Archive for June, 2008

June 8, 2008

dog allergies

If you’ve ever been kept awake by a dog that can’t stop scratching, biting and licking itself, then both of you have suffered from skin allergies. Skin allergies, or dermatitis, are one of the trickiest problems to diagnose in an animal, since they can have many different causes. In its misery, the affected animal also usually worsens the problem by continually scratching and licking at the affected places, undoing any healing that’s occurred.

There are six categories of dermatitis: allergic, environmental, infectious, neurogenic, nutritional and parasitic. Anything from food, carpeting, blankets, dust mites and mold spores in the air to pollen, plastic food dishes, furniture stuffing and ornamental plants all can trigger an allergic reaction in dogs. Food allergies, especially, are commonplace. So common, in fact, that many pet food manufacturers now produce “antigen specific” diets to help treat dogs with food allergies.  Also, if feeding your dog chews or treats, make sure to give him all natural dog treats.  This will help reduce the risk of any possible allergies.
Infectious dermatitis is caused by bacteria, fungi or yeast organisms, and results in moist, sticky and inflamed skin lesions, combined with hair loss. The bacteria spread rapidly and can be transferred to other areas of the skin through licking and scratching. One specific type of bacterium, Microsporum canis, causes the well-known circular type of hair loss known as ringworm.

Treatment for infectious dermatitis starts with clipping the fur away from the infected site to help air dry the skin. Topical medications also are applied, and oral antibiotics are prescribed to fight the underlying bacteria. Antihistamines and cortisone also may be given to suppress the itching. The use of the latter, however, is at the veterinarian’s discretion, since cortisone can slow the healing process.

A second type of dermatitis is caused by factors in the environment, such as exposure to swimming pool chemicals, soil or even some types of grass. Nutritional dermatitis, meanwhile, occurs when the dog is receiving inadequate nutrition. It’s a common condition among pets that are fed the cheapest brands of dog food, which usually don’t live up to their “complete and balanced diet” claims. If you feed your dog exclusively dry food, make sure the first ingredient listed is meat, such as beef, poultry, lamb or fish. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements also help many dogs recover from this type of skin allergy.
Allergic dermatitis, meanwhile, can be triggered by a wide range of allergens, including food ingredients, synthetic and natural fibers, medications, over-the-counter pharmaceutical products, plants and even dust and dust mites. In some cases, the dog’s own naturally occurring bacteria can spark an autoimmune response, resulting in dermatitis. Just as with humans, a dog’s specific allergies can be diagnosed through blood and skin tests.

Handling on Leash Aggression

Author: gibbywmu
June 8, 2008

dog leash

Perhaps one of the most embarrassing behavior problems is a dog who acts aggressively on leash, whether towards dogs, other animals or people. Often these dogs do not exhibit any aggression when off leash. Though puzzling to owners, the difference between off leash and on leash behavior offers a clue to the problem as well as the solution. Recognize that on leash aggression always involves unintentional signals from the owner which create a vicious cycle. Here’s how: At some point, usually in adolescence, the dog growls, barks, lunges at or snaps at a dog or person. The owner is surprised and embarrassed, and not sure what to do. If not handled correctly, the dog may persist in this behavior and get worse over time. Understandably, the owner begins to anticipate any situation which might trigger this behavior. Spotting an approaching dog or person before the dog does, the owner tightens up on the leash so he can control the dog better, stiffens his own body posture and holds his breath. The dog notices the change in the leash tension, the owner’s body posture and breathing, and begins looking to see what has the owner so worried, and once he spots it, begins his aggressive behavior. Did you know that the first step in attack training is to give the dog something or someone he wants to get to, while using a tight lead and tense body posture to excite the dog into a more aggressive state? In the case of on leash aggression, the owner actually makes the situation worse without meaning to, and the dog simply responds to signals received from the owner. What can you do to solve the problem? Here’s the basics: Train! Take the time to teach your dog self control and basic obedience commands which you can reinforce, and praise his good behavior by giving him dog treats or toys.Be alert to the earliest signs. No dog spends his entire life in an aggressive state. Learn what body language your dog exhibits when he is calm and relaxed, and what changes occur as he moves into a more aggressive mood. Watch for changes in ears, head and neck carriage, eye shape and expression, mouth and whisker changes, tail carriage and overall posture. Intervention at the first sign of a problem is more successful than trying to deal with the full blown aggression. Redirect the dog’s attention. By giving a command he knows in a cheerful, upbeat tone, you can redirect the dog’s attention back to working with you. If possible, change direction and move away from the situation – the dog cannot walk briskly with you and be aggressive at the same time. Change the body posture, change the emotional state. Body language is nothing more than an external expression of an internal state. It is possible to change an emotional state by changing body posture and vice versa. This is why the advice to “Stand up straight, smile and you’ll feel better” actually works! In the case of aggression, imagine how hard it would be to be angry if you were sitting in a comfortable chair with your face and head relaxed. With a dog, you can physically change the body posture, and thus shift the emotional state, by simply asking the dog to sit (a neutral, non-aggressive position) and using your hands to stroke ears, mouth, head and hackles back to a more relaxed position. This is not petting, and you are not trying to reassure the dog. Concentrate on changing the body posture using firm strokes of your hands at the same time you insist the dog sit quietly with no tension on the leash. This very simple technique is amazingly effective. Be aware of your breathing and body posture. Since we tend to hold our breath and thus tense our muscles when nervous (facts that do not escape the dog), it is important to breathe in a more normal fashion. The easiest way is to either sing or tell the dog a fairy tale, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. While this sounds silly, the very silliness keeps you calm and relaxed. How uptight can you get talking about a blonde and three bears in the woods? Keep the leash loose. Remember tension on the leash encourages aggressive behavior. Put the dog under a command, like “sit”, using the leash if needed to help him, but then immediately loosen all tension on the leash. This does NOT mean to give the dog the full freedom of his leash – keep your hand on the leash in such a way so that if needed you can quickly control him, but do not have any tension on the leash. If the dog breaks position, quietly remind him what he was asked to do, and reposition him. Learn the difference between aggression and an appropriate response to rudeness. Far too many dogs are labeled aggressive when in fact they are responding in a perfectly appropriate canine fashion to rudeness. This usually occurs with others dogs whose owners allow them to be very rude because they believe that their dog is simply saying “hello” to your dog. What is really happening is a canine version of a complete stranger rushing up to you and hugging & kissing you! If you verbally snapped at such a person and pushed him away, you would be well within your rights, and not considered aggressive. Don’t let your dog be rude, and try to protect him from well meaning but uninformed owners who allow their dogs to be rude. Shouting doesn’t equal murder! Very few canine arguments result in any serious injuries. Though it is scary when dogs snap, growl and bark, remember that dog behavior is mostly posturing and threats designed to avoid real conflict. Just as you may raise your voice when upset to warn someone that you are angry, this does not mean you will escalate to real violence. Your dog uses his body language and vocalizations in the same way. Should a physical conflict arise, most dogs have bite inhibition and rarely inflict any serious damage. Knowing this allows you to stay calmer, and not imagine the worst!

Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth

Author: gibbywmu
June 4, 2008

dog teeth brushing

Equally important to annual dental exams at your veterinarian’s practice is home dental care, including brushing your dog’s teeth every day if possible. AAHA recommends a technique for both younger and older dogs, although it’s easier to start brushing when your dog is young.To introduce a fearful Fido to the idea of dental care, start slowly and gradually. Dip a finger into beef bouillon (for dogs) or tuna water (for cats) and gently rub along your pet’s gums and teeth. The most important area to focus on is the gum line (the crevice where the gums meet the teeth), where bacteria and food mix to form plaque. Focusing on the gum line, start at the front of the mouth, then move to the back upper and lower teeth and gum areas. Once your pet is okay with a little bit of touching, gradually introduce gauze over your finger and rub the teeth and gums in a circular fashion.When your four-legged friend can handle the gauze, try brushing with a toothbrush specially designed for pets or a very soft, ultra-sensitive toothbrush designed for people. The bristles should be held at a 45-degree angle to the tooth surface and be moved in an oval motion. Scrub in the gum line, as this is where odor and infection begin. Gradually add special dog/cat toothpaste (flavored with meat or fish), but never use people toothpaste or baking soda, as both will upset your pet’s stomach.

Use the following process to clean the inside surfaces of your pet’s teeth:

  1. Place your hand over your pet’s muzzle from the top
  2. Gently squeeze and push his lips on one side between the back teeth (to keep his mouth open)
  3. Pull his head back gently so his mouth opens
  4. Brush his teeth on the opposite side
  5. Repeat this process for the other side

The entire process should only take a minute or two. If your dog or cat continues to resist, try gently wrapping him in a large bath towel with only his head sticking out. Above all, avoid overstraining and keep sessions short and positive. With plenty of praise and reassurance, your dental sessions can bring the two of you closer—a closeness that won’t be marred by the perils of dog breath. Home care can be improved by feeding your pet an unmoistened dry pet food and offering him hard dog treats after each meal. Both dry food and hard dog treats produce abrasion to help keep plaque to a minimum on the crown of each tooth.

AAHA encourages pet owners to regularly examine their pet’s teeth for signs of periodontal disease, such as brownish colored teeth; swollen, red, or bleeding gums; persistent bad breath; loose teeth or loss of teeth; pus between the gums and teeth; broken teeth and any unusual growth in the mouth. Reluctance to eat, play with chew toys, or drink cold water are warning signs of periodontal or gum disease. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs in your pet.

Dangerous Toys

Author: gibbywmu
June 4, 2008

dangerous toys

Fluffy may love her ball of yarn, and Rover may chase after that darn stick all day, but pet owners must be cautious when offering toys to their pets. Many household items that become pet toys, either with or without your knowledge, can be dangerous-even fatal-to your furry or feathered friend. If not used in the appropriate manner, some store-bought pet toys, too, can cause problems.
Pet owners should take note of the following potential toy hazards:

Sticks and bones can splinter and cause choking or vomiting, or they can perforate the mouth, throat or intestine. Hard bones can easily damage teeth. Instead, use hard, non-splintering chew toys to play fetch or to allow your pet to gnaw.

Soft, latex toys can be shredded by a chewing pet. If the toy includes a squeaking mechanism, the squeaker can be easily swallowed or cause choking.
Superballs can cause intestinal obstruction if ingested. Other types of balls, such as tennis balls or handballs, may be too small for the pet playing with them and cause choking.

Towels, socks, underwear and other similar clothing or materials can be swallowed by a rambunctious pet, causing intestinal obstruction.

Some dogs like to chew on or eat rocks-bad idea! Rocks can cause broken teeth and serious intestinal obstruction if swallowed.

Be careful if you offer your pet rawhides, as these can also cause intestinal obstruction if swallowed, and some are preserved with arsenic, which is toxic to pets. Instead, offer them other long lasting, healthier chews, such as bully sticks.

Some cats enjoy hiding out in plastic bags, but if they get their head stuck in the handles and panic, choking or suffocating could occur.

String, yarn, feathers and rubber bands often offer enticing play for cats, but these can be swallowed whole, possibly lodging in the intestinal tract and causing blockage. If only partially swallowed, this, too, can result in severe problems. For instance, one end of the string can wrap around the cat’s tongue while the rest of the string is swallowed. If you ever see your kitty with string (or a similar object) caught in its mouth, NEVER try to pull it out. If the string is lodged internally, pulling it can cut the cat’s intestines, killing him. Instead, see your veterinarian immediately.

Be aware of sharp objects that can cut skin, feet, eyes or ears.

For birds, bells can be problematic. Most medium-sized or larger parrots can take apart a bell and choke on the clapper.

         – Leather, if not specially tanned, can be toxic to birds.

         – Paint and wood preservatives can also be toxic to your feathered friend.

“Probably the most common hazards are toys that are inappropriately sized for the pet,” says Dr. Jennifer Zablotny, an AAHA veterinarian. “Generally, the toy is too small for the size of the pet and can be destroyed and cause choking.” If you notice anything unusual about your pet’s behavior or health, call your veterinarian right away. If a toy or part of a toy is swallowed, signs of problems (like intestinal upset or blockage) may occur within minutes or hours; other times, you may not notice anything unusual for days. The obstruction may pass through with no more signs than vomiting or diarrhea. Or it may cause blockage, in which case your pet may be constipated or not want to eat. In any case, if you even suspect that your pet has swallowed a foreign object, call the veterinarian immediately.

Used appropriately and with common sense, many household and store-bought pet toys can provide hours of entertainment and exercise for your pet. It’s a good idea, however, to supervise your pet during play. Not only will this minimize the chance of accidents happening, but you’ll also be providing your pet with quality time spent with his or her favorite toy-YOU!

Pets for Senior Citizens

Author: gibbywmu
June 4, 2008

pets and the elderly

How do they do it?
There are a number of explanations for exactly how pets accomplish all these health benefits. First of all, pets need walking, feeding, grooming, fresh water, and fresh kitty litter, and they encourage lots of playing and petting. All of these activities require some action from owners. Even if it’s just getting up to let a dog out a few times a day and giving him dog treats, or brushing a cat, any activity can benefit the cardiovascular system and help keep joints limber and flexible. Consistently performing this kind of minor exercise can keep pet owners able to carry out the normal activities of daily living. Pets may also aid seniors simply by providing some physical contact. Studies have shown that when people pet animals, their blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature decrease–see the Health Benefits of Pet Ownership.

Many benefits of pet ownership are less tangible, though. Pets are an excellent source of companionship, for example. They can act as a support system for older people who don’t have any family or close friends nearby to act as a support system. The JAGS study showed that people with pets were better able to remain emotionally stable during crises than those without. Pets can also work as a buffer against social isolation. Often the elderly have trouble leaving home, so they don’t have a chance to see many people. Pets give them a chance to interact. This can help combat depression, one of the most common medical problems facing seniors today. The responsibility of caring for an animal may also give the elderly a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Pets also help seniors stick to regular routines of getting up in the morning, buying groceries, and going outside, which help motivate them to eat and sleep regularly and well.

Teach Your Dog Not To Bark

Author: gibbywmu
June 4, 2008

dog barking 

Unwanted barking is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs. It is normal for dogs to vocalize and bark from time to time but many times this behavior escalates much to the frustration of many dog owners. There are many causes of unwanted barking. First you must determine why your dog is barking before you can begin a program of retraining. You may need help from your animal behaviorist or veterinarian to do this.

One cause of unwanted barking is attention seeking barking. You may have inadvertently reinforced this behavior if as a pup your dog barked a lot and you gave him attention to try and stop the behavior. As an older dog, he may be exhibiting this behavior because he is left alone for long periods of time, does not have appropriate stimulation or exercise, or is an active dog that needs to have a job to be happy.

If you suspect this is the cause of your dog’s unwanted barking behavior, you can start to retrain him by making sure first and foremost that he is getting enough exercise. Make sure to take daily walks – this also allows him to explore the world around him which is good mental exercise as well. If you have a local dog park, take your dog there and let him socialize with other dogs and people. Take an obedience class – this is good for mental stimulation and will help you to better communicate with your dog. Provide many interesting toys to keep your dog busy while you are not around. Make sure to spend one on one time with your dog on a daily basis and make it fun so that your dog learns that he doesn’t need to bark to get your attention.

Another cause of excessive barking is as a response to something that your dog is afraid of. Many dogs bark during thunderstorms or around unfamiliar people. If your dog is barking as a response to thunderstorms or other loud noises, provide him with a safe place he can go in these situations such as a crate. Make his safe place fun by providing good treats, such as bully sticks, to keep him occupied. Play a radio or the television at a low level to help mask the noise. If your dog is barking at unfamiliar people, help him get over this fear by enlisting the help of your friends and neighbors. Have them walk by and approach your dog. Have them ask him to sit, and when he does so without barking, have them give him a treat.

Pretty soon, your dog will learn to associate unfamiliar people with treats and will learn new positive behaviors. If your dog barks at people and noises that are coming from outside the house, you may want to limit his access to rooms with windows. This will help cut down on the unwanted barking behavior.

If your dog is barking when you’re not home, it could be due to separation anxiety. If your dog is especially attached to you or has recently experienced a situation of change in his routine such as divorce, a move, or a death in the family, this could be the case. To remedy this kind of barking behavior, you will need to start a course of desensitization. You can begin to do this by taking very small trips such as just out to the mailbox and back, while leaving fun toys and yummy treats for your dog. As your dog learns to behave while you’re gone, slowly increase the length of time you are gone.

To check and see if your dog is barking when you’re gone, you may need to use a tape recorder or enlist the help of your neighbors. Separation anxiety often needs to be treated with medication as well as desensitization. If you suspect your dog is barking due to separation anxiety, please consult your veterinarian or animal behaviorist.

Some people choose to treat their dog’s unwanted barking problems with bark collars. The most humane bark collar available today is the citronella collar. These bark collars work by spraying harmless citronella in your dog’s face whenever he barks. Studies show a very high rate of success with the use of these kinds of collars. Using a citronella collar for a period of time can help to reinforce more positive behaviors.

There are many training tips and tools available to help you replace unwanted barking with more positive behaviors. If you need more information, consult your veterinary staff or pet professional.