Your Pet Questions Answered!

I’ve conned asked our vet to answer reader questions, so if you have a question about your pet, ask them here! We will do our best (and within applicable laws) to get you answers.

Summer Pet Tips

It’s Summer! It’s time to play in the yard and at the lake! It’s a time for fun with your family pet.

Here are some tips for a safe and happy summer:

  1. NEVER leave your pet in the car
  2. Don’t let your pet ride unsecured in the car or in the back of a truck
  3. Watch out for fertilizer and other poisonous plants, even Cocoa Mulch
  4. Keep plenty of water for your pet
  5. Don’t let your pet play unsupervised in the pool/lake, use a life jacket if necessary
  6. Don’t forget flea and heartworm preventatives
  7. Make sure your pet has a new collar and tags
  8. Go for walks in the early morning or evenings when it is cooler outside
  9. Provide shade if your dog spends a lot of time outside
  10. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, prepare a disaster kit for your pet and yourself

Safely Boating With Your Pet

Four-legged companions are the best boat-going crewmates one could ask for. They enjoy the ride, don’t talk back, do what they are told and shower you with affection. Not only that they take up little space and don’t eat all of your hot dogs and potato salad. These furry crewmates, which most often are dogs, also include cats, birds and other creatures are often times a big part of a great boating experience.

Your pet might not immediately take to the water, but with patience and a little training most grow to love outings on the boat. You will want to be sure that your dog is comfortable in the water before you introduce him or her to the boat. Cats, we know hate water, so you’d better off just skipping that part and going straight to the boat. Allow your pet to become familiar with the boat and give him or her time to explore it on her own terms. Once your pet is comfortable, you can being introducing the sound of the engine. Once your pet is comfortable with the sounds of the engine and the horn, you’re ready to take a short spin.

On your spin, it may be better to harness or leash your pet. The waves and the motion of the boat could cause your pet to slip on the deck and hurt himself or herself and could fall overboard. Even if your pet is a good swimmer an unexpected plunge into the water could cause him or her to panic.

If your pet is anxious even after several short boat trips, it is probably better to leave him or her at home. The stress for both you and her can make your boating trip miserable.

Don’t be surprised if your pet gets seasick, just like people, they have to adjust to the motion of the boat on the water. You may have to get a prescription from your veterinarian if seasickness is a continual problem. Over time, extend your outings and soon your pet will be enjoying the wind and waves as much as you do.

You will need some essential safety gear to take with you though:

  • Life Jacket/Flotation Device – while many pets are good swimmers, they can very easily become tired and need to rest – the life jacket also makes it easier to pull your pet back into the boat should he or she go overboard. Need more reasons to get a life jacket, read this!
  • First Aid Kit – accidents do happen and its important to be prepared – Find out how to prepare a pet first aid kit.
  • Potty Pads/Litter Box – if you won’t be seeing land for awhile, keep some potty pads or a litter box available should your pet hear the call of nature.
  • Food/Water – provide your pet with clean food and water, especially in warm temperatures.
  • Water Toys – if your pet loves to swim, take some water toys along for a waggin’ good time.
  • Ramp or Platform to help your pet get easily in and out of the boat from the water, such as a Paws Aboard Doggy Boat Ramp.

Now get out there and have a great adventure. Happy sailing!

It’s Fireworks Time!

July 3, 2006 fireworks display at the Tesla/Skid Row concert at Fort McDowell Gaming Casino in Scottsdale, AZ

Yes, everyone it’s that time of year: thunderstorms, fireworks and loud noises! If these things have your dog or cat running for cover, here’s a few tips to help make summer a little more enjoyable for your pets.

During fireworks season, it’s easy to see why pets get stressed out. There’s sudden loud noises and they come from all directions for hours on end. The first thing you want to do is get your pet HomeAgain microchipped, so that if he or she does escape, you can be sure that if they are found, they can be returned home. Second, common sense, guys, don’t let them out during the times when you know people will be setting off fireworks. You will want to create a “safe place” for him or her to go. This could be a kennel, a bedroom, or even the basement (think muffled sounds) that has a radio or tv on to drown out the loud scary noises.

During fireworks or thunderstorms is a good time to break out the Kong ball or your cat’s favorite toy, such as the Chirpy Bird (a BIG hit at my house!!). Something that will keep your pet busy for awhile so they don’t pay attention to the noises going on around them.

You can also try a D.A.P. collar or diffuser for dogs and a Feliway diffuser for cats. Both of these emit natural pheromones that help to calm your pet during stressful situations and can also help eliminate urine marking, scratching and help with separation anxiety in dogs. If you are using a diffuser, you will want to plug it in early so that it has time to spread throughout the house before the fireworks show starts (at least a few days before). During thunderstorms, you can use the diffuser as well as the spray that is available for quick fixes. The spray is also very useful if you’re traveling or taking a trip to the vet.

It is also important not to give your pet too much attention if he or she is acting fearful. Doing so will reinforce the fearful behavior, and you don’t want to encourage your pet to act fearful during fireworks or thunderstorms as this can make the problem worse. Reward him or her with attention only when he or she is calm and comes out of hiding on his or her own.

Help! My dog has separation anxiety!

Dogs with separation anxiety have behavior problems when they are left alone. The most common of these behaviors are:

  • Digging, chewing, and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to escape and reunite with their owners.
  • Howling, barking, and crying in an attempt to get their owner to return.
  • Urination and defecation (even with housetrained dogs) as a result of distress.

These behaviors occur as a panic response to being separated from their owners. Dogs with separation anxiety will take out their anxiety about being left alone on just about anything, including your furniture, bed, clothing — anything they can get their paws (and teeth) on.

If your dog already has unwanted separation behavior, training may be more difficult, but is worth the effort to correct. Many older dogs with separation anxiety were shelter dogs or strays at some point in their life. Up to half of these dogs will improve with training, but you may need to modify your routine to desensitize them to your leaving.

For a dog that has mild separation anxiety, it can be relieved by (according to HSUS):

  • Keep arrivals and departures low-key. For example, when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes, then calmly pet him. This may be hard for you to do, but it’s important!
  • Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you—such as an old t-shirt that you’ve slept in recently.
  • Establish a “safety cue”—a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells your dog you’ll be back. Dogs usually learn to associate certain cues with short absences by their owners. For example, when you take out the garbage, your dog knows you come right back and doesn’t become anxious. Therefore, it’s helpful to associate a safety cue with your short-duration absences.Some examples of safety cues are a playing radio, a playing television, or a toy (one that doesn’t have dangerous fillings and can’t be torn into pieces). Use your safety cue during practice sessions with your dog. Be sure to avoid presenting your dog with the safety cue when you leave for a period of time longer than he can tolerate; if you do, the value of the safety cue will be lost. Leaving a radio on to provide company for your dog isn’t particularly useful by itself, but a playing radio may work if you’ve used it consistently as a safety cue in your practice sessions. If your dog engages in destructive chewing as part of his separation distress, offering him a chewing item as a safety cue is a good idea. Very hard rubber toys that can be stuffed with treats and Nylabone®-like products are good choices.

If your dog has more severe separation anxiety you can desensitize him by:

  • Do your usual leaving routine. Put on your jacket and pick up your keys. Then, put your keys down and take your jacket off. Go and sit down. Ignore the dog for a few minutes then calmly pat him. Repeat this process until he ignores your leaving cues.
  • Next, repeat the same process, put on your jacket and grab your keys. Go to the door. Open it, then close it. Put your keys down and take your jacket off. Ignore the dog for a few minutes and the calmly pat him. Do this until he is calm when you go to the door.
  • Now do the same process again, this time step through the door, close it, then open it and walk back in. Do the same as before. When your dog is comfortable with this step move on to the next.
  • From now on, each time you walk out and close the door, wait a bit longer each time until you can leave for short periods of time without the dog becoming distressed. It is a long process, but it will be worth the effort when your dog is able to stay alone and not destroy your furniture.

Another thing you can do to reinforce this desensitization is to teach your dog “sit-stay” or “down-stay.” Doing this will allow you to leave your dog’s sight while he sits or lays happily until you return. To do this, you gradually increase the distance you move away from your dog. As you progress, you can do this during the course of your normal daily activities.

Because the treatments described above can take a while, and because a dog with separation anxiety can do serious damage to himself and/or your home in the interim, consider these suggestions to help you and your dog cope in the short term (HSUS):

  • Consult your veterinarian about the possibility of drug therapy. A good anti-anxiety drug should not sedate your dog, but simply reduce his anxiety while you’re gone. Such medication is a temporary measure and should be used in conjunction with behavior modification techniques.
  • Take your dog to a dog day care facility or boarding kennel.
  • Leave your dog with a friend, family member, or neighbor.
  • Take your dog to work with you, even for half a day, if possible.

Pinnal-Pedal Reflex – Diagnosing Scarcoptic Mange

Has anyone heard of the Pinnal-Pedal reflex before? I hadn’t heard about it until just recently when our staff veterinarian was talking about diagnosing Scarcoptic mange. Scarcoptic mange is hard to diagnose with traditional testing because as the dog scratches, the tunnels that mange mites make are broken open and the mites die, leaving no trace of them on skin scrapings.

However, using the Pinnal-Pedal Reflex, veterinarians can more accurately diagnose cases of Scarcoptic mange. In recent studies done by the Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic in Victoria, Australia, 82% of the dogs in the study who had mange were diagnosed using this technique. This reflex is assessed by vigorously rubbing the tip of the earflap to the base of the ear between the thumb and forefinger for five seconds. The dog is considered positive for mange if its hind leg makes a scratching movement.


Dog Bite Prevention Week

It’s Dog Bite Prevention Week, so in honor of this, I’m going to talk about teaching your children the proper way to approach a dog. Did you know most dog bites occur between a child and a dog that know each other? Teaching your child to understand basic behavior will also help prevent dog bites.

One of the most important things in avoiding dog bites is to teach your child to not squeal around the dog. Dogs hear that sounds and they equate it with the same sound that prey makes, which can make them act on instinct and bite your child.

Teach children to be calm and to curtail squeals of joy when around a dog. Running, squealing and roughhousing children can also encourage a dog to jump and chew on a child’s arms, legs and clothing – this is how dogs play with each other. However, dogs must be taught this is not how to play with humans. By teaching your dog not to bite human skin, you can help avoid this problem also.

It is important to teach your child that when he or she moves away from a dog, that the he or she walks, not runs. A running child equals prey and triggers the chase response, which is virtually impossible to interrupt. This same response is brought on my cars, squirrels, cats, you name it. When the chase response kicks in the dog is acting purely on instinct and not rational thought, so this response is nearly impossible to stop once it starts.

NOTE: Never, EVER leave your child and your dog unattended when they are together.

Approaching an Unknown Dog

Even if you don’t have a dog, you should still teach your children how to properly approach one. Animals bring out a curiosity in every child and just running up to some strange dog on the street is bound to cause a problem sooner or later.

This is how all unfamiliar (and familiar for that matter) dogs should be approached:

  • Always ask the owner if it is ok to approach the dog.
  • Once the all clear is given, approach the dog slowly, with arms at your sides. Running up to the dog can startle it and lead to the child being bitten.
  • Once close to the dog, let it sniff you. Slowly lift your arms to allow the dog to sniff your hands.
  • Present a closed fist to the dog for more sniffing – this protects the fingers in case the dog gets spooked and tries to nip the child.
  • Next, gently touch the side and then the top of the dog’s head. Never put a hand directly on top of the dog’s head.
  • Once the pet is ok with being touched, slowly and gently pet it.

Never let the child bend down to hug the dog, not all dogs like this and again, it can lead to the child being bitten.

You also need to teach your children what a dog who should not be approached looks like. Dogs with their tails up, ears back, fur standing up, and are barking, growling or showing teeth, are all signs the dog is to not be approached. Tell children that if they come across a dog exhibiting these behaviors, to not approach it, but to also not run away, scream or stare at it. Teach the child to walk away, slowly.