Pet Socialization in a Time of Isolation

puppy-socialization-checklist

In a time when social distancing is the new normal, many of us have come to realize just how vital our personal relationships are to our mental health and well-being. FaceTime calls, posters in windows decorated with rainbows and phrases like, “we’ve got this” and “stay strong, stay inside” help give humans a sense of community and togetherness. We look to our families, including our beloved pets, for physical affection, stress relief, and the unconditional love they provide. I’ve also noticed just how many friends are calling for advice on pet adoption or posting pictures of their new puppy on social media. The reasons for adopting right now are multifactorial and beneficial.  Rescues and shelters are looking to safely place animals in homes and close their doors to all but the most essential staff. Realizing that this period of social isolation may extend for months and that being homebound leads to scads of downtime, pet adoption may be realistic for people who hadn’t previously considered it. A new pet brings joy, hope, a sense of purpose, and connectedness we are longing for. As a veterinarian, I support the placement of shelter pets in permanent homes and am excited that families have newly found hours of time to devote to training and acclimating an adopted pet. One major concern of mine during this unprecedented time is the ability to properly socialize pets. Canines need to be good citizens of the world in which we (normally) live. Dogs that aren’t socialized are often relinquished to shelters for preventable behavior problems such as resource guarding and territorial or fear-based aggression. Pet “problems” account for approximately 47% of surrendered dogs; many are re-homed multiple times, and some are euthanized. (1) New owners must realize that once released from the confines of home, our pets need to function confidently and thrive in an environment populated with small children, other animals, cars and bicyclists, and all varieties noises and distractions. Socialized pets can happily accompany their owners on vacation, exercise amongst other animals at dog parks and daycares, experience the physical contact of other people, and mental stimulation of group agility classes or pet assisted therapy work. They experience less anxiety, stress, and loneliness. They are more physically fit.

What exactly is pet socialization? How can we accomplish the integration and socialization of our furry friends when hampered by current conditions? According to the AVMA, “Socialization is the process of preparing a dog or cat to enjoy interactions and be comfortable with other animals, people, places and activities. Ideally, socialization should begin during the sensitive period between 3 and 14 weeks of age for puppies, and 3 and 9 weeks of age for kittens”. (2) While this window of time is optimal, progress can be made acclimating a previously unsocialized pet if the process is adjusted at a pace suitable to the pet’s temperament. Younger pups are typically more inquisitive and relaxed than an adolescent or adult dog who already associates certain experiences with negative outcomes such as a nail trim that resulted in cutting the quick.  Never punish a pet who is fearful but gently remove them from the situation and expose them again to the stimulus when they are calm; do so for a decreased duration and intensity or from an increased distance. If your pet remains happy and content during socialization exercises, continue positively reinforcing them with food, praise, or petting as you extend the duration of training sessions.  Ideally, your new puppy has spent the first 8 weeks of life surrounded by littermates and has already been practicing play and learning bite inhibition. The breeder, foster family, or shelter worker has been extensively handling the animal since birth. Touching ears, toes, and exploring the mouth and muzzle in a gentle way is important to learn that contact is safe and enjoyable. If not, these tasks fall to the new owner.

To prepare to begin socializing a pet, it’s best to develop a plan. How old is your dog? Are they in that malleable window of 3-14 weeks? Are they an adolescent who may more cautiously test the waters between 4-12 months? Or is your pup a mature and over 1 year of age?  Is your new pet inherently confident, assertive or shy? The speed with which you can introduce new experiences may be slower with an older, more behaviorally mature, or timid pet. Depending on your living environment and what future experiences in which your pet may engage, decide what items or scenarios you’d like to introduce. Do you have other pets in the house and will you need to employ a pet sitter at some point in the future? Engage them with a FaceTime introduction and regular virtual visits with your pet. What resources do you have to work with including things that will be a part of your pet’s daily life? What treats or positive reinforcement will you offer? Do you have a crate or safe space for your pet to retreat to when they have reached their limit as well as to teach alone time and minimize separation anxiety? Do you have nail trimmers or clippers you will want to desensitize you pet to and can you simulate noisy dogs barking, fireworks, fast-moving children or other pets? YouTube videos or phone apps featuring babies crying, chirping birds, or mechanical noisemakers and remote-controlled, interactive toys can be used to introduce the idea of other animals and sounds.  If you want to do therapy work with your pet, borrow a walker, wheelchair, a beeping timer, and practice walking through a gate or down a stairwell. If you have healthy adults and children in the house, allow them to engage in socialization activities with the new pet such as ringing the doorbell while your dog practices being calm in their crate or handling your pet while they are eating to discourage food guarding.

Frequent walks outside in a variety of environments and on a multitude of surfaces such as the sidewalk, wooded path, grassy park, near water, or on a deck ensure your pet is comfortable in different settings. Encourage your neighbors and their dogs to greet and engage your pet from a safe distance while you ply your pooch with delectable treats. Play dress up! Animals should be exposed to humans in hoods, hats, wearing sunglasses, carrying umbrellas or pushing a vacuum cleaner or stroller. Have your puppy on a leash, happily distracted by kibble when you ride your bicycle or skateboard nearby. Car rides are safe ways to socially distance but also introduce new experiences. Drive by a noisy airport or construction site. Plan for 1-5 new experiences a day for varying periods of time, but no longer than the period in which your pet is relaxed and happy. Realize your pet may have some limitations and adjust your socialization periods and expectations accordingly.

Above all, stay safe and enjoy the extra time you have for puppy kisses and bonding.

 

 

COVID-19 The Welcome Waggin’ Protocols

Can-people-get-COVID-19-from-people

 

⚠️ Please read and share! This is important information regarding our temporary appointment protocol:

In light of COVID-19, we at The Welcome Waggin’ want to share some protocols we have enacted effective immediately that may affect you. We have been getting a lot of new client calls because the chance of spread is less for a home visit versus a clinic visit. This may be true, but we can only ensure that we are around if we are sticklers for hygiene and social distancing. With more and more positive cases being reported in the counties we visit; more cases are surely coming. The more we can do now, the more we can slow down the spread and give our elderly and immunocompromised clients (and family members) the best shot at beating, or better yet avoiding, this virus. In our opinion, enacting these measures is our civic duty to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Protocol changes:

  1. If you or a family member are sick, even if it is just the sniffles, or if you are quarantined, please reschedule your appointment. So you may ask “What if my pet has an issue, what am I supposed to do?” Call us. We are looking into telemedicine (virtual) options for the right scenario and may be able to help virtually.
  2. If one of our staff members is sick, she will not go into your house.
  3. We will maintain a 6-foot distance between a client’s two-legged family members and ourselves. This is in the spirit of “social distancing” that is recommended by the CDC to curtail the spread of this virus. We realize this is awkward and we hate it, as we tend to be hugging-type people, especially in times of letting an animal go, but this is very important.
  4. Dog appointments will take place either outside or in a garage if possible.
  5. Cat appointments will likely need to take place inside because, well, cats. But it is important to have your cat isolated in an area that we can get to your cat(s) easily and quickly. No “cat wild goose chases” will occur.
  6. We will ask that you throw away the trash we create during our appointment (except needles of course) to reduce the risk of contamination.
  7. We may call you the morning of your appointment or at your appointment time to get a history and talk about your concerns, prior to our entry to your home. We may also elect to call you after we examine your animal to discuss the plan/treatment. Again, to minimize contact and exposure.
  8. We will rely on you to accurately weigh your animal prior to the appointment, so we don’t have to bring in our scale. We will only be bringing in what we need – no bags, equipment, etc. that isn’t necessary.
  9. To keep things brief, and minimize electronics going in/out of homes, we will expect payment at the time of the appointment via credit card. We will process the payment by manually entering your credit card numbers, not swiping your card and ask that you have it ready and accessible. We can also accept payments via Zelle and can offer you instructions if that is your preferred method of payment. No cash or checks will be accepted. We still expect payment at the time of service so please continue your great dedication to paying us on time (i.e. the same day).
  10. Please have soap available if we need it along with disposable paper towels. 
  11. We are a small business but provide an essential service.  Please help us to continue to do so by adhering to these protocols, paying on time, and referring to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html for daily updates. 

Thank you for your patience during this time period.  Stay tuned as we will be changing our policy as guidance from our health department and government advises.

Drs. Lisa McIntyre, Tiffany Leach, Jeni Rogan Waeltz, and Sarah Salazar and Christy Millett

Coronavirus and Your Pets

 

Veterinarians are often oc4

Veterinarians are often overlooked by the general public as a resource when it comes to health crises, however, we are a critical component in the One Health movement and work in close collaboration with other authorities such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Case in point is the recent coronavirus outbreak, a type of RNA virus with a “crown” of protein spikes around its envelope which acts as a shield, ensuring the stability of the virus and its ability to cause infection. Veterinarians have a long history of diagnosing and treating strains of coronavirus in domestic animals such as dogs, cats, and birds. Our patients are often the literal “canaries in the coal mine”; our experience in everything from sequencing to managing coronavirus outbreaks is critical to preventing this epidemic from becoming pandemic. A lot of what we know about the recent outbreak of the strain dubbed 2019-nCoV/COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2)  is based on information we know about other coronaviruses, including the strains that cause Feline Infectious Peritonitis as well as MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV in humans. Coronaviruses belong to the family Coronaviridae. Alpha- and beta-coronaviruses usually infect mammals, while gamma and delta coronaviruses usually infect birds and fish. Canine coronavirus, which can cause mild diarrhea, as well as the FIP inducing coronavirus are both alpha-coronaviruses. Until the appearance of 2019-nCoV, which belong to the beta-coronaviruses, there were only six known coronaviruses capable of infecting humans and causing respiratory disease, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus SARS-CoV (identified in 2002/2003) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus MERS-CoV (identified in 2012).

The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in December 29 in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China; reports suggest a seafood and animal market may have been ground-zero for the epidemic. The genetic code of this strain resembles a coronavirus which infects the Horseshoe Bat though currently the main route of new infections appears to close contact with other humans and their secretions. Coughing, sneezing, and contact with aerosolized particles is the most likely way to acquire disease. If possible, stay away from infected individuals or those with respiratory symptoms by a distance of at least 6 feet. Coronaviruses are most contagious when an individual is experiencing signs of the illness such as coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing.

Are face masks helpful? Not likely, unless the wearer is protected by a special respirator mask called a N95.  It is not readily available and is not the same as a standard surgical mask which protects a sterile surgical field from fluids expelled by the surgeon.   It does not appear that 2019-nCoV “jumps species” readily or is zoonotic though handling of animals while ill is discouraged. Coronaviruses are not particularly hardy in the environment, meaning its particles do not survive on surfaces or in the air for long periods of time. This makes proper hygiene essential in controlling the spread of disease. Handwashing with soap and water, staying inside if you are ill, disinfecting surfaces, staying clear of symptomatic humans and animals, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and cooking all animal products will help contain the spread of coronavirus. Unfortunately, anti-viral treatment and an effective human vaccine are not yet available.

As of February 18, 2020, over 73000 cases have been reported world-wide, with individuals infected in 15 states including Illinois, Arizona, California, Texas, and Wisconsin. Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and appears to cross multiple generations easily, travel has been restricted to affected area and has included a quarantine of cruise ship passengers potentially exposed to the virus.

As a pet owner living in the United States, what should you know? Currently, veterinarians do not have reason to believe dogs and cats can become infected by 2019-nCOV.  Canine enteric (gastrointestinal) coronavirus vaccines are NOT protective against human respiratory variants of coronavirus. There is no evidence to suggest that cats and dogs can host 2019-nCoV or act as a reservoir for humans. If you suspect your pet has been in contact with an individual exposed to 2019-nCoV and becomes ill, contact your veterinarian prior to bringing your pet to a public place such as a clinic. As with most novel diseases, new information is gathered daily and is subject to change. The most up-to-date information and advice on human infection can be found on the WHO (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019) and the CDC websites(https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/about/index.html). The most up-to-date information related to animal health is available at https://www.oie.int/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/.

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

1.https://www.avma.org/blog/what-do-you-need-know-about-coronavirus

2.https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html

  1. https://www.oie.int/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/

Bringing Home Baby

baby and dog

Though your fur baby was once unquestionably the most important member of your household, human babies have a way of rolling in and shaking up even the most established family routine. That leisurely morning stroll, coffee in hand, with ample time to stop and chat up the neighbors or let your dog hunt for squirrels is replaced by a quick slide into shoes, a rat’s nest of hair pulled high, and commanding bellows for your furry friend to, “hurry up!! Go potty!! Geez, how long do you have to SNIFF already?”.  You can imagine how unsettling it would be to lose your throne and place on the bed to a smelly, screaming, unpredictable pink blob that wasn’t in the picture yesterday.  Getting your pet prepared for the arrival of a new baby involves slowly acclimating them to all the changes that will take place in the home as well as teaching them some basic skills to keep every family member safe and serene.

Long before you come from the hospital, your pet may sense some impending shifts in their schedule. Morning sickness, sleeplessness, an ever-expanding belly and new chemical smells alert them to changes in your body and routines. Now is the time to enroll in obedience classes if you haven’t already done so.  Knowing how to sit, stay, greet guests without jumping, come when called, “leave it” when a toy is dropped, and go to their “place” or bed are all skills that will help them interact with the new baby and give you peace of mind. Establish a safe zone for your pet, whether it be in a crate or behind a laundry room door, where they can retreat from the commotion and only good things (like that fancy chew bone or scratching post) are offered. Cats doors can be installed so your cat has a place to retreat well out of reach. We all need a space to relax and decompress from time to time.

Since change can be stressful and losing their place as top dog may lead to jealousy, start familiarizing you pet to items related to the baby’s arrival and new schedules as early as the second trimester. Waking at night for frequent bathroom breaks is unfortunately your new norm; they will come to expect activity at all hours long before the baby is born. If you plan on feeding your pet at the same time each day, invest in an automatic feeder and begin to use it now. A regular pet sitter or dog walker can help your dog expend some pent-up energy and your cat some extra love if you think you’ll be running on empty in the months to come.  If your new routine will be no routine, mix up playtimes, feeding times, and exercise bursts.  Play baby sounds from an iphone app to simulate a baby’s cry and use lotions, shampoo, and baby wipes on your own skin for a few weeks. Assemble large pieces of furniture and toys so they become familiar objects and practice walking with your dog and the stroller. Begin to ignore your pet for the first few minutes after you arrive home. This may be a new and uncomfortable practice but will allow you to get the new baby settled inside safely before visiting with your furry friends. Some pet owners go the extra mile and begin carrying a swaddled doll for a few months before the baby comes. Reward your pet when they ignore the doll or learn to sit if something (or someone) is in your arms. If your pet will no longer sleep in the bed with you, start to train or acclimate them to go to their new place and make sure you reinforce this behavior with lots of treats and attention!

Just before coming home from the hospital, bring an item of clothing from the baby back to your pet to smell. Dogs and cats don’t instinctively know to be gentle around infants though many are curious; all initial interactions should be well-controlled and/or on-leash.   Greet your pet without your baby in your arms or have other family members go inside first so initial enthusiastic greetings can be completed.  Enter with a relaxed, but cheerful demeanor and offer plenty of treats. Your pets should be rewarded for calm interest in the new baby, and over several weeks add time and decrease proximity between the pet and baby.  Even the best-behaved animals can startle or become agitated, unintentionally scratching or harming a newborn.  Always supervise these visits lovingly and you’ll soon have a bonded pair of lifelong friends.

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

Service, Emotional Support, and Therapy Animals

 

Service Dogs
Credit: America’s VetDogs and Guide Dog Foundation/Rebecca EdenBy Dr. Lisa McIntyre

While it wouldn’t hurt to have my dog bring in a steady paycheck, her weekly job at hospitals, elementary schools, and assisted living facilities brings untold benefits to the humans with whom she interacts.  The joy I receive and the affection she gets from these strangers who are now friends make her job as a therapy dog the best around.  Luna is perfectly suited for therapy work.  She is gentle, intuitive, doesn’t bark, is non-reactive around other dogs, and loves nothing more that to receive hugs and positive reinforcement. Therapy work requires a special certification and some specific training and de-sensitization to the sounds of IV pumps beeping, dropped bandage material, or the clatter of wheelchair noise. Some of these “tricks” can be taught, and others are just a part of her genetic makeup. Other pups hard at work and with a special skill set include those that act as service dogs and dogs enlisted as emotional support animals. What makes these dogs capable of doing their unique jobs and who do they serve?

Emotional support animals can be any species: dog, cat, chicken, pony, or bird.  They don’t require a special test to receive the designation but must provide their owner therapeutic companionship and deemed necessary by their owner’s physician. Most emotional support animals are strongly bonded to their humans, are obedience trained, and have a calming presence which relieves distress. These pets are legally allowed to accompany their owners on airplanes and owners can qualify for no-pet housing if they have a condition requiring their emotional support animal to be present. Otherwise, animals are not permitted access to pet-free public areas and businesses. Because the term “emotional support animal” has been abused over the last several years, housing authorities and airlines often require written documentation of a psychological or emotional diagnosis from a medical professional.

Therapy dogs are enlisted to provide comfort and affection to people in a wide range of facilities including hospitals, hospice centers, schools, and in crises like natural disasters or to relieve other traumatic stress such as during funerals or acts of violence. It has been shown that contact with animals lowers humans’ blood pressure and heart rate, reduces anxiety and increase endorphins and oxytocin, the feel-good chemicals released by the body. Therapy dogs require obedience training and an innate gentleness, acceptance of strangers and other pets, and enjoy physical contact.  The temperaments of Golden Retrievers and Labradors are often well-suited to therapy work though any breed or mix may possess the appropriate personality for job. Prior to each therapy visit, handlers must ensure their pets are current on vaccinations and zoonotic disease screening and are clean and well-groomed. Testing and certification are offered through several regional and nationwide organizations including: The Bright and Beautiful Foundation, Pet Partners, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Therapy Dogs International. Contact the organization to determine what skills your dog must possess to pass the certification test and when testing is offered near you.

Unlike emotional support dogs and therapy animals, service animals like dogs and miniature horses have unrestricted legal access to public spaces and businesses as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and local governments. While it is legal for someone to ask if the pet is required due to a disability or what tasks the service dog can perform, they may not ask about the nature of a disability. Service dogs have a specific job, rigorous training, and certification which permits them to aid their human handler with tasks particular to the person’s disabilities. Service animals are employed to alert an owner when blood sugar is low, the onset of seizures is eminent, provide room checks for someone with PTSD, or enable someone with vision loss to cross a street. Many service dogs are trained by Canine Companions for Independence, K9’s for Warriors, and Guide Dogs for the Blind and then adopted by someone with a disability though they can be trained by the owner or another professional dog trainer.  Service dogs must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered and strangers should never interrupt a service dog when they are working or without owner’s permission. Service dogs are intelligent, highly trainable, intuitive, loyal, and even-tempered.

While it may seem that the terms emotional support animal, therapy dog, and service dog are interchangeable, make no mistake, these dogs have very different training and certification requirements, legal accessibility rights, and jobs they perform.

Holiday Toys and Treats!

 

Holiday Toys and Treats!

This holiday season, the adult relatives made a pact to buy presents exclusively for the “littles”. In our animal-loving households, that thankfully includes our four-legged kids! With so many great  toys, treats, and accessories out there to add some bling to your pet’s wardrobe, it can be difficult to know where to spend your hard-earned dollars.  I’ve reviewed some of the best holiday gift ideas for your furry friends, and Luna and Leo have even gotten to test out a few! When possible, I try to shop small and purchase fun, unique gifts at local small pet retailers. Often, they have friendly and accessible staff with personal knowledge about the products they sell.
Here are some criteria to consider when purchasing anything that your pet may ingest, carry, gnaw, or retrieve as well as some recommendations to keep your pet mentally and physically stimulated, especially important during holiday season:

  1. Durability and texture: Not many toys will stand up to the bite of a pittie or shepherd.  Look for toys that have reinforced seams and no small pieces like plastic “eyes” or stuffing that can be swallowed.  Bonus points for anything that squeaks, makes a fun crunching sound, or can be carried in your pet’s mouth. A few toys that stood up to the durability and texture test are the ZippyPaws – Holiday Z-Stitch Extra Tough No Stuffing Plush Dog Toy with Squeaker and the Goughnut Stick.  The stick is made of natural rubber, floats, and comes with a replacement guarantee if your dog penetrates the outer layer. Cats are suckers for anything rough like corrugated cardboard.  This DJ cat scratch pad from Uncommon Goods is hysterical! 
  1. Hardness: This one stirs up all kinds of controversy! Even though some breeds may still resemble their wolf ancestors, it’s important to avoid dog toys that don’t pass the thumbnail test (pressing into the object leaves an impression with your thumbnail).  That means avoiding bones, antlers, or even hooves which can lead to tooth fractures, pain, infection, and splintering in the gastrointestinal system causing rupture, blockage, or even death. Likewise, rawhides can be unsafe as they may deteriorate into chunks that are too big to digest and harbor bacterial pathogens.  A safe dog toy that meets my criteria for durability, texture, and hardness is the Nylabone Dura Chew Plus; it’s got a pleasing ribbed texture, is chicken flavored, comes in multiple sizes, and dogs are able to shave off satisfying rice-grain sized bits that are safe to ingest.
  1. Coating: Beware the treated pig ear or coated bully stick. Not only do the coatings stain fabric and carpeting, they can cause digestive upset in your dog and promote bacterial growth on the surface of the chew. Many are not sourced in the United States and may be a by-product of the inhumane international fur trade. It’s important to consider the impact your purchase has on other species and the environment; a great dog toy shouldn’t harm any other critters during production. One veterinarian recommended chew that is coated with a dual-enzyme system to prevent tartar formation is the Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Dogs. Not only is it flavorful but provides the benefit good oral health! 
  1. Size & Shape: It is important to consider the “anatomy” of the dog toys you purchase and always supervise your pet when they are playing or chewing on a new holiday gift.  Toys and treats should not be small enough that they can become a choking hazard. Nor should they be too large that jaw strain is a sequalae of chewing. Avoid toys that have a ring or bend that can become stuck over the dog’s jaw causing injury. My recommendation is the Wisedom Dog Treat Ball; it has a variety of treat dispensing options, has an unpredictable, engaging bounce due to its unique three-armed design and is made of a softer rubber with plenty of give to avoid injury.  Another safe toy that comes in multiple sizes is the PetSafe Busy Buddy Calming Toys. Luna couldn’t get enough play time once I filled it with some of her kibble.
  1. Washability: Myth: a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s.  Make sure your gift is machine or dishwasher safe! Kong brand products are not only sturdy but come in multiple sizes, have features that allow them to be stuffed with treats, and are top-rack dishwasher friendly. Kong brand soft toys can be thrown in the washing machine. The Outward Hound Bionic Ball  can be filled with a snack for added enjoyment and disinfected in the dishwasher after use.
  1. Engaging: The best  toys are mentally engaging, provide an outlet for chewing, help reinforce a positive behavior, relieve stress, and provide physical exercise and entertainment. Felines love to hide, hunt, and climb.  This cat tree from Chewy is amazing and under $70! Most food-motivated dogs love a treat that is bacon, chicken, beef or cheese flavored.  Kong stuffn easy treat bacon and cheese is made to be used in toys with a dispensing hole and dogs find it irresistible! Pet owners use this treat-filled toy to relieve separation anxiety and allow safe, long-lasting chewing. We recently purchased a Furbo, an interactive, treat-dispensing camera and microphone, that allows us to check-in on our pups when we aren’t home. With a tap on our smartphone, we can provide a positive food reward when they stop barking at the mailman or move away from the door. Some tasty, healthy treats that are low in calories and work well with the Furbo system are Bil-Jac Little-Jacs Small Dog Chicken Liver Training Dog Treats. I’m not sure who enjoys this new toy more, me or the dogs! 

Happy Howlidays!

Signs of Canine Stress and How to Relieve It

 

Ommmmmm…… As I sit with my legs crossed, hands to the heavens, and eyes closed, I can almost feel myself becoming one with the universe.  It is no secret that regular exercise and breathing deeply helps the body release natural feel-good chemicals and can promote a better night’s sleep and sharper thinking.  Physiologically, our pets’ bodies operate in much the same way ours do.  We know they anticipate, perceive, and react to stress very similarly; anxiety leads to rapid heart rate and breathing, raised cortisol levels, and outward signs of stress like panting, whining, shifting of weight off the front limbs, yawning, or pacing.

 

How can we assist our pets during times of stress or change and enable them to cope with situations that may prove taxing?  First, recognize some events that are inherently hard on animals, taking into consideration your own pets’ personalities and environment. Animals are very perceptive; if your human family is experiencing stress, your pets may become agitated as well.  Change, whether it be a move, an animal or human addition to the family, or the loss of a loved one can be upsetting.  Travel, storms, babies crying, separation (even for just a few minutes) from family, pain, and illness are also common stressors.  Animals may react be hiding, vocalizing, panting, salivating, shaking, needing physical closeness to their human, refusing food, or inappropriately urinating and defecating.dog groom

 

To manage stress and anxiety, make sure your pet has a calm place in which to retreat such as a kennel for a dog. A quiet, interior room or bathtub may relieve anxiety during a thunderstorm or fireworks. Thundershirts can provide relief by essentially wrapping your dog in a protective “hug”. By utilizing gentle, constant pressure symptoms of anxiety decrease.  Do not inadvertently reward unwanted behavior such as crying or shaking by “reassuring” your dog things will be ok.  Such positive reinforcement can cause the behavior to persist or escalate. If separation anxiety is a problem, try to ignore your pet for the first few minutes after you arrive home which will allow them time to settle; reward calm, quiet behavior with your attention. Try to vary your departure and arrival routine and schedule.  Your dog will come to associate the sound of the hair dryer or garage door opening with your departure, causing anticipatory stress. Make the kennel or safe space the best place to be by offering a high value treat such as a peanut butter filled kong every time they rest quietly in their “den”.

 

dog yoga

Take a walk, toss a toy, join an obedience or agility class, or incorporate some of those yoga moves while exercising with your pet.  The bottom line is to get moving and have fun!  Yoga classes that involve pet stretching and owner-animal bonding can be a major stress reliever.  Giving your pet a “job” or place to succeed such as an obedience class can work wonders for calming nerves and instilling confidence. You will often hear me say, “a mentally and physically tired dog is a happy dog and owner”!

 

Natural chemicals such as dog appeasing pheromone (DAP or ADAPTIL) can calm dogs under stress.  Collars, plug-ins, and sprays are impregnated with the odorless product and are worn or placed strategically on bedding during travel or throughout the home.  Lightly diffused essential oils such as lavender and chamomile may prove relaxing though in concentrated doses they can also be toxic; make sure your dog can’t taste test any oils you may use in your home. Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower blend that can be given orally to your pet or in the water bowl.  It is online at: www.VitaminShoppe.com or at Whole Foods. Other common supplements used in managing pet anxiety include: Melatonin, Valerian Root, and Passion Flower extracts.

 

Calming CD’s and videos can help your animal relax while you are away or divert their attention from a major weather system.  Relaxation Music for Dogs and Cats Vol. 1 and DVD’s such as Dog Sitter (multiple volumes) can be found on Amazon.  These videos show familiar and comforting scenes such as fish swimming in a bowl, layered with sounds appealing to dogs including the phrase “good dog” audible only to canine ears!

 

In older dogs, pain is a common cause of physiologic stress and can be treated via a multi-modal approach involving anti-inflammatory medications, massage, acupuncture and supplements. It is best to consult your veterinarian to see which therapy and dosage is best for your animal depending on their specific condition. Board certified veterinarians who specialize in rehabilitation and recovery, chiropractic, and physical therapy are available at most veterinary teaching hospitals and major metropolitan areas.

 

Now, lace up your running shoes and grab a leash.  You and your pet are on the road to relaxation!

April is Heartworm Awareness Month

hw life

I remember thirty years ago when we not so dutifully administered a daily pill to our Irish Setter in order to protect against developing heartworm disease. It’s no wonder Shadrach died at the age of 11 after several months of coughing, lethargy, weight loss and labored breathing. Did he die of congestive heart failure and respiratory distress secondary to heartworm infection or due to another cause? We will never know.  But we do know that prevention has come a long way since the days of the daily, forgettable, tablet and simply trying to minimize mosquito breeding grounds. These days, we have several more effective and memorable ways to prevent heartworm infection. Sadly, a 2016 American Heartworm Society survey among 5000 veterinary clinics showed the number of heartworm positive pets rose 21% since 2013. (1) What are some reasons we are seeing an increase in heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) disease across all 50 states and what can we do to combat this life-threatening problem?

The number one way we can minimize the incidence of heartworm disease is to increase compliance in administering preventatives.  Monthly chewables like Heartgard, Interceptor, and Trifexis as well as monthly topical products like Revolution are extremely effective in preventing heartworm disease. With smart phone apps and email reminders from product manufacturers, there is no longer an excuse to forget to protect your pet. These products also control intestinal parasites that can be transmitted to humans like roundworm and hookworm, some whipworm species, and in the case of Revolution, fleas and ticks.   In addition, an injectable preventative called Proheart can be administered every 6 months by your veterinarian, making compliance a non-issue.  These medications work in the dog’s system to kill circulating Stage 3 heartworm larvae, which are transmitted by a mosquito bite, before the parasite can mature into its adult form in the heart and pulmonary vessels. Thus, a pill administered on May 1st works to kill larvae that may have entered your pet’s bloodstream via a bite up to 30 days prior. This is important to know, as many people stop giving heartworm preventative once the weather turns cool, not understanding they are treating for any infection acquired in the preceding month when mosquitoes may have been more active. Even “indoor” pets can be bitten by a mosquito entering the home via an open door or window and should receive a monthly, life-saving, preventative.

A significant reason we are seeing an increase in heartworm infection is because changing ambient temperatures have extended mosquito breeding and feeding seasons. No longer can we safely advise to stop giving preventative in January, as we often have mild weather for several days every month, year-round, no matter the state. Standing water in pools, birdbaths, and ponds provide ample opportunity for mosquitoes to breed; elimination of standing water or disrupting the water’s surface with fountains or aerators can limit mosquito populations. Keeping pets indoors during peak mosquito activity times can also reduce mosquito bites and disaeas transmission.  A surge in heartworm disease is also seen after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina; dogs are displaced, preventative care for pets is at a low due to expense and household disruption, and dogs carrying heartworm from the highly endemic South bring disease to areas where it was previously unheard of. Mosquitoes being the vector for transmission of the heartworm larvae, they bite the infected transplanted dogs and spread the blood-borne parasite via bites to previously uninfected dogs, cats, ferrets, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and opossums. gross hw

Cost to protect your pet from heartworm infection is about the same as your monthly Frappuccino and pastry.  While dogs who test positive at their veterinarian’s office can often be successfully treated, the treatment can easily run in the thousands of dollars. Dogs are treated by administration of painful injectable medications, antibiotics, and preventative pills as well as subjected to diagnostic testing such as radiographs (X-rays), bloodwork, and urinalyses.  Treatment also involves strict exercise limitation for a period of several months which can be unbearable to an otherwise active young dog and owner. The “slow-kill” method to eliminate heartworm larvae and adults is not recommended; the protracted method in which higher doses of preventative is given to eradicate heartworm adults and circulating microfilaria is variable in efficacy and can lead to heartworm parasite resistance. In cats, there is no way treatment to eliminate the parasite and they suffer from cough, lethargy, and sudden death.  In all species, with or without treatment and management, long term, irreversible damage is done to the heart, lungs, and sometimes organs such as the kidneys.  Clearly, prevention is key to controlling heartworm disease.

Spring Plant Toxicity

It’s been wonderful seeing the sun this week after a long, dreary winter. Our pets, like us, have spent many days cooped up and are naturally eager to get outdoors and explore. Soon, green buds will emerge on the trees and daffodils and tulips will be among the first flowers to announce the arrival of the new season. The first pots of annuals and perennials will become available for planting at local garden centers. If your curious pets roam the yard while you tend to the landscape, keep a close eye on them as some of the more beautiful foliage and bulbs can pose health hazards if consumed. While many household and outdoor plants are considered non-toxic, keep in mind that any plant can cause gastrointestinal signs such as stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea but not life-threatening illness.

Although most spring blooming bulbs are planted in the fall, it is not unusual for your terrier or retriever to decide that now is an ideal time to dig them up and have a snack. Tulips, daffodils, and crocuses belong to different plant genus’s, but their toxins are most significantly concentrated in the root or bulb portion of the plant. Crocus and tulip bulb ingestion may cause mild gastrointestinal signs, while daffodils, jonquils, iris rhizomes and paperwhite bulbs may cause GI and oral ulceration and more severe problems including breathing depression. Daylilies and lily-of-the-valley also grow from underground tubers called rhizomes and contain toxins that can affect the heart, leading to arrythmias, seizures, coma and even death.

Hydrangeas are one of the earliest, and in my opinion, most beautiful blooming shrubs.  Their flowers can be white, or pink, or deep blue depending on the species and the pH of the soil in which they grow.  They also contain cyanide in low amounts.  A large breed, mature dog would need to ingest a large quantity to become ill, whereas a smaller puppy (and they NEVER chew) might exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, heavy breathing, lethargy, stomachache and coma.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are related plants and popular spring-blooming garden shrubs.  Because some species retain their leaves year-round (evergreen) and have bright pink, purple, red or white flowers, they are common in local gardens. But beware, the nectar extracted from the flower used to be called “mad honey”; the grayatoxin, which is most concentrated in the flower but is found in all parts of the plant, causes vomiting, confusion, and cardiac problems.  In small breeds, it doesn’t take much to cause severe clinical signs. 1

Other common garden plants that are highly poisonous include foxglove, oleander, and nightshade. While not perennial in Chicagoland, asparagus fern, sago palm, and ficus are often planted in pots seasonally or enjoyed indoors year-round. Especially dangerous is the sago palm seed or nut which can cause liver failure and death though the first signs of toxicity may be drooling and vomiting within 15 minutes of ingestion. 2

Weeds are everywhere and unavoidable.  While most dogs will chew on a blade of grass before eating plants like buttercup, morning glory, water hemlock, milkweed, skunk cabbage or cowbane, if you see your dog eating something unfamiliar outdoors it’s best to try to identify the species. While not especially toxic, foxtail can be particularly harmful to dogs. The plant itself looks like a grass, but the seeds have sharp barbs and have been known to be inhaled or imbedded in the skin.  The seeds can lead to infection and abscess formation anywhere in the body as their sharp tips cut through tissue. 3

Which plants are safe to grow around pets? Indoor plants that not only brighten a space but can help purify the air and provide oxygen include true ferns, air plants, the succulent hens and chicks, parlor palms, and orchids.  In the edible garden, basil, cilantro, and rosemary are great options to cultivate.  Spiderwort, sunflowers, marigolds, barley grass and roses (minus the thorns!) are perfectly happy to co-exist in a pet-safe space.  4

Value your plants and your pets? Want to avoid a call to the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center (888-426-4435/$65 a call)? Install some dog friendly species in a separate area suitable for sensory exploration and fence in your prized specimens. Place pots out of reach of pets and teach your dog the cue “leave-it”.  Most dogs will learn that chasing squirrels is more fun anyway!

 

1 https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control

2vhttps://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/sago-palm-poisoning

3 https://www.thealternativedaily.com/weeds-that-can-kill-dog/

4 https://www.plantsnap.com/blog/dog-safe-plants/

Dog Mysteries, Revealed!

Dog Mysteries Revealed!

Anatomically and physiologically our canine friends share a lot of common characteristics with other mammals, including humans! But some of their behaviors and physical differences leave us scratching our heads asking, “Why do they do that?” and “What function can that possibly serve?”. Let’s answer some of those questions and as always, I welcome feedback and am happy to answer any of your canine queries.

Why the wet nose? Dogs’ ability to detect scents is up to 10,000 time more sensitive than the human nose.  As an example, they can sniff out one rotten apple among 2 MILLION barrels of apples. A wet nose enhances the ability to trap olfactory chemicals in the secretions produced in the glands of the nose. Some

wet nose

dogs lick their nose, contributing to the “wet nose” look and enhancing the process of scent detection as those chemicals are processed in olfactory centers in the roof of th

 

eir mouths. Dogs’ also produce more secretions from their nose as a way of regulating body temperature.  Sweat glands are found in the feet and nose and as such, a wet nose helps keep them cool. Should I worry if my dog has a dry nose? Nope! If the dog is otherwise happy and healthy, without dried discharge around the nostrils, a dry nose is not an indicator of illness.

Why does my dog pant? We are back to the unique distribution of sweat glands in your pup and his ability to cool down. Because they don’t sweat like humans, excessive heat is lost as air moves through your dog’s airways. While normal respirations in dogs can be up to 30-40 breaths per minute, a panting dog can exchange air up to 300-400 times per minute.  Some causes of abnormal panting can include stress, pain, endocrine diseases, heatstroke, and heart or respiratory disorders such as tracheal collapse.  If your dog doesn’t need to chill out in a warm environment, bring abnormal panting to your veterinarian’s attention.

Why does my dog eat poop? This is a gross one, especially if you witness the event and then your dog wants to plant a big, sloppy one on your lips. From an evolutionary perspective, dog moms eat the poop of their young pups to keep the den clean and free from odors that may attract predators. Some puppies bring this behavior to their new home, though most grow out of it as the dog matures; if they aren’t on a well-balanced diet or experience digestive disorders such as intestinal parasites or pancreatic disease, the behavior may persist.  Some dogs eat stool (coprophagy) because they are stressed, bored, like the attention they receive, even negative attention, or to avoid punishment.  Some dogs eat poop just because they like the taste! Discourage the opportunity to eat stool by picking up poop immediately after defecation or taking your dog outside to defecate on a leash.  A sprinkle of meat tenderizer or a product called Forbid on their kibble make stools less enticing. dog-eats-poop-cover-2

Why does my dog have a tail? And why are they always sniffing each other “back there”? The rear end of your dog is confounding place.  Anal glands, which secrete a foul-smelling liquid are used for scent marking and identification. Because of their complex olfactory system which includes a component called Jacobsen’s organ in addition to their nose, they can also process scents that have no detectable odor like pheromones. A butt sniff is the equivalent of a human handshake enabling dogs to recognize each other as individuals and identify sex, age, variabilities in health and social order. Dogs also communicate using body language and physical cues; raised, waving tails indicate happiness and tucked tails appear when fearful. A wagging tail can help to spread those chemical scents when greeting other pups. Tails are useful for balance and movement, such as the rudder-like tail of the swimming retriever or the whip-like tail of the sighthound which helps them change direction in the blink of an eye.

How come my dog spins in a circle and scratches before lying down? Back in the days before fluffy pillows from Costco, dogs had to make their own bed.  By flattening the grasses and brush for themselves and their young, they made a comfortable nest and drove out critters such as snakes.  Scratching imparts a scent to their bed expressed by the small glands in the feet, further defining the space as their own.

While we’ve domesticated pets, some of these instinctual behaviors and functional anatomic features are part of what makes dogs such fascinating creatures!

by Dr. Lisa McIntyre