pre-Cushing’s syndrome as early as possible and reducing your pet’s risk for full-blown disease is the approach I always recommend. Dogs don’t suddenly wake up with this disease — it happens over time.

Unfortunately, many conventional veterinarians ignore the early signs of adrenal dysfunction because they don’t know what to do about it until a dog fails the ACTH stim test. The problem with this approach is it takes months and sometimes years for an animal to be officially diagnosed with Cushing’s.

Waiting this long to take action often means waiting too long. I consider a dog to have pre-Cushing’s syndrome when he exhibits classic symptoms but is still able to pass the stim test. Often there are minor changes in bloodwork, for example, the UCC (urine cortisol:creatinine ratio) is slightly elevated, there are elevated cholesterol levels, and/or the elevation in ALP has been proven to be cortisol induced (your vet can check what fraction of ALP is coming from cortisol vs. other sources).

I’m able to reverse many pre-Cushing’s patients with nutraceuticals, Chinese herbs, homeopathics, nutritional therapy, and lifestyle management (reducing biologic and metabolic stress).

My advice is to be proactive by having your pet’s ALP level checked annually, which should be a part of a basic “wellness blood test,” along with a physical exam that evaluates muscle mass, coat condition, and an environmental stress assessment. Ask your veterinarian to establish baseline blood levels and address any elevation from the baseline through a screening test like the UCC or CiALP to determine if your dog’s body is over-secreting cortisol.

Never accept steroids prescribed for your pet unless they’re required to dramatically (and temporarily) improve quality of life (e.g., if your pet has acute head trauma and steroids are needed to control brain inflammation, etc.).

Having this information will help you better manage a pre-Cushing’s situation before it develops to full-blown disease. And don’t ignore symptoms. If your pet has consistent Cushing’s-type symptoms, no matter how minor, they are absolutely worth investigating for a possible endocrine or adrenal disorder.

It’s during the development of Cushing’s disease that many dogs are also over-prescribed aggressive traditional drug protocols for full-blown Cushing’s disease, often with disastrous results.

When these potent drugs are prescribed for mild adrenal dysfunction, the result is often an acute Addisonian crisis in which there are insufficient adrenal hormones necessary for normal physiologic function. A natural protocol to manage pre-Cushing’s is essential to avoid drug-induced hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s).

Prevention Tips

There are some common-sense steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk of developing hyperadrenocorticism, including:

Feed a moisture rich, nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate anti-inflammatory diet to reduce biologic stress; this means eliminating all grains and carbohydrates from the diet, since carbs trigger insulin release and insulin triggers cortisol release
Exercise your dog daily to help combat stress and promote the release of endorphins
Instead of spaying or neutering, consider a sterilization procedure that leaves your dog’s testicles or ovaries in place; if that’s not possible, wait until your pet has reached his or her full adult size, and in the case of females, after the first and preferably two estrus cycles
Minimize your pet’s exposure to xenoestrogens
Investigate adaptogenic herbs and adrenal-supportive natural substances like magnolia (rhodiola), ashwagandha, and phosphatidylserine
Address abnormal hormone levels early on with natural support, such as melatonin, DIM, glandular therapies and high lignan flax hulls