Jump Around, Jump Around, Jump Up, Jump Up and Get Down! Fleas and Ticks, that is.

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Fleas and ticks. Makes my skin crawl just thinking about them.  I regret to say, we have had both find their forever homes on my dogs over the years. Prevention has come a long way with topical products that can be applied as often as monthly or oral pills that are both tasty and effective at eliminating many life stages of the flea and tick.

I’m going to share some important facts regarding these creepy crawlies and hopefully convince you that year-round pest prevention is important!

Fleas are tiny parasites that require the blood meal of a mammal or bird to survive and reproduce.  While they need warm, humid temperatures to thrive (our friends in the south have particularly bad flea problems), the larvae and pupa can overwinter in the house or on animals like coyotes and rabbits and their dens, extending their life cycle from several weeks to many months. Fleas tend to hang out in the same areas that are popular with your dog and other wildlife: shady areas out of direct sunlight and direct foot traffic. The flea life cycle is complex, consisting of four stages: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Because some of these life stages occur off the host (your dog or cat), prevention and treatment targeted at several of these stages works best.

First off, we want to treat the environment and make it an inhospitable place for fleas to live.  Clearing brush, keeping grass cut short, and raking leaf piles are great at eliminating flea hide-outs. Inside, frequent vacuuming to stimulate egg hatching and laundering bedding daily is important if you suspect a flea infestation. Next, you’ll want to utilize one of the many products available from your veterinarian to kill adults, larvae, and eggs.  Some popular preventatives include Nexgard, Simparica, Revolution, Bravecto, Advantix, or Frontline.  Over the counter products can not only be ineffective (think flea collars), but dangerous to pets. Flea preventatives work by sterilizing the adult flea (flea birth control, if you will), others work via overstimulating the flea central nervous system.  Treated hairs can also work to kill larva and eggs in the environment. Because new eggs shed into the house or yard are constantly hatching, it is important to treat consecutively every month to kill emergent fleas. An adult flea can produce 500 eggs in just a few weeks!

A flea comb can be utilized to find live fleas on your dog, though most pet owners aren’t fast enough to catch a hopping flea. Tell-tale signs of a flea problem are itching or biting near the tail base and evidence of a black pepper-like granule (flea poop) in the fur that turns reddish on a damp paper towel.  That red coloration is digested blood.  Fleas can cause an allergic response to their saliva in some dogs; one bite can cause severe hair loss and scratching.  A heavy infestation can lead to low red blood cell count, transmission of tapeworms, or diseases such as the plague or typhus.

Similarly, ticks love to live in outdoor areas such as wood piles, yard clippings, or attached to hosts such as mice and deer. True opportunists, they wait to attach to an unsuspecting mammal as they brush past.  Ticks become most active as the temperatures rise above freezing.  This fools many dog owners into thinking they can forgo preventatives from December to March.  Unbelievably, and this time of year it is VERY hard to believe, we had 16 days above freezing in January!  Ticks don’t typically leave tiny poop calling cards like fleas.  Many times, they are not discovered on your dog until they have been attached for days to weeks and are engorged with blood. I’ve pulled many a tick off a client’s pet in February.

Ticks also have a four-part life cycle and other than the egg, each stage including the larva, nymph and adult needs a blood meal to survive.  The complete life cycle can take two years to complete and an adult tick can produce up to 3,000 eggs.  Frighteningly, the larva stage of the tick which will attach to a host animal is no bigger that the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  Imagine finding that in your dog’s fur!  Ticks are tremendously dangerous to dogs and humans because they transmit devastating and sometimes hard to treat diseases.  The deer tick is most commonly known for its ability to spread Lyme disease.

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Because it takes 24 hours of tick attachment to infect a host with disease, prompt identification and removal is critical.  If you spend time outdoors with your pet, do a tick check of the skin and hair coat after returning home.  Ticks especially love to set up shop on a dog’s ear flaps.  If you see an imbedded tick, grasp its head as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers. Pull the entire tick out in one swift movement.  It’s ok if you get a bit of dog with your tick… just clean the area with soap and water and apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the bite.  I like to flush the tick or perform evil experiments like dipping it in Frontline…don’t judge. Many of the same preventatives we use for flea control are also effective at repelling and/or killing ticks during that 24-hour window of attachment.  Consistent use is important and recognize if your dog is boarded or groomed, it can pick up parasites from other doggie friends. Yard treatments are also available to kill ticks and fleas.  It’s best to consult a company that specializes in such treatment as some chemicals can be harmful to humans on pets.

We wish for spring desperately this time of year.  With the proper precautions, you can make sure your furry buddy is safe from the external parasites sure to be jumping!

The Scoop on Poop

Why must inspiration always strike in the wee hours of the morning? Perhaps it is because we have had a dearth of calls regarding unusually colored stool and, let’s just say it, diarrhea.  Perhaps it is because I am dreading the dog waste to be revealed after the great snow melt this weekend. Or maybe I’m awake because of residual nausea after sifting through a retriever’s poop one of Barbie’s appendages …


Regardless, let’s get to the heart, or colon, of this article.  Poop.  What does the poop of a healthy dog look like? How do you know if your pet is in distress and needs medical attention? What are some common causes of loose or hard stools and what can you do to help? Is color of a dog’s poop related to their overall well-being?


Fecal consistency is primarily a function of the amount of moisture in the stool and can be used to identify changes in colonic health as well as other medical problems. Ideally, in a healthy animal, stools should be firm but not hard, pliable, segmented, and easy to pick up. One to two bowel movements daily are ideal. As a veterinarian, I identify poop based on a scoring system.  A healthy dog should have a Score of 2 on the poop scale.

dog scooping


Score 1

  • Stool very hard and dry
  • Much effort required to expel feces from body
  • No residue left on the ground when feces picked up
  • Often expelled as individual pellets

Score 2

  • Stool firm but not hard
  • Pliable and segmented in appearance
  • Little or no residue left on ground when picked up

Score 3

  • Stool log-like
  • No segmentation visible
  • Moist, shiny surface
  • Leaves residue but remains firm when picked up

Score 4

  • Feces very moist (soggy)
  • Distinct log shape
  • Leave residue and loses form when picked up

Score 5

  • Feces very moist
  • Loses shape (piles rather than log shape)
  • Leaves residue and loses form when picked up

Score 6

  • Feces has texture but no defined shape
  • Occurs in piles or looks like spots
  • Leaves residue when picked up

Score 7

  • Feces watery, flat, with no texture
  • Occurs as a puddle
  • Leaves residue when picked up

If you google “purina fecal scoring chart”, you will find some visual images of the poops mentioned above.  GOOD MORNING!


In general, a pet that has acute, chronic, or even intermittent diarrhea should be examined and some basic labwork run.  Especially concerning is the pet with diarrhea, weight loss, and/or lethargy; concurrent vomiting also necessitates a call in to your pet’s doctor.  Your vet (me) will want a detailed history of your pet’s activities, diet, stresses, frequency and consistency of stool, difficulty in passing stool, blood or mucous in the stool, and any other predisposing factors such as exposure to parasites or eating from the garbage can (you know who you are).  I like to talk about your pet’s bowel movements as much as you do, so share!  And speaking of sharing, when I ask for a fresh fecal sample, just a marble-sized amount will do.

The causes of diarrhea are many and in deducing the reason for distress I am reminded of a wonderful saying I learned in veterinary school: GOOD MEDICINE IS NOT FAST MEDICINE.  This can be difficult to remember if your pet doesn’t feel well and you have just replaced your carpeting.  Or are hosting a baby shower.  Or forgot to put on slippers while on the hunt for your morning coffee.


There are two general categories of diarrhea: Acute (sudden onset) and Chronic (long term).


ACUTE (sudden onset) DIARRHEA: diet change (including eating poopsicles or part of a rope toy), drug or toxin induced diarrhea (Halloween chocolates look better going in than out), parasites, viral or bacterial infection.  Occasionally an extra-intestinal problem such as pancreatitis, bloat, or liver disease will lead to acute diarrhea.


CHRONIC (long lasting) DIARRHEA: the causes may include some of those mentioned above as well as a host of other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, fungal disease, pancreatic disease, food allergy, protozoal diseases (toxoplasmosis), bacterial overgrowth, cancer, liver and kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, many more.

These cases can be very challenging to diagnose and even more difficult to treat.  Chronic diarrhea is often managed, not cured, and relapses during times of physical or emotional stress, dietary indiscretion, or just ‘cause are common.


A color change in your dog’s poop can be indicative of a problem, even if the consistency is normal.  Light brown to dark brown is normal based on your dog’s diet.  Black and tarry poop may indicate the presence of digested blood in the stool, fresh blood with mucous is common with large bowel disease, and white stool can occur if there is a problem with bile excretion or liver disease.  Yellow or orange poop can also be present with liver disease or if the stool is moving too quickly through the GI tract. Certain antacids or medications can affect the color of the poop. Dogs that like to eat grass or have ingested certain toxic mouse baits can have green-blue colored stool.


What can you do if you suspect a poop problem?

Keep an accurate history of your dog’s habits including appetite, frequency and effort of bowel movements, and environmental changes such as boarding.  You should have a Pet Butler technician (or your teenager) frequently scoop poop to minimize spread of disease and yard contamination as well as to monitor your pet’s poop for spaghetti or rice grain type parasites, color, or consistency change. For acute causes of diarrhea (i.e. Grandma gave the dog some Thanksgiving leftovers), we often recommend fasting for 24 hours with access to water only if your pet is not lethargic or vomiting.  Then, we gradually resume feeding limited amounts of a bland diet which can include boiled chicken or ground turkey, scrambled eggs or cottage cheese and a bland carbohydrate source like rice or pasta in a 1:4 ratio.  To get the gut back on track, small frequent meals are best with a gradual return to the pet’s normal diet.


Fiber is fabulous!  It is the great poop regulator and is as close as the plain canned pumpkin at Trader Joe’s. Because it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, it can bind some of the excess water in the intestinal tract, bulking up the stool and slowing digestion. The insoluble fiber in pumpkin can benefit those suffering from constipation, but it is best to avoid feeding too much insoluble fiber since it can act as a natural laxative.  Helpful if you are constipated, not if the stools are already loose!


I hope this helps clear up some of the deeper, darker mysteries of your pet’s gastrointestinal system. Keep that yard clean!


Dr. Lisa McIntyre

The Welcome Waggin’


Vaccinations: The Science Behind the Shots

Few issues in veterinary medicine are as controversial as the debate about administration of vaccines to our dogs and cats.  Long considered part of the annual visit, responsible health care, and credited with conquering some of the fiercest infectious diseases, vaccines are also suspected of creating vulnerability to certain illnesses and chronic conditions such as anemia, arthritis, allergies, gastrointestinal and thyroid disorders and cancer.  While there are few people who will advocate from refraining from the use of vaccinations altogether, what vaccine protocols will protect our companions without putting them at unnecessary risk? It is a difficult question, with no one-size-fits-all answer.

To determine which vaccines are necessary for your pet, you and your veterinarian must start with an individualized risk-benefit assessment. Questions you may ask yourself include: Does my pet come into contact with other animal companions? Do we have wildlife in our area or on our property? How much time does my pet spend outdoors? Does my pet board, get groomed, go to dog parks or dog shows? Do I have other pets and do all animals receive a heartworm and flea/tick preventative? Do I travel with my pet or volunteer at a shelter?  Does my pet have any chronic conditions?

Vaccines are traditionally divided into core, or essential, groups, and non-core vaccines.  These determinations are based on the likelihood of exposure to the infectious agent, the severity of the disease contracted by infected animals, and zoonotic potential (a disease such as rabies that can infect humans as well as animals).  It is recommended that animals receive core vaccines, with the need for non-core vaccines being determined on an individual basis. Core vaccines, based on the American Animal Hospital Association’s and American Association for Feline Practitioner’s recommendations are as follows:  Distemper, Adenovirus/Hepatitis, canine Parvovirus, Rabies, feline Parvovirus/Panleukopenia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus. Non-core vaccines include: Bordetella, Parainflueza, Coronavirus, Lyme, Leptospirosis, Chlamydia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Canine Influenza.

Frequency with which to vaccinate is perhaps the most confounding decision we must make as part of the veterinarian-owner pet care team.  This is where a basic understanding of the immune system and how it operates becomes critical.  When exposed to natural disease or a vaccine, memory cells (cell-mediated line of the immune system) become primed to recognize the infectious agent should the animal become re-exposed and antibodies can be produced (humoral line of the immune system).  If maternal antibodies are still present, the animal is ill/stressed, doesn’t respond to the vaccine due to immaturity, or there is a problem with the vaccine itself, it is possible to have an animal that was vaccinated but not adequately protected.  Additionally, an animal that becomes ill, stressed, or immunosuppressed later in life, or is exposed to an overwhelming challenge of the organism may become sick despite adequate vaccination.  Thus the true immune status of an animal is determined by many factors including antibody levels, activity of memory cells, health of the animal, and type of disease challenge. In many cases, health professionals encourage vaccination with the thought that the majority of individuals will be protected (herd health), and the disease causing organism will not have the opportunity to infect a community causing an outbreak.

There has been much discussion on the value of checking antibody titers to certain viral diseases such as canine Parvovirus, Distemper, and feline Panleukopenia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus.  A titer is a measurement of how much antibody to a particular agent is circulating in the blood at that time.  Titers are expressed as a ratio and indicate how dilute the blood was made before detectable levels of antibody disappeared.  A titer test does not measure immunity, because as we know, immune status of an animal is dependent on multiple variables.  A high titer is strongly correlated with recent infection or good immunity, but a low titer does not necessarily mean the body won’t produce an effective immune response if challenged.

What to do? Our practice has determined that in light of all of the information presented by the AAHA and AAFP and after evaluating duration of immunity studies conducted by the vaccine manufacturers, we will take a cautiously progressive approach to vaccination.  Puppies and kittens will receive regular boosters of core and select non-core vaccines every 3-4 weeks until 16-18 weeks.  After one year of age, dogs will receive a booster of DAP and cats a FVRCP as well as a three year Rabies vaccine; other non-core vaccines will be based on risk assessment.  At two years of age, most dogs will continue to receive non-core vaccines and a three year DAP vaccine.  In future years, they will receive non-core vaccines annually and DAP and Rabies as they come due on a rotating three year basis. Cats will similarly be vaccinated for FVRCP every three years in place of DAP. For our feline patients, we have selected non-adjuvanted vaccines shown to be associated with fewer adverse events including some cancers. The vaccination schedules of senior pets or those with medical conditions will continue to be assessed on an individual basis, as we do with all of our patients. We will also work with owners who chose to perform viral vaccine titers in lieu of core vaccine requirements excluding Rabies.

2018: The Year Your Dog Loses Weight!! (and the Year of the DOG)


HO, HO, HOLY COW! Now that it is 2018, we wearily rub the sleep out of eyes and take a tentative step back into reality.  Our pants are a little more snug, dry needles are falling off of the Christmas tree still in the corner, and the dog looks up at us and seems to communicate, “Me too.  I feel like an ottoman with legs”.  Time to get moving and regroup! After we purge the last bit of fruitcake and eggnog from the fridge, we owe it to our pets to take charge of their health and well-being. That starts with weight assessment and management, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.  The trick is knowing where to start and being consistent.  And the payoff is huge; a landmark study published in 2002 by  Nestlé Purina’s showed that maintaining a dog’s lean body condition extended their median life span by 15 percent. For the Labrador Retrievers in the study, the statistic translates into two years. 1


Placing a call to  your veterinarian is the first thing you  should do. At the appointment, it helps to bring your pet’s food, treats, and measuring cup; taking it one step further, an accurate log  of your pet’s food intake over a week or two is ideal.  By having all family members write down what is fed, your vet gets an accurate picture of nutritional intake.  Don’t stop there! Record any activity your dog has engaged in during that same time period.  We aren’t necessarily counting calories expended, but gauging a rough level of activity.  A pug on a couch doesn’t use the same amount of energy (calories) as a border collie who chases a frisbee 2 hours a day.

Your veterinarian is going to weigh your dog.  You can monitor weight at home by weighing yourself (gasp), then weighing yourself holding your dog, and subtract your weight to get your pet’s LBS.  Make a note of it on your food and activity log.  If you have a large or giant breed dog, many vet clinics and pet stores will happily let you walk in and get a weight on their oversized scale.  Because of variability in breeds and body types within the breed, charts will list a healthy weight range for each breed.  Taking a look at the AKC guide to breed weights, we see that a Boston Terrier may weigh anywhere from 12-25 pounds. 2   That’s a HUGE degree of variabilty and isn’t particularly helpful, especially if you have  a mixed breed dog.  Veterinarians and knowledgable pet owners are more likely to rely on a body condition scoring chart to assess weight.  One of the most popular is the Purina Dog Condition Scoring Chart. It can be found online at: https://oregonvma.org/files/Purina-Dog-Condition-Chart.pdf. 3 This chart allows owners and medical professionals to  evaluate a dog based on three criteria and assign them a value from 1 (emaciated) to grossly obese (9):  feeling the fat pad over the ribs and determining if the ribs are able to be easily visualized, evaluating a dog’s waist profile and thickness from above, and assessing their abdominal tuck.  A dog at its ideal weight should be about a 4-5/9.  Anything above or below, and you’ve got a problem!  Each point on the scale correlates 10% over or under their ideal weight.  For example, a golden retriever that is an 8/9, is roughly 30% overweight.  Instead of weighing 100 pounds, he should weigh 70. (100 pounds x 0.30 = 30 pounds overweight). 4

Armed with your dog’s body condition score, food intake, activity level, diet fed, his rough weight in pounds vs. ideal weight, you can start to make some adjustments in how you feed and exercise your pet. Know that you are not alone. It’s estimated that roughly 45% of dogs in the US are overweight or obese. 2 These staggering numbers contribute to their overall quality of life in a number of ways: overweight pets are more likely to develop diabetes, arthritis, respiratory illnesses, skin infections, and cancer in addition to the relative immobility obesity fosters.  5

Dogs are physiologically built to thrive on 2-4 small meals a day. Free choice feeding can lead to overeating when bored.  The choice of what to feed can be a complex one.  Again, enlist the help of your veternarian who will likely recommend a food or foods based on your dog’s size, breed, health status (pre-screening for diseases like Hypothyroidism, heart disease, Cushing’s disease, arthritis, and others to make sure there are no other medical issues contributing to your pet’s weight gain), activity level, and age.  Just reducing your dog’s caloric intake of his regular diet and treats could also deprive him of essential nutrients.  In general, a diet higher in protein and lower in fat and calories per 8 ounce cup can help your pet achieve 1-2% loss in pounds per week. Canned foods, though more expensive, tend to be more filling and also contain a higher percentage of protein as fed. Dog Food Advisor https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/  has a handy calculator that can aid you in determining the amount of calories to feed. 6  Be careful; the labels on the back of dog food bags and cans are the estimated amounts to feed a dog at their healthy weight.  We are looking to lose!  Also recall that treats count. Ice cubes, carrots, apple slices and green beans can be an appealing substitute to high calorie bones and chews.   BalanceIT is a company that will develop a home cooked recipe and supplements exclusively for your dog to meet their individual needs.  Started by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, professional recomendations can aid even a finicky dog or one with food allergies to lose weight. https://secure.balanceit.com/. 7

If your dog is cleared to resume exercising, start with a 5-10 minute walk several times a day.  If you are able, incorporate some hills and swimming which help to build muscle and increase your dog’s metabolism.  When the weather is chilly, we play “find the kibble” in the house after hiding individual pieces under rugs, on chair rungs, and in plastic water bottles or boxes.  One of my dogs is fed three times a day by rolling a kong toy filled with kibble. The mental stimulation is a good replacement for physical exercise on cold days, and the dogs don’t realize they are expending as many calories as they are eating! Keeping a weight loss and activity log can assist in tracking the weekly weigh-in and fine tuning your dog’s program to achieve optimal results. Measure, measure, measure (even keep a baggie of food for your dog’s daily ration if needed).  Who knows, you may find that by increasing your awareness of calories in, calories out, you reach your own weight loss goals!



2 http://www.akc.org/content/dog-care/articles/breed-weight-chart/

3 https://oregonvma.org/files/Purina-Dog-Condition-Chart.pdf


5 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, Calabash, NC

6 https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/

7 https://secure.balanceit.com/

Keeping Your Dog Active in the Winter


IMG_3718Fun with Fido When it’s Frigid

For many of us in the Midwest, cabin fever sets in after the thrill of the holidays is past, presents are put away, and the tree is out by the curb.  With our mushy, sometimes muddy, cloudy and generally unpredictable weather, even activities like skiing and sledding can be limited. We are bound to spend more time indoors and that means our pets do too. In my house, boredom = TROUBLE with a capital T.  The dog tears around the house with a lone sock in her mouth, a lego brick, or something straight out of the garbage can.  “Keep away” is fun, but only if we play by my rules! So how do we beat the winter blahs for our dogs? With a little creativity and exploration, you can find lots of ways to bond with your dog, increase their social skills, and work on training through playful activities.  Best of all, when you get their mental gears turning, that expended energy results in a pooped pooch by day’s end!

One of my favorite indoor games to play is “Hide and Seek”.  This game also helps reinforce the command “Come”.  Start by having your dog “Stay” in a room or have another person restrain them.  Hide behind a door, under a blanket, or if outside, behind a tree.  Tell your dog to “Come” or “Find Me”.  When your hiding place is discovered, enthusiastically praise your dog, offer an awesome treat (beef jerky… mmmm), or reward them with their favorite toy.  By repeating the game in different surroundings and intermittently, the recall command can be consistently reinforced.

We also like to play “hide the treat” or kibble.  This game is fun for young kids who can be tasked with hiding bits of kibble or even the full meal in areas accessible to your dog while the dog is restrained in another room. By using their strongest sense, their nose, they can “hunt” for food after all the bits are hidden. You can make the most out of snowy weather by hiding treats in empty water bottles and then planting them in the snow so just the tops are exposed.  Your dog will love finding the bottles filled with delicious bites!  Chasing laser pointers isn’t just for cats; stop by an office supply store and see if you dog like to “hunt” the elusive beam.  If you have an unfinished basement, some dogs like catching bubbles.  This is another fun activity to keep kids and pets busy in the winter!

Now may be a good time to explore classes outside of your home. Keeping your dog active in winter can be as simple as signing up for a park district obedience class to refresh some skills!  Not only are you bonding with your dog, but they get a chance to engage with other canines and do a little rear-sniffing meet and greet.  Other classes that can be a ton of fun are agility which involves fast-paced running over A-frames, diving through tunnels, and jumping over poles.  If your canine doesn’t like other companions or is easily distracted, set up an obstacle course in the basement and lure them with a treat or a ball.

Nose work courses are suitable for every breed and age dog; while your pup isn’t likely to get on the TSA payroll, they can learn to find a scent hidden among boxes or containers.  Dogs love jobs whether it be retrieving a ball or digging up a buried treasure in the yard!  You can start teaching basic nose work at home if you can identify a smell your dog LOVES. Mine go crazy for a small piece of bacon or cheese.  I hide the treat in a plastic container with holes poked through the lid.  Next find 4-6 identical boxes (shoeboxes, postal mailing boxes) and place the plastic container in one.  Now it’s time for the shell game!  Mix up the boxes without your dog present then casually stroll the room with your friend.  You can casually investigate the boxes, avoiding the loaded box, and reward your dog with a treat or praise AT the box when they show an interest in the correct container.  This mentally stimulating and confidence building exercise should be FUN. Limit obedience commands and enjoy your dog’s enthusiasm and success.  Because your dog’s nose goes wherever they go, you can take this game to the park, the car, or to Grandma’s house.

Enrolling in dog day care, heading to a dog park, or finding an indoor swimming pool may be options if you have a social dog who likes to exercise with others.  It’s important to receive a behind-the-scenes tour of any facility where you are considering taking your dog to play.  Cleanliness, supervision, and careful screening of canine companions is vital for safety.  We love our local dog park during the less crowded weekdays and have met responsible, like-minded owners.  Because we can stroll off-leash, my dogs can investigate every shrub and divot. Some store like Bass Pro Shop welcome pets and you can search for post-holiday deals.  Win-win!

Clearly, there are lots of ways to keep your pet entertained during the winter months.  If all else fails, throw on a warm coat, some boots (for your dog too), and take a walk. Spring will be here before we know it!

Winter Care Tips for Your Dog


Baby, it’s cold outside! If we are feeling the early chill of winter, you can bet our pets are too. While we can turn up the heat, throw on some extra layers, and break out our waterproof boots, our dogs don’t have that same luxury. Certain northern breeds such as the Akita, Husky, Alaskan Malamute, and Keeshond have dense coats and furry feet that help to insulate them from the cold as well as allow them to navigate icy terrain. A tiny chihuahua or dacshund with their short coats and reduced muscle mass may suffer from exposure much more quickly. How should we care for our dogs, great and small, in cold weather? Let’s start with the outer layers.
Some dogs can use an extra layer of fluff, just like people. Thin-skinned, delicate breeds such as the Italian Greyhound can use a coat or sweater that protects the belly and torso. Excessive hair between a dog’s toes can be trimmed to avoid slipping on surfaces and to limit the snowballs that form on the feet. A well-groomed pooch can also be outfitted with booties for insulation and to provide traction on slippery surfaces. Most dog booties are elastic or have Velcro fasteners and can be laundered. If your dog can’t bear to wear boots, consider a paw wax or petroleum jelly massaged into the pads to provide protection from the elements and to prevent cracking. Pets are more likely to sustain injury walking on ice or salt; to protect you pet in cold weather, always rise, dry, and carefully examine their feet after returning from the great outdoors. And a good belly rub to remove ice and debris is always appreciated!

Acclimating our dogs to the colder temperatures is best done by limiting outdoor playtime to 5-10 minutes and extending that period gradually. Caring for senior or young pets when the weather is cold may mean keeping them indoors or providing a warm, padded shelter. Just like humans, these dogs are less able to regulate body temperature and may suffer from frostbite more easily. Dogs are more likely to develop frostbite on delicate skin such as the ear tips and tail. The most noticeable change in affected areas is a color change from pink to white or blue-grey. A good rule of thumb when it comes to dog winter safety is if you are uncomfortable outdoors, so is your pet!
Additional winter care tips include being aware of some toxins that may be particularly accessible during the season. Antifreeze ingestion can be lethal and cause a drunken appearance, kidney damage, vomiting, and seizures. Clean up any spills immediately as it has a sweet taste that is appealing to dogs. Ethylene glycol is the ingredient that will lead to poisoning; it is possible to buy antifreeze that has propylene glycol as the active ingredient and is less toxic. Poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe are common plants we may use for winter decorations and will lead to oral irritation, drooling, vomiting or abdominal pain if ingested.

Leaving a pet in a car that is running increases the likelihood of carbon monoxide poisoning; while it may seem tempting to run one last errand with your companion, drop them at home first! Likewise, space heaters and electrical cords can cause fire or electrical burns if your dog decides to make them chew toys or knocks them over while playing. Unlike their cat counterparts, most dogs stay away from the Christmas tree. BUT, the tree water or edible ornaments can be a great temptation and lead to injury. Keep the tree, needles, glass decorations, and edibles inaccessible to all your pets.

Lastly, nutrition and hydration should be carefully considered when the weather is cold. If your dog is active in the snow or spends time outdoors, they utilize more calories to maintain their body temperature. To care for your dog in the winter, you might find additional kibble is necessary to maintain body weight and optimal health. Dehydration is a concern in winter time just as it is in the summer. Some dogs may drink more water to offset the lack of humidity in the air. Provide ample fresh water, ice cubes to snack on, and heated water bowls if necessary.
Here is a favorite paw balm recipe to help moisturize and condition your dog’s pads in the winter time. Christmas just came early! Happy holidays!
Dr. Lisa McIntyre


21-24 standard lip balm tubes OR 6 1-oz. tins
a small digital kitchen scale, optional
small pot or double boiler
2 oz. (approx. 2 tbsp.) olive, sunflower, or sweet almond oil
2 oz. (approx. 2 tbsp.) coconut oil (buy on amazon)
1 oz. (approx. 1 tbsp.) shea butter (buy on amazon)
4 tsp. beeswax (buy on amazon)

In a small pot or double boiler over low heat melt the oils, shea butter, and beeswax. Stir continuously until all is melted and well blended.
Carefully pour the mixture into lip balm tubes and/or tins. (buy on amazon)
Let them cool on the counter until hard.
Cap and label.
Keep away from extreme heat.
Apply the balm as a preventive treatment or to help soften dry paw pads or noses. Use within 1 to 2 years.

Dogs in Overdrive and the Fear Response

When noise sends a dog into frenzied or frozen panic, veterinary behaviorists have a range of remedies

Posted June 14, 2017

Timid dog hiding under a tableThe sounds of spring and summer can spell misery for dogs with noise aversion and their families. While loud noise any time of year can trigger fear, it’s the thunderstorms, outdoor festivities, and Fourth of July fireworks that make those seasons a minefield.

In a June 2016 Harris Poll Online survey, 44 percent of owners reported their dogs had signs of noise aversion. The poll was commissioned by Zoetis, which, a month earlier, had launched a new type of drug to treat the behavioral and clinical signs of noise aversion.

Dr. Sharon Campbell, Zoetis’ companion animal medical lead for analgesia, sedation, anesthesia, and behavior, told JAVMA this May, “As much as the dog is suffering with noise aversion, the family often suffers, too,” whether it’s loss of sleep during a nighttime episode or the dog breaking loose and being hit by a car.

“After a while, if these dogs go untreated or are treated ineffectively, it puts a strain on the human-animal bond that gets worse with time.”

Phobic responses in dogs are generally associated with loud noises such as thunder, fireworks, or gunshots, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, as well as the stimuli associated with these events, including rain, lightning, and pressure changes.

Some dogs react with overt signs of fear such as hyperactivity, panting, pacing, destructive activity, or escape behavior. Others have signs so subtle they can be missed, such as lip licking, yawning—even immobilization. Dr. Campbell said, “They’re almost comatose, because they don’t respond. Their eyes are dilated, and they are completely immobilized. It’s essentially a panic attack.”

Teaching the client techniques

Dr. Kelly Ballantyne (right) has a therapy session with her patient Gus, assisted by veterinary technician Tiana Daniels. The tricolor hound mix, owned by a member of the Ballantyne family, suffers from noise aversion. (Photo by Andrew Ballantyne)

In the veterinary behavior clinic at the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, a satellite of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, has a caseload largely of dogs with fear-related aggression, but at this time of year, at least 30 percent of her patients are dogs with noise aversion. Often, patients come in with multiple issues.

By the time they turn to a veterinary behaviorist such as Dr. Ballantyne, most clients have tried a lot of things, so she listens to what triggers they have observed and what solutions have and haven’t helped.

“We talk a lot about how they can manage the pet’s home environment and how they can teach their dog to relax,” she said.

Playing white noise or music and establishing a safe place for the dog to retreat to, such as an interior room, help manage the home environment. Dr. Ballantyne might also work with the owner on behavior modification techniques. For example, she shows clients how to teach their dog to relax on a specific mat or a bed that can become a safe spot.

Dog anxiety vests such as the ThunderShirt work for an occasional patient in conjunction with other treatments, but if they were a silver bullet, she doubts most of her patients would need to see her. She has also met some noise-averse dogs that are frightened by the sound of the hook-and-loop fasteners and other dogs that become frozen in place when the vest is applied.

“So it’s important for clients who are trying out these interventions to assess their dogs,” she said. “Do they look relaxed, or do they look frozen but not comfortable?”

She said a lot of her clients journal and keep a log of their pet’s behavior so she can track the effectiveness of their interventions. “It might be as simple as them scoring the dog’s response to a storm on a scale of 1 to 5. As we’re implementing treatment, we have them keep monitoring so we know if those numbers are changing and if we’re making a good difference,” she said.

Some of her patients with mild fears respond positively to the Adaptil pheromone or a mild nutraceutical such as Zylkene from their veterinarian. For moderate to severe fears or phobias, she said Adaptil should be used as an adjunct to medication.

She explores medication options with clients whose dogs have intense responses to a noise, have generalized their fear to stimuli such as dark skies, have hurt themselves, or are having a prolonged recovery.

“My treatment is going to be different for the dog that is scared every single night versus the dog that is scared just in response to thunder,” she said.

One of Dr. Ballantyne’s patients was hiding in the bathroom every night. “It started in relation to storms, and we perceive that he learned that nighttime predicts bad weather and scary events,” the veterinarian said.

His owner had tried a few medications that helped with storms but caused the dog to be off balance and too sedate. Then, Dr. Ballantyne prescribed Sileo, a drug new to the market.

Sileo enters the scene

Zoetis launched Sileo in May 2016 after the Food and Drug Administration approved it as the first drug to treat the behavioral and clinical signs of noise aversion in dogs. It was approved as a new use for an already approved drug. Sileo is a low dose of the commonly used anesthetic drug dexmedetomidine, an alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist.

Veterinarians prescribe Sileo as an oromucosal gel that the pet owner administers between the dog’s cheek and gum via a needleless syringe. According to Zoetis, the drug typically takes effect within 30 to 60 minutes and lasts two to three hours. Unlike tranquilizers such as acepromazine, it is an anti-anxiety drug.

Dr. Ballantyne said that after her client gave her dog Sileo, “The storm hit, and he noticed the sound of the thunder but went back to what he was doing, which was huge. Now he’s hanging out with his family in the evening and being his normal, happy self.”

She has prescribed Sileo quite a bit and has used it on her own dog, who has a fear of fireworks.

“I think Sileo is a great treatment option because it decreases the fear. Most of the patients I’ve used it on are showing minimal side effects, and they look a lot more comfortable during a noise event,” she said.

Safety of Sileo

Dr. Sara Bennett is an ACVB-certified veterinary behavior specialist based in the southwest Indiana town of Evansville and is a member of the behavior advisory board for Zoetis.

“Sileo is very safe. I think veterinarians get a little worried about it because it’s dexmedetomidine. Veterinarians have lots of experience with that drug, given by different routes, particularly injection, and we use it for sedation. But because Sileo is absorbed transmucosally, the bioavailability consequent to that route is much, much lower,” she said.

In a few cases where owners said their dog had become too sedate, she told them to reduce the dose by a dot the next time. The syringe uses a dot-dosing system based on the dog’s weight.

On May 23, the FDA issued a warning to dog owners and veterinarians about accidental overdoses that have resulted from the ring-stop mechanism not properly locking at the intended dose (see sidebar).

Dr. Bennett said a few patients, usually small dogs that are less inclined to tolerate their mouths being handled by their owner, have swallowed a dose rather than allowing it to be absorbed, but with no effect.

“If it’s swallowed, it does pretty much nothing because it goes through first-pass metabolism with transformation in the liver and is broken down before it ever gets through the targeted areas of the body,” she said.

She lets owners know that it is normal for vasoconstriction to cause their dog’s gums to pale on the side where the drug is administered.

It is important to choose the patient population appropriately, Dr. Bennett noted. Sileo has not been evaluated in dogs younger than 16 weeks of age and should not be used in dogs with certain conditions, such as cardiovascular, respiratory, liver, kidney, or gingival disease.

Noise aversion case studies

To improve adoptability, Dr. Sara Bennett (left) helps dogs with severe noise aversion at As Good as Gold, a Golden Retriever rescue in Illinois. Here, she and foster volunteer Carol put an anxiety vest on Cherish. Carol and husband Mike were Cherish’s third foster family and later adopted her. (Courtesy of Production Craft Inc.)

At AVMA Convention 2016, Dr. Bennett presented a continuing education session on noise aversion case examples, describing the short-term management of each patient to overcome the immediate threat and the long-term interventions to resolve the problem. Some of those cases are posted with videos. They also serve to educate the public on the various signs of noise aversion.

In her patient population, dogs are often affected by multiple triggers. She recommends Debbie Jacobs’ fearful dogs website, which offers support, advice, and resources for these dogs’ caregivers.

Dr. Bennett uses a systematic approach for treating noise aversion. She teaches the dog to relax on cue; some of her clients call it doggy yoga. She ensures there is a safe place for the pet to retreat to and avoid the intensity of the noise, even something like the Thunder Hut, a type of cave made of sound-dampening foam.

Behavior modification might also involve classical conditioning, such as pairing noise with petting or food.

Many times, she discusses medication options such as Sileo, benzodiazepines, or the antidepressant trazodone to give situationally before or during an event. Then she looks at adjunct options the owner might want to try, from natural supplements such as milk-protein derivatives to pheromones to a body wrap such as the ThunderShirt or Storm Defender Cape.

She finds that dogs refractory to treatment often respond well to Sileo. At the Chicago-area Golden Retriever rescue As Good as Gold, where she is sometimes called to help, dogs with severe noise aversion are often puppy mill dogs with global fear. Most become adopted into permanent homes with her help and Sileo.

The veterinarian-client conversation

A market research study done internally by Zoetis found that 40 percent of dogs with signs of noise aversion are taken to a veterinarian, owners try to help 20 percent themselves, and 40 percent go untreated.

Dr. Ballantyne has seen studies that found 50 percent of dog owners have a dog that fears noises.

“Asking (the client) about behavior at every visit and using open-ended questions such as ‘What concerns do you have about your dog’s behavior?’ for one, gives them the opportunity to ask, and two, normalizes it,” she said.

Dr. Campbell believes Sileo has facilitated conversations between pet owners and their veterinarians as well as increased owners’ awareness of noise aversion triggers and behaviors. Zoetis created a simple questionnaire for clients, downloadablefor free, that some veterinarians say they print and ask clients to fill out for any dog they bring in over 6 months of age. The questionnaire responses can lead to a conversation about noise aversion.

Unless prompted, most pet owners don’t bring up noise aversion with their veterinarians, Dr. Campbell said at a CE session she and Dr. Bennett presented at AVMA Convention 2016 on how to have conversations with clients about noise aversion. She told the packed audience it’s a matter of shared decision making. “The key concept is you’re shifting the paradigm from a vet-centric conversation to a relationship-centered conversation.”

Dr. Campbell told JAVMA that sometimes the reason veterinarians are reluctant to bring up behavioral questions is that they don’t feel they have adequate training.

Zoetis has worked with Dr. Jane Shaw, an associate professor of communication at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and an expert in veterinarian-client-patient interactions, on the Frank Communication Workshops and Modules.

Dr. Shaw worked with Suzanne Kurtz, PhD, at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine to help adapt for veterinarians the Calgary-Cambridge Guide Dr. Kurtz helped develop for physicians.

Dr. Campbell said Zoetis sends colleagues and customers to the Frank Workshops for intensive training on communication skills.

“Dr. Shaw has actors play the role of the pet owner, and it’s up to you as the veterinarian in this role-playing situation to tease out what are the true underlying causes or concerns that pet owner has,” she said.

“The premise is that, although the veterinarian is the medical expert, the pet owner is really the expert for that pet,” Dr. Campbell said. “We want to make sure that in that conversation with the pet owner, that they are with you along that journey, so that they know what your concerns are and you know what their concerns are.”

Anything less could lead to decreased client satisfaction and compliance, she said.

Dr. Shaw told JAVMA that an example of an open-ended inquiry to start a behavior dialogue would be “When there are loud noises, what behaviors do you see in your dog?”

Additional information on the Frank Workshops is available.

Quantifying behavioral signs

Sterling shares an umbrella with his veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Theresa DePorter, metaphorically protecting her patient from his weather-related fears. A can of Reddi-Wip, Sterling’s favorite reinforcement, helps him face any fear. (Photo by Dr. Kate Reynolds)

“I have some patients that are afraid of the click of ice cubes in the fridge,” said Dr. Theresa DePorter. “I have some that are afraid of the classics—wind, thunder, lightning, fireworks.”

Dr. DePorter is board-certified by the ACVB and the European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine. She works in southeastern Michigan at one of the largest specialty referral hospitals of its type in the Midwest. Her cases are complex; some dogs are referred from four or five hours away. Often, noise phobias are a factor with her patients. Most have generalized anxiety.

Dr. DePorter says the profession needs a system to quantify behavioral signs, and new technology is promising to help meet these goals. She will speak July 24 at AVMA Convention 2017 in rooms 205-206 on “futuristic technology that is here today for monitoring behavior.”

“My dream goal for behavior is that we have some way to communicate numerically or with a graph and to share with someone else how severe a behavior case is,” she said. “If I call a veterinarian and say a dog has a BUN of 200, we’re quickly thinking in the same way, whereas to even begin to discuss a dog with a noise phobia and how severe the anxiety is, we don’t have good numbers and ways to share that information.”

One of the technologies she will profile is Vetrax, a new monitoring system analogous to the personal activity trackers, such as Fitbit, used by people.

Dogs can respond to noise events by shutting down and hiding, for example, or by becoming hyperactive. “So we start to put activity monitors on those dogs, the outliers—the dogs that show more extreme behaviors, and Vetrax monitors the dog’s activity so we can get how many steps they’re moving and when they’re doing it, and plot it over time,” Dr. DePorter said.

One case involved a 15-year-old Siberian Husky with a history of noise phobia that manifested as crouching. But, when Dr. DePorter put an activity monitor on the dog, she said, “We noticed that, on a particular day, the activity monitor showed this 15-year-old dog walked 15 miles.”

According to Dr. DePorter, “The owner said she had been at a wedding that day,” and further questioning made it clear the dog’s hyperactivity was not the result of noise phobia, eventually leading to a diagnosis of pain and separation anxiety. That’s why, Dr. DePorter said, it’s important to journal over time the nature of storms and noise events and a dog’s corresponding activity.

Another innovation is the ZenCrate, she said, describing it as a wooden box that gives the dog a safe place to go when afraid of noises. It’s insulated, and the padded bottom restricts vibration. When a dog steps in, the crate begins playing bioacoustic music. (It’s not being shipped yet but can be preordered.)

The product Through a Dog’s Ear is classical music that purportedly reduces anxiety in dogs and helps block out sound. It is bioacoustically adjusted to create “a consistently calm auditory environment,” according to the product website.

Sound therapy is one way of modifying the dog’s environment to decrease noise impact. Simultaneously, Dr. DePorter uses medications such as anxiolytics, and pheromone supplements, as indicated by severity of the pet’s anxiety. Also important is behavior modification—teaching and building positive associations.

“I teach the dog that something wonderful happens—you get a Kong with some peanut butter in it—when a storm happens,” she said. “All these things come together to give the dog a coping strategy.”

Such was the case with Sterling, a 13-year-old Labrador Retriever owned by Dr. Kate Reynolds of Clarkston, Mich­igan. Dr. Reynolds said, “I tried treating his anxiety prior to seeing Dr. DePorter, but I knew I needed help when he began to destroy things.”

Dr. Reynolds adopted Sterling in 2004 after the veterinary hospital where she was interning saved him from a parvovirus infection. He has been her constant throughout her career and many life changes.

“Dr. DePorter not only helped me manage his anxiety through the use of pharmaceuticals and supplements, pheromones, music, and positive reinforcement training, she also helped me be more compassionate with him and with myself. As a veterinarian, I tend to be a perfectionist,” she said.

Dr. DePorter said, “Mostly, his emotional distress has been treated with compassion for his fears. He has been given tools to help him reduce his own fear and live in confidence he will be protected when there is a storm.”

Because Dr. DePorter taught her so much about behavior, Dr. Reynolds said, “My entire practice style has changed in the course of the last four years, and I like to think that our profession is moving toward a kinder, gentler way of practicing medicine, which will make it a more effective way to deliver quality care.”