Archive for April, 2010

Making Veterinary Hospital Visits Less Stressful for Your Dog

April 30, 2010

There’s no question that trips to the veterinary hospital have the potential to wreak havoc on a dog’s psyche and bring out the worst in their behavior.  Normally outgoing dogs may become timid, and confident dogs may become fearful. A dog that would never growl or bite in their home environment may bare his teeth when being handled by strangers in the veterinary hospital setting.  Such behavioral changes are typically stress or fear induced. By doing some advance work with your dog, you can help create positive rather than negative behavioral responses to veterinary hospital visits. This becomes a win-win situation in that the experience will be less stressful for you and your dog and there will be a greater likelihood of successfully performing diagnostic tests and providing therapy without the need for sedation or anesthesia.

 

I asked Chicago based professional dog trainer and behavior specialist Jennifer Hack of Dynamic Dogs, Inc. (www.DynamicDogsChicago.com) to provide some guidance for making veterinary hospital visits as stress-free as possible. Here is her sage advice:

On the way to the vet

Before you leave the house, grab a handful of special favorite treats and a regular leash  (extendable leashes are not good for control).  Dogs who get into the car expecting a negative outcome will often exhibit immediate anxiety.  To prevent this, socialize your dog often and take your dog to fun destinations as well, and he will be much less anxious than if his only car rides take him to the vet.  Your attitude will also make a huge difference- the more confident and calm you are, the safer your dog will feel. Additionally, take your dog along for a “just for fun visit” when you pick up food, products, or prescriptions.  Do such practice runs at a time when the staff can greet your dog and give him treats.

The waiting room

If your dog is anxious (whining, barking, etc.), do not reinforce the behavior by attempting to comfort him or pet him.  Instead, find something constructive for your dog to do that will earn your praise.  Rather than sit and let the anxiety build, you may want to do some obedience work with your dog around the room- you only need a small area.  It may be difficult to overcome the distractions, but it’s good practice.  Teach your dog a “look” command.  Start by holding a treat next to your face and say, “look.”  After three seconds of eye contact mark the behavior by saying “Yes!” and give the treat.  Build up the amount of time longer and longer before you reward, and eventually you can phase out the lure and your dog will be focusing on your face.

Remember courtesy to others in the waiting room.  Not everyone’s dog is well socialized with other dogs or humans, and they may be ill, so always be aware of what your dog is doing and do not allow them to approach, sniff, or invade the space of other dogs or cats.  When seated, keep your dog directly in front of on a down-stay by your feet.

Behaving for the exam

Accepting handling and examination is essential for every dog, from puppies to adults.  From a young age, condition your dog to accept handling from head to toe, and make it fun.  Start by doing the handling yourself, and then if possible, have several other people practice handling your dog gently as a vet would.  You can also practice with your dog on a table, doing the following:

-Mouth: When routinely praising and petting your dog, don’t avoid their mouth.  Touch their muzzle often and gently rub their gums.

-Ears: Gently massage the base of the ears and practice looking inside.

-Front Paws:  Start by holding your dog’s paw and then praising and rewarding with a treat. Then touch each nail individually and feel between the toes.  To keep your dog from pulling away, have him “sit” and “stay” first.

-Abdomen: With your dog in a standing position at your left side or on a table, massage your dogs rib cage and his abdomen and hips, lifting up each rear leg and also touching the rear paws. 

Teach your dog the command, “over.” In addition to all the basic obedience commands, teaching your dog “over”, to lie down on his or her side, is useful for exams.  Start this when your dog is feeling relaxed and go at your own pace.  From a down position, slowly roll your dog over and praise and reward. 

Uncomfortable procedures

Often while your veterinarian is examining your dog, you may be holding your dog’s head.  Keep one hand on the collar holding your dog steady, and one hand on the neck.  Talk to your dog and give hearty praise in order to distract him while he is receiving a shot or having his temperature taken.  The more confident and calm you feel, the more comfortable your dog will feel.

To muzzle or not to muzzle?

A muzzle is a misunderstood tool.  There is a stigma that muzzles are only for incorrigible dogs, or that wearing a muzzle is somehow traumatic to a dog.  In reality, we must admit the fact that any dog, no matter how socialized or nice, has the physical capability to bite, especially when feeling frightened, vulnerable, or in pain.  You want to take every opportunity to prevent bites- better safe than sorry!  If you have any reason to believe your dog may bite during a veterinary exam, based on previous history or body language, request that your dog wear a muzzle.  I prefer basket-style muzzles because they allow the dog to open their mouth, pant, and feel more comfortable, rather than the cloth-style that holds the mouth closed.  You can condition your dog to wearing a muzzle at home for short periods of time; that way he won’t view it as a negative occurrence.  If you feel your dog may have an aggression issue, find a professional trainer who is also a behavior specialist.

If you would like to contact Jennifer Hack, you may email her at Jennifer@dynamicdogschicago.com.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

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Stop That Scratching!

April 22, 2010

If the sounds of a canine or feline “scratchfest” is interrupting your slumber, or you’re snarling, “Stop scratching!” several times a day, chances are you have an allergic pet on your hands. Just as with human hay fever, most dog and cat allergies are the result of an exaggerated immune system response to allergens in the environment such as plant pollens, tree pollens, and mold spores.  The scientific name for this inherited allergic condition is atopy or atopic dermatitis. Terriers of any type are notorious atopy sufferers along with Dalmatians, Lhasa Apsos, Shar-peis, Bulldogs, and Labrador Retrievers. 

Whereas people are prone to runny nose and eyes, dogs and cats with atopy develop itchy skin, often accompanied by skin and ear infections. Symptoms are initially mild and seasonal, but tend to progress year by year in terms of severity and duration.  Fortunately, there are many options for treating atopy including medicated shampoos, antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, and drugs that alter the immune system’s overzealous behavior (cyclosporine, cortisone).  Just as for people, desensitization injections can be administered after specific testing is done to determine which allergens are provoking the immune response. Elimination of exposure to the allergens may also be an option (a good excuse to move to Hawaii!). 

Some dogs and cats develop allergies to their food.  This can result in year round itchy skin, ear infections, and/or gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness).  If a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will recommend an “elimination food trial.”  This requires strict adherence (including elimination of your pet’s favorite treats) to feeding a novel protein diet for six to eight weeks. There are many such diets to choose from these days that contain duck, rabbit, venison, salmon, and even kangaroo! If the chronic symptoms disappear in response to the diet change, voila, the diagnosis of food allergy has been made. One must then hope that, over time, the animal doesn’t develop an allergy to the new diet! 

Lastly, some dogs and cats develop an allergy to fleas, more specifically, to the flea’s saliva.  Whereas many fleas are required to cause most animals to scratch like crazy, for those with a flea allergy, just one bite is all it takes to set off an intensely itchy reaction that can last for days. The best treatment for this allergy is stringent flea control, or relocation to Colorado; fleas don’t survive in high altitude locations! 

‘Tis the season for fleas and seasonal atopy.  Do you have an itchy dog or cat on your hands?  If so, what will your strategy be to soothe your pet’s itch and preserve your sanity? 

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,   

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook   

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Stop That Scratching!

April 22, 2010

If the sounds of a canine or feline “scratchfest” is interrupting your slumber, or you’re snarling, “Stop scratching!” several times a day, chances are you have an allergic pet on your hands. Just as with human hay fever, most dog and cat allergies are the result of an exaggerated immune system response to allergens in the environment such as plant pollens, tree pollens, and mold spores.  The scientific name for this inherited allergic condition is atopy or atopic dermatitis. Terriers of any type are notorious atopy sufferers along with Dalmatians, Lhasa Apsos, Shar-peis, Bulldogs, and Labrador Retrievers. 

Whereas people are prone to runny nose and eyes, dogs and cats with atopy develop itchy skin, often accompanied by skin and ear infections. Symptoms are initially mild and seasonal, but tend to progress year by year in terms of severity and duration.  Fortunately, there are many options for treating atopy including medicated shampoos, antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, and drugs that alter the immune system’s overzealous behavior (cyclosporine, cortisone).  Just as for people, desensitization injections can be administered after specific testing is done to determine which allergens are provoking the immune response. Elimination of exposure to the allergens may also be an option (a good excuse to move to Hawaii!). 

Some dogs and cats develop allergies to their food.  This can result in year round itchy skin, ear infections, and/or gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, gassiness).  If a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will recommend an “elimination food trial.”  This requires strict adherence (including elimination of your pet’s favorite treats) to feeding a novel protein diet for six to eight weeks. There are many such diets to choose from these days that contain duck, rabbit, venison, salmon, and even kangaroo! If the chronic symptoms disappear in response to the diet change, voila, the diagnosis of food allergy has been made. One must then hope that, over time, the animal doesn’t develop an allergy to the new diet! 

Lastly, some dogs and cats develop an allergy to fleas, more specifically, to the flea’s saliva.  Whereas many fleas are required to cause most animals to scratch like crazy, for those with a flea allergy, just one bite is all it takes to set off an intensely itchy reaction that can last for days. The best treatment for this allergy is stringent flea control, or relocation to Colorado; fleas don’t survive in high altitude locations! 

‘Tis the season for fleas and seasonal atopy.  Do you have an itchy dog or cat on your hands?  If so, what will your strategy be to soothe your pet’s itch and preserve your sanity? 

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,   

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook   

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Morris Animal Foundation 2010 K9 Cancer Walk

April 14, 2010

I am gearing up for Morris Animal Foundation’s 2nd annual K9 Cancer Walk to be held in Elk Grove, California (www.curecaninecancer.org/) on Saturday, April 24th.  Just as was the case last year, I will be a speaker at this fabulous event along with Dr. Michael Kent, a staff oncologist at the UC Davis veterinary school.  The actual walk will begin at 10:00 am and the speakers program will be at 11:30 am.

Care to join me there?  If you cannot participate in person, I hope you will consider joining my virtual Speaking for Spot Team (http://maf.convio.net/site/TR/Events/CCC?team_id=1260&pg=team&fr_id=1040).   And if you are able to attend, please come introduce yourself to me.  I would love to meet you!

Here is the blog I posted one year ago after the very first K9 Cancer Walk.

Walking to Cure Canine Cancer

This past Saturday, I saw four three-legged dogs- each one having lost a limb as part of their treatment for bone cancer.  I met another sweetie pie with a shaved patch over one side of his chest.  His mom told me this was the site where her pup’s chest cavity was drained of fluid produced by a cancer growing at the base of his heart.  Yet another dog I encountered had an orange-sized tumor on the bridge of his nose. 

Believe it or not, I met none of these dogs in a veterinary hospital setting; rather, we were all gathered in Elk Grove, California, the site of the very first Morris Animal Foundation Walk to Cure Canine Cancer. Morris Animal Foundation has launched an unprecedented $30 million fundraising effort with the following goals in mind:

1.  Provide new treatments for dogs currently suffering from cancer
2.  Establish a high-quality tumor sample bank that can be used by cancer researchers
3.  Develop prevention strategies so that cancer might one day be eliminated or, at the very least, drastically reduced in incidence and severity
4.  Train new researchers who will work towards discovering preventions, treatments and cures

An important part of the fundraising effort will be in the form of “Walks to Cure Canine Cancer.”  The Elk Grove Walk raised $17,945!  I had the honor of speaking at this fabulous first-of-its-kind event-what a thrill to be part of it all!  More than 300 dogs and their humans gathered together in the fight against canine cancer.

As unfathomable as it sounds, cancer will be the cause of death in one out of every four of our beloved canine companions.  There’s so much we don’t yet know about what causes canine cancer and how best to treat it.  I’m thrilled with the Morris Animal Foundation plans.  They are an incredibly ethical and effective organization, and I am expecting great things. To learn more about the Morris Animal Canine Cancer Campaign, please visit www.curecaninecancer.org/. I encourage you to participate in any way you can.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Potential Dog Park Diseases

April 10, 2010

Many people enjoy taking their dogs to the dog park, and I’m commonly asked if, from a canine contagious disease point of view, the dog park is a safe place for dogs to be.  Here is the advice I give:  

1. Be sure your dog has ample immunity (vaccine protection) against distemper and parvovirus, both of which are life threatening diseases readily transmissible from dog to dog. This can be accomplished by vaccinating at appropriate intervals (more than once every three years for adult dogs is too much) or by regularly performing blood testing (vaccine serology) to ensure adequate protection. Read the chapter in Speaking for Spot called “The Vaccination Conundrum” for a complete discussion on vaccination timing, the risks and benefits of vaccinations, and vaccine serology.

2. Consider the potential risks and benefits of vaccinating your dog for Bordatella (this is often referred to as the “kennel cough” vaccine).  Kennel cough refers to treatable upper respiratory tract infections that primarily cause coughing, the kind that, left untreated, have the potential to keep you and your dog awake all night! Because kennel cough is highly contagious, some dog parks may require that dogs be vaccinated for Bordatella before participating (oy, I can only imagine the nightmare monitoring  this would be).  Unfortunately, the Bordatella vaccination is not a 100% insurance policy that your dog won’t get kennel cough because Bordatella is only one of several microorganisms capable of causing kennel cough.  Treatment for kennel cough typically consists of antibiotics and cough suppressant medication.

3. Intestinal parasites are readily transmitted between dogs, particularly in high-traffic dog park.  If you frequent the dog park, have your dog’s stool sample checked regularly for parasites.  Ask your veterinarian for his or her recommendation regarding frequency of testing as the prevalence of parasites varies from region to region.

4. Heartworm disease (long, spaghetti-like worms that set up housekeeping within the heart) is transmitted from dog to dog via mosquitoes.  Talk with your veterinarian to learn whether or not heartworm disease exists in your area.  If so, be sure your dog regularly receives heartworm preventive (whether you frequent the dog park or not).

5. Fleas are always on the lookout for their next meal, so you may find that your flea-free pooch arrives home from the dog park riddled with fleas.  Discuss options with your vet so you can choose the flea control options that you are most comfortable with.

It’s a good idea for every dog park organization to keep an updated telephone/email list in order to broadcast “contagious disease sightings,” the same way parents receive notification from their children’s school about health issues such as head lice. Bear in mind that, while contagious diseases at the dog park do exist, risks of physical injury associated with canine altercations, and risks of emotional injury associated with human altercations are far greater.  Hmm, perhaps we should begin requiring rabies vaccinations at both ends of the leash!

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Diarrhea Disclosures

April 2, 2010

A conversation earlier this week with one of my clients prompted this blog.  Jeanette, my client, and I debated whether or not her elderly and adorable shepherd mix named Jack had diarrhea.  I felt that Jack’s once daily, unformed bowel movement qualified as diarrhea (sorry if I am grossing you out here).  Jeanette’s thinking was that the term diarrhea should be reserved only for situations with increased frequency and urgency.  This got me to thinking about how many times I might be receiving inaccurate feedback to my standard question, “Have you observed any diarrhea?” I remember going round and round with one client who repeatedly answered “No” to this question.  When we discovered that, yes, her cat truly did have chronic diarrhea, she defended her responses by saying that it was her husband who always cleaned the litterbox (in truth, she had never “observed” any diarrhea!).

So, folks, here’s the scoop (no pun intended).  When a veterinarian asks if your dog or cat has been having diarrhea, please disclose any and all information about how his or her bowel movements appear abnormal.  Believe it or not, your description of stool appearance, number of bowel movements per day, urgency, and the presence or absence of blood, mucous, straining, and gassiness can provide your veterinarian with a wealth of useful information including whether the diarrhea is originating from the small (upper) or large (lower) intestine.

Boy oh boy is your veterinarian gonna get an earful next time he or she asks about your pet’s bowel movements! Please note, I purposefully refrained from including a photo with this blog.

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health, 

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Website: http://www.speakingforspot.com
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook 

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.