Tags Posts tagged with "pets"

pets

Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels Alex, who will soon be bringing home a new puppy to join their Shortybull, Angus, and the owners of Alby, who is entering her golden years.

Dear Dogfather,

My partner and I have a two-year-old Shortybull (Frenchy-Staffordshire bull terrier mix) who is fabulously friendly, calm, and loving. Angus is neutered and rarely is aggressive toward other dogs. We are planning on adding a new female pup to our home in September. What do we need to do for Angus and the new pup so that everyone is comfortable and happy?

Thanks!

Alex

Dear Alex,

Glad to hear that Angus is a nice guy and also glad to hear that the new pack member is going to be a female. Generally, opposite sexes get along better than same sex. In my experience the worst inter-family dog aggression is often between two sisters from the same litter — especially terriers. What often happens is the dominant sister is a bully, pushing her submissive sister to the point where she can’t and won’t take it anymore, with the result being a serious fight. Usually happens between one and two years of age, with a lousy prognosis. The bully won’t stop bullying and her sister won’t submit and your quality of life goes downhill as the constant anxiety of a serious fight erupting makes your life miserable. With about 800 training appointments per annum I’ve seen this scenario about once a year, with one of the dogs having to be re-homed because they weren’t going to work it out.

When you have a puppy in mind, I suggest you bring Angus to meet her and let them hang out together. If Angus thinks it’s great fun when the pup play-fights with him and you see two tails wagging a lot, you got a match. If Angus’s new sister isn’t coming home with you on the first meeting, take two dish towels and rub her all over with them. Then place one towel under Angus’s food bowl and the other under where he sleeps. The positive association of her scent with two of his favorite spots can’t hurt.

When it’s time to bring the new family member home, bring Angus with you. If that’s not feasible have them meet a block away from the house and then come home together. Meeting at a neutral location will go a long way in avoiding a territorial-aggressive response, which often applies to playdates, too.

Best of luck with your new pack member,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

What recommendation or advice do you have for the lucky owners of elderly dogs? I have been blessed with 14 wonderful years with my canine companion, and while I feel sure she will be the longest-lived dog in existence, I know the time will come when I will have to prepare both of us for her ” next great adventure.” My dog, let’s call her Alby, is a terrier mix of about 40 pounds. She has enjoyed robust good health her entire life and continues to be healthy and happy. I take her for daily walks, and if she is a bit less interested in squirrels than she used to be, she still frisks about. While this not a topic I like to think about, I do want to be able to make the best decisions I can when the end nears so as to be able to afford her a comfortable and dignified passing. Yours with respect.

Alby’s Loving Mother

Dear Alby’s Loving Mama,

The vibe I get from your question tells me that if there’s reincarnation I’d like to come back as your dog. One thing’s for sure. Whenever the end comes, you can be sure that Alby’s had as good a life as a dog can have.

Euthanizing a family member is truly one of the most painful hardships we humans can face. And it comes in three parts — knowing when to do it, making the decision, and doing it.

I think if there’s chronic pain and discomfort and she’s living in a haze of painkillers, it’s time. If she stops eating or drinking, it’s time. If her quality of life has totally deteriorated, make the decision.

But in all of this there’s something that I think is extremely important. NO PITY. Don’t share your sadness with him. Dogs are very aware and sensitive to your mood. ACT. Act as up as you can. Do not share your sadness with her. It will only frighten and depress her more. After it’s done, mourn till you’re out of tears. After it’s done.

My little Cavalier King Charles thought he was in heaven before he actually got there. He passed with his tail wagging furiously as he was devouring a chocolate bar when he got the sleep shot. I might also suggest that if possible, have the vet come to your house when it’s time. Alby will be much more comfortable and so probably will you.

Enjoy the time you have and good luck,

The Dogfather

If your dog chases cars, read The Dogfather.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Help!

poodle.JPGI have a 2-year-old female standard poodle. She was attacked (off leash) by a yellow Lab when she was 4 1/2 months old. She is wary and careful about approaching large dogs, especially Labs. She is defensive, a little fearful, and has exhibited territorial aggression toward other dogs if they approach her too quickly, even if they are friendly. She has never bitten any other dog, but does show her teeth if they are too forward or friendly.

Is there any way to help change her behavior and help her develop confidence when we go out to play (off leash) with other dogs?

Please advise!

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

It’s a lot easier to take the dog that looks in the mirror and sees God and make him realize that there may be a God — but it’s not him, it’s you — than it is to take a fearful dog and make him bolder. The concept is, how do you make a coward brave? Not that your dog is a coward: she’s been traumatized and is understandably nervous with dogs she doesn’t know.

The extremely high concentration of Labs on the Island makes it not surprising, but that much more unfortunate that it had to be a Lab that attacked your puppy. Why couldn’t it have been a Maremma (a breed you’re unlikely to ever see on the Vineyard) or a Komondor, instead of a Lab. But alas, it was a Lab, and your poodle girl is likely to meet plenty more.

A word about poodles in general, especially since I adopted a 1 1/2 year old female we named Paula about nine months ago. They’re usually quite smart, and sometimes sensitive to a fault. Mine is smarter than some of my friends.

I’ve seen a few cases where a friendly dog that was mauled by another dog became a consummate dog fighter. “The best defense is a good offense,” as they say. Fortunately that’s not the case with your poodle girl. She’s just wary.

So the first thing I’d suggest is that you get her a DAP collar. It stands for dog appeasing pheromone, and can be quite relaxing to dogs. The scent it gives off lasts for about a month, and one of my daughters can tell when she needs to get a new collar for her dog by the behavior of the dog. Put it on your poodle girl an hour or so before she goes out to socialize.

The only real solution to getting Poodle girl to relax in the company of other dogs is lots and lots of friendly dog encounters. So go out of your way to make sure as best you can that she has play dates with friendly dogs as often as possible.

Also, if the only time she ever gets pieces of chicken or steak is when she’s about to be taken off leash to play with other dogs, her attitude is likely to become more outgoing. However, be sure not to give her the special treats if she’s showing fear or teeth so as to avoid rewarding unwanted behavior. Once again, timing is critical. When poodle girl sees another dog, start loving her with your happy voice and giving her the treats, telling her what a great time she’s going to have as you unclip the leash.

One other thing. Remove her from the happy play date while she’s having a great time. Make her leave “wanting more” play time, as opposed to having had enough!

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

Hello Dogfather,

My two-year-old Lab mix is awful on the leash. Instead of walkin, she would rather rip the leash out of my hands and play “catch me.” When she isn’t being chased by me she’s chasing squirrels or rabbits or anything that moves and gets especially excited to meet other dogs; so much so that she’s actually pulled me over. I’ve tried using a harness, but somehow she chews her way through them. We both need the exercise. but sprinting and wrestling are too much for me.

Thanks,

Marvin

Dear Marvin,

Sounds like your girl is in need of some serious parenting. Countless times I’ve told people that dogs are usually a lot smarter than you think, get away with what they can, and are very manipulative. Therefore, they need to be parented, given behavioral parameters.

When I’ve entered a house and found the six-year-old child sitting ON the kitchen table eating mashed potatoes with his fingers I usually guessed right that the dog wasn’t going to be very well mannered either.

Age two is about when brain wave patterns change and dogs enter adulthood, and it’s long overdue for Lab mix girl to grow up and become a well mannered, cooperative lady. This will require comprehensive obedience training from a pro. If you’re just interested in mitigating the pulling on the leash, I’d suggest a gentle leader, which uses the same principle that enables a rider to control a thousand-pound horse. Even though the bit is in a horse’s mouth, the leverage is derived from the pressure on the horse’s nose.

Marvin, if I pull you by your nose, what follows with little resistance is you! And so it is with a gentle leader. It goes around the dog’s snout with the leash attached below the mouth and eliminates 95 percent of the dog’s pulling. However, when you put a pair of sunglasses on your face, you know why they’re there. When you put something on a dog’s face, most of the time the attitude is, “Get this thing off my face!” often with the dog on his back pawing at it to remove it.

I’ve acclimated countless dogs to gentle leaders by introducing it with a treat, sizing it properly and immediately taking a 20-minute walk using treats when there’s no resistance. It’s also important that the gentle leader is used every time Lab mix girl takes a walk. If it’s used intermittently, she’s likely to fight it much longer.

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

0

I watched Anastasia walk. Ears? Fine. Eyes? Normal. Teeth? Perfect.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at drjasny@comcast.net.

As usual, I started my morning perusing the day’s schedule. Although we computerized decades ago, I have never let go of my good old-fashioned, spiral-bound, paper appointment book, where we scrawl in good old-fashioned number two pencil — owner’s name, pet’s name, species, reason for visit, phone number. The day looked fairly routine. Recheck cat with hyperthyroidism. Lyme booster. Annual physical. House call to cat at assisted living residence. Dog with red eye. Cat with head tilt. I paused. Who had the head tilt? A 13-year-old Russian Blue cross named Anastasia whom I had known since she was a little four-pound kitten.

Holding the head angled to one side is referred to by veterinarians as a “head tilt.” It can be a symptom of a wide range of problems, from the benign to the life-threatening. Head tilts in cats usually fall into three categories. The first group is cats experiencing discomfort around the head or neck from things like ear infections, bite wounds, abscesses, or dental disease. In these cases, the animals are just intermittently tilting their heads in response to pain or itchiness, such as that caused by the teensy ear mite, Otodectes cynotis.

Okay, some people say they can see these mites with the naked eye, but to my 59-year-old peepers, ear mites are microscopic. (Dogs rarely get ear mites but they do get frequent bacterial or and/or yeast ear infections, which may lead to skin infection that spreads down the neck or across the side of the face. They will often rub their faces on the floor and shake their heads vigorously. Cats are less melodramatic.) Your veterinarian can diagnose and treat ear mites, abscesses, skin and external ear infections easily.

Many cats will also tip their heads when eating a particularly hard or chewy item. This may indicate oral pain, so your veterinarian will want to take a good look in your cat’s mouth, but for some cats it is just a normal, idiosyncratic feeding behavior. The key point is that with all  these conditions, these cats can and will hold their heads in a normal position at least some of the time, and careful examination reveals a demonstrable cause for their behavior.

If Anastasia’s head tilt is truly constant, then the problem is probably in her vestibular system, the body’s balance mechanism that helps an animal know which way is up. The middle and inner ear comprise the peripheral vestibular system which then connects via the eighth cranial nerve to the central vestibular system in the brain. It is not always easy to determine if the problem is peripheral or central. Symptoms of peripheral vestibular disease may include persistent head tilt (always to the same side), rhythmic horizontal or rotary flicking of the eyes called nystagmus, walking in circles, falling to one side, an uncoordinated gait called ataxia, and vomiting. It can be caused by trauma to or infection of the middle or inner ear, nasopharyngeal polyps, tumors, or drugs that are damaging to the inner ear, but in cats far and away the most common type of peripheral balance disorder is idiopathic feline vestibular syndrome.

The pathophysiology of feline vestibular syndrome is unknown, hence the term “idiopathic.” It comes on very quickly, often in the matter of a couple of hours. Most common in older cats,  any age may be affected. It occurs more frequently in late summer and early fall, though no one knows why, but can happen any time of year. When an owner sees their kitty suddenly staggering around, walking in circles, sometimes unable to stand, it is not surprising that they assume the worse, but feline vestibular disease is actually no big deal.

For the first one to two days, cats may feel “seasick,” leading to loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, but this usually resolves quickly. Diagnosis is made based on the history, clinical signs, and ruling out other problems. You can do every test in the book, from blood work to X-rays to MRI, and they will all be normal. There is no specific treatment, although in severe cases your veterinarian may prescribe anti-nausea medications such as Dramamine ® or Antivert ® but no mediation of any kind has been found to alter the course of the disease. The most important thing is nursing care, keeping Anastasia in a safe, protected environment and providing easy access to food and water until the signs resolve. Most cats start improving within days and recover completely over several weeks.

This doesn’t mean that if your cat is staggering around, you can skip a visit to the vet. There are many serious problems with similar signs, and you need a professional to assess the situation. Central vestibular disease can be the result of head trauma, infections, brain tumors, even “stroke,” though that is rare in cats.

Signs of central balance disorders are very similar to those of peripheral disease but may include weakness on one side of the body and proprioceptive deficits. (Proprioception is the ability to sense the body’s position, motion, and equilibrium. In other words, to know where your feet are.) Animals with central disease may have altered mental status, seeming depressed or even stuporous. With peripheral disease, Anastasia might be disoriented but she would still be completely alert and responsive.

When our little Russian princess arrived, I realized the main reason for her visit was simply her annual physical and rabies vaccination. She waltzed out of her carrier, head completely straight. “Tell me about the head tilt,” I asked, looking her over.

Well, it seems her dad likes to hand feed Anastasia delicious little tidbits. Her owners noticed she would tilt her head to one side as she licked the proffered treat. I watched Anastasia walk. Ears? Fine. Eyes? Normal. Teeth? Perfect.

“I think she’s just a dainty eater,” I concluded, inwardly laughing at myself for having spent my morning worrying about those two words, “head tilt,” scrawled in my appointment book in good old-fashioned number two pencil.

0

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at drjasny@comcast.net.

Yves had always been a cat who liked to eat. A seasonal resident, I saw him every summer.  When he was four years old, I suggested reducing the amount he was being fed. At six, I advised a prescription weight loss diet. It was a difficult regimen for his owners to maintain. Yves lived strictly indoors and didn’t get much exercise, and the other cat in the household had different health problems, requiring different food. By 11 years old, Yves was tipping the scale at 21 pounds.

“He’s at risk for all kinds of diseases, especially diabetes,” I said, not unsympathetically, considering how many years I have struggled with my own battle of the bulge. His family committed again to helping him lose weight and last winter we sent them off with more diet food, recommending monthly weigh-ins with their winter veterinarian.

Spring arrived. Seasonal folks began returning. Memorial Day weekend, Yves’s mother called. “We’ve been here two weeks,” she said. Yves had been fine until yesterday. “I am worried he might have some kind of blockage. He’s been vomiting and crying and he’s not eating.”

“He’s still an indoor cat?” I asked. Cats who go out have greater risk of ingesting things that may upset their tummies, anything from mice to antifreeze, but Yves never ventured to the great outdoors.

“Any flowers like lilies in the house?” I asked. Ingestion of houseplants is a common cause of gastroenteritis for indoor cats and lilies in particular are extremely toxic to cats, leading to potentially fatal kidney failure.

“No, no flowers,” his mom said. “He does like to eat some garlic chives we have in a pot.” Uh-oh. Garlic, onions, chives, all members of the Allium family,  can cause a serious reaction in cats called hemolytic anemia. It was too much to figure out by phone, so I suggested they bring him in.

When Yves arrived, it was apparent he was very sick: he lay listlessly on the exam table. He was dehydrated, despite the fact he had been drinking lots of water. He seemed almost too weak to stand and cried softly when I gently palpated his abdomen. His bladder felt full and tense.

Could he have a urinary tract blockage? This common problem in neutered male cats can lead to similar symptoms, though usually owners report frequent trips to the litter box and straining without producing any urine.

Or could it be allium toxicity from those chives? The whites of his eyes looked slightly jaundiced. Or something else?

I put him on the scale and did a double take. Last time I had seen Yves nine months back he weighed 21 pounds. Today he weighed 14. He had lost a third of his body weight.  Had his family finally succeeded with the diet? This was a pretty dramatic change. I asked his owners to leave Yves with me for a few hours so I could run some tests.

Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism caused by an insulin deficiency. Insulin is necessary to move glucose (a form of sugar) from the blood into the cells, where glucose fuels the body.  When an animal does not produce sufficient insulin to properly utilize glucose, this leads to the classic diabetes symptoms of increased drinking, urination, and appetite, combined with weight loss. If an owner notices these signs and goes to the veterinarian, the diagnosis is usually made fairly easily and appropriate treatment instituted, such as dietary changes and insulin injections to correct the deficiency.

But Yves had been on a strict diet, so his weight loss hadn’t seemed unexpected. Of course he acted hungry. He was on a diet. And monitoring water consumption and urine output in a house with multiple cats isn’t easy. So, not surprisingly, his diabetes went undiagnosed.

When a diabetic animal goes untreated, the body starts breaking down its own tissues in an effort to “feed” itself. One of the byproducts of this is the production of substances called ketones which build up in the blood. Eventually the untreated diabetic cannot maintain proper fluid, electrolyte, and acid-base balance and develops what is called diabetic ketoacidosis. Abbreviated “DKA,” it is a true medical emergency. Symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, muscle weakness, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting, liver enlargement, jaundice, abdominal pain, seizures, and eventually death.

Yves’s laboratory tests were consistent with a diagnosis of DKA. His blood sugar was high. He had ketones and glucose in his urine. Many DKA patients have other underlying illnesses such as bacterial infections or heart disease that contribute to the onset of the crisis. In Yves’s case, his liver enzymes and bilirubin levels were very elevated, indicating serious inflammation of the liver and bile ducts called cholangiohepatitis. Up to 90 percent of cats with DKA will present with liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, kidney failure, or other such issues.

Treatment is challenging. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances need to be corrected and carefully monitored. The patient needs insulin. Blood glucose levels have to be checked frequently, sometimes as often as every one to two hours. Any and all underlying problems must be identified and addressed.

“You should consider taking him to a referral  hospital,” I advised. Further testing could evaluate the severity of his liver disease. Round-the-clock nursing and access to specialists might give the best chance of recovery. “If he makes it, he will likely need daily insulin injections,” I added.

The statistics are sobering. One study reported the mean hospital stay for DKA cats to be a costly five days, and of those that survived, almost half had a recurrence later. I have seen DKA described as a “very complicated multifactorial metabolic nightmare that even the best vets have a hard time getting under control.” Considering all these factors, especially Yves’s age and not wanting to prolong his suffering, his owners decided it was time to let him go — a sad but compassionate choice when faced with this complex and often deadly disorder.

0

We may never have a definitive answer. We’re just glad she’s back on her feet and hope she stays that way.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at drjasny@comcast.net.

Stormy is an Australian shepherd in the prime of her life. Last winter at her annual physical examination, her owner mentioned she had been limping recently. Watching her walk, she was a little gimpy on her right front leg, but I couldn’t find any obvious explanation. “Probably a strain or sprain,” I said. Stormy was also significantly overweight, an extra stress on her joints and muscles. “Try to get a few pounds off her,” I advised, sending home pain medication and instructions to rest.

The foreleg lameness resolved quickly, but three months later, Stormy returned. She  had lost three pounds (though still more than pleasantly plump) but there was another issue. She had suddenly developed marked weakness in her hind end. “She just flops over while she’s walking,” her owner said.

Stormy was bright, alert, and responsive. She’d pull herself to her feet and walk willingly, but then her caboose would start swaying and finally she’d drop to the floor. Her temperature was normal and other than the gait abnormality everything looked fine.

“She seems a little tender here,” I said tentatively, palpating her lower back, but it wasn’t definitive. Could be fibrocartilaginous embolism ( a neurological deficit caused by a little plug of stuff occluding the blood supply to the spinal cord) or intervertebral disk disease (a disease in which the little shock absorber between two vertebrae protrudes and presses on the spinal cord.) “She seems stable,” I concluded. “Let’s try rest and anti-inflammatories.”

Two days later, Stormy’s mom called. The dog was no better. Should we be doing something more?

“We can take X-rays,” I offered, though neither of the two diseases on our differential would necessarily show up on radiographs. “Really an MRI would be the next best test, but maybe she just needs a little more time,” I suggested.

I was wrong. Stormy’s condition continued to deteriorate. By the next day she could barely stand, her front legs now almost as weak as her hind.  She spent most of her time lying flat on her side unless her owner hoisted her up with a sling, then she would try to ambulate. Stormy came for a recheck. Dr. Buck did a careful neurologic exam. Stormy could still move all four legs, but that was the only good news. Some of her reflexes were exaggerated while others were diminished. She was trembling all over and had severe neck pain. It was now clear the location of the lesion was not in her lower back. It had to be either in her neck, or even her brain. It was time to consult a neurologist.

Up at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital, Stormy underwent a battery of tests. Blood work, urinalysis, chest X-rays, abdominal ultrasound, then finally MRI and a spinal tap under anesthesia. The MRI confirmed meningomyelitis in her neck. This means there was  inflammation of the spinal cord and surrounding membranes, but it does not identify the cause. She was started on corticosteroids, called prednisone.

Many readers may have taken prednisone yourselves if you’ve ever had a bad allergic reaction, like to poison ivy, or any significant inflammatory disease or auto-immune issues.

She also got gabapentin, a medication currently in vogue for animals with “neuropathic” pain.  But what was causing the problem? The specialists listed possible diagnoses including Steroid-Responsive Meningitis Arteritis (SRMA) and Granulomatous Meningioencephalomyelitis (GME.) Wow. Those are some big words.

Let’s start with SRMA, a disease of unknown cause, thought to be immune-mediated. In other words, for some reason Stormy’s immune system starts attacking her own nervous system. There are two reported forms, acute and chronic. The acute form comes on fast with a stiff neck, pain, fever, and characteristic changes found in the cerebral spinal fluid. The chronic form has a more protracted course with more neurological deficits.

SRMA strikes young adult dogs, like Stormy. Breeds thought to be predisposed to the condition include Bernese mountain dogs, boxers, German short-hair pointers, Norwegian duck tolling retrievers, and beagles. In fact another name for SRMA is Beagle Pain Syndrome.   There is no way to make a definitive diagnosis in a living dog. Basically, if an individual fits the clinical picture and no other explanation can be found, then it’s time to try corticosteroids. If the dog gets better, Bingo! It’s “steroid-responsive.”

GME is an “aseptic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.” Just like SRMA, the cause is unknown, it can be acute or chronic, and definitive diagnosis is only made on postmortem, although MRI and CSF taps can be helpful in ruling out other disorders. GME has three forms — focal ( affecting one location in the nervous system), disseminated (involving many locations in the nervous system), and ophthalmic (affecting the optic nerve and eye). Symptoms vary depending on location and severity of lesions. Progressive loss of use of the legs is frequently seen. Other signs may include seizures, head tilt, lethargy, blindness, facial abnormalities, walking in circles, and balance disorders. Middle-aged,small breeds, especially terriers and toy poodles, are most commonly affected. GME also may respond to corticosteroids, but sadly, most dogs do not survive more than one to five months, even with treatment.

The neurologists admitted that Stormy did not exactly fit the picture for any one disease. Her CSF tap did not show the changes typically seen with SRMA. On the other hand, she is not a breed in which GME is usually reported. Another possibility was cancer lurking somewhere in the central nervous system, but none could be found on any of the tests. We know so little about these types of progressive neurological diseases, that it can be both frustrating and heartbreaking for owners, but Stormy responded well to the prednisone and within a few weeks was walking almost completely normally. She will be on steroids for several months, gradually weaning down the dose and watching closely for signs of relapse.

We may never have a definitive answer. We’re just glad she’s back on her feet and hope she stays that way.

This week, the dogfather advises Dylan, whose dog digs at the floor.

Pit bulls are always on the lookout for vermin to chase down.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather? Contact him here.

Dear Dogfather,

My dog is a pit bull and keeps digging at the same general area of sheet rock and floor, for no reason at all. The area had to be repaired twice and my parents are threatening to get rid of him. His name is Billy and he’s perfect except for the digging. What should I do?

Dylan

Dear Dylan,

Keep the faith. I’m pretty sure Billy will be staying with you. First of all, you’re saying he’s digging “for no reason at all.” THERE’S ALWAYS A REASON. We just have to figure it out. I had a client with a 4-year-old pug that they had since a puppy that was perfectly fine in all respects, and then, suddenly, started urinating in the apartment and becoming more and more fearful of more and more things.

The first order of business was a thorough physical at the vet to rule out disease or something physiological. Then I questioned the owners at length to see what, if any real changes may have occurred in the vibrations of the house. Lots of fighting with an impending divorce, a job loss, a serious medical diagnosis – any of these things can dramatically change the atmosphere of the house. Dogs are extremely sensitive to any change in the vibe of the house.

My questioning brought me no closer to an answer, so I had the client leave a noise activated tape recorder on the table. There’s always a reason!! Did I mention that they also had an African Grey parrot? African Greys are smarter than dogs. The tape recorder picked up the parrot imitating the the sound of the bell and then, sounding like the husband, screaming at the poor dog for responding to the bell. The bird was having a great time manipulating and terrorizing the dog. There’s always a reason.

As for Billy, he’s a terrier, a pit bull terrier, and terriers are bred to get rid of the vermin in the barn. There’s probably a nest of mice near where he’s digging. Have your parents call an exterminator and perhaps even ask them to thank Billy for the alert upon finding the offending mice or insects. Also, since dogs are great creatures of habit, try spraying

the digging area with one of the many “stay away” products, and more importantly, don’t let him access that spot unless there’s supervision. Good luck.

Elvis the elderly Shitzu, and Mollie’s fear of airplanes

Cats can be good companions for aging dogs, but the parents of the elderly Elvis were still worried.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels “Loving parents” who wonder what they can do to make their elderly Shitzu “Elvis” less lonely during the day, and Cynthia in West Tisbury, whose dog Mollie is afraid of jets in the sky. Got a question for the Dogfather? Contact him here.

Dear Dogfather,

My wife and I are “parents ” of an adopted rescued dog from a hurricane situation many years ago. He, Elvis, an 11-year old Shitzu, is now going deaf and blind. Because of our work schedules and situations we cannot bring him to work as we used to. He is fine at home during the day as we manage to be able to make midday visits for walks, snacks and water.

He has a “sister” cat that often cuddles, grooms him and stays with him during the day; they have a lot of interaction, as we have seen it on time off, lunch check-ins, etc. But we wonder if there is anything we can do for him to make sure he is as happy as he used to be before he started to lose these senses. We feel badly that his days with or without us (weekends etc.) he seems to just want to sleep. He does not seem distressed, but any advice on how to keep a deaf, blind and good friend happy and more active would be great.

Thank you,

Loving dog parents

Dear Loving Dog Parents,

Years ago a vet called to tell me that one of her patients, a 6-year old Shih-Tzu, went blind from sudden retinal degeneration. She said the dog’s owner was “turning the poor thing into a basket case from smothering it in pity.”

On my first visit I made an analogy, reversing the situation. I said to the lady, “Let’s say you go blind at age 30 and get a seeing-eye dog to be your eyes. Is that dog going to show you any pity? Not a drop! That dog’s attitude is going to be, ‘You’re blind, that’s why I’m here; Let’s get started making you more independent and self sufficient.’”

So it must be with you. Pity never helps, it only weakens! Loving Dog Parents, I suggest you get carpet runners (1 to 3 ft. wide) and lay them so that they connect all of Elvis’ favorite places; from his bed to the spots where he likes to hang out, to where he eats and drinks, to where he exits the house. Then place a drop of vanilla extract along the edges of the runners every few feet. This scented path throughout the house safely leads to all the safe zones and will make him more confident and relaxed.

Then place a drop of lemon extract on the danger zones, table and chair legs, furniture and wall corners, etc. If there are stairs I would suggest a third scent on the edge of the risers. If you don’t want to carry him on the stairs he has to be taught, “Going up and Going down” with a leash and harness, probably best taught by a pro.

If Elvis is not totally deaf there are high frequency devices that he can be taught to respond to. A vibration collar can be very effective in teaching a deaf dog several responses. Again, probably best taught by a pro. Thumping a particular item on the floor a certain amount of times can be an effective teaching method. For example, the vibration of hitting a wooden floor with a broomstick three times might indicate time to go out, or twice for dinner, etc. Elvis is lucky to have you guys, so remember, plenty of love, but no pity.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

I have a lab-mix dog named Mollie who becomes very anxious when jets fly way overhead.  The jets are silent until they are more than half way across the sky, but their contrails are obvious. My dog seems anxious (whines and comes to me for comfort) even in the house.  Outside, she stares at the sky and then runs in the house whining.  What is going on?   Cynthia in West Tisbury

Dear Cynthia in West Tisbury,

Imagine you have a cat that’s been using the litter box for five years and then suddenly, for no apparent reason, refuses to use it, resulting in your having to clean a lot of unwanted pees and poops. Now imagine that the whole house is under constant video and sound surveillance and when you check the video you see exactly what happened. Just as pussy was in the litter box squatting to pee a truck outside backfires very loudly and startles the cat so severely that she leaps from the box, never to return. She associated the sound of the explosion with the litter box, and it’s a done deal.

Now lets get real. Most people don’t have their whole house, never mind the litter box under surveillance. So in this case, one day pussy stops using her proper WC and you’ll never really know why.

Cynthia, I understand that you got this lab mix from the pound (makes you one of the good guys in my eyes) and that her name is Mollie, and you have no real history on her. The likelihood is that something traumatized her when she happened to hear and or see a jet flying overhead. It could have been anything from stepping on a nail just as she became aware of the plane to being attacked by another dog just at that moment, whatever.

So what to do? Let’s start with what not to do. Please do not comfort her with love and petting and telling her it’s OK. You may actually be rewarding the fear response, exacerbating the problem. Look upwards a lot and hopefully you see the plane first, at which point you start praising her with great enthusiasm and feeding her people food treats (the only time she gets chicken or steak or bologna is when planes are overhead) giving her a new,  positive association with the metal birds. Be aware that she may hear them when you don’t, as a dog’s hearing is far more acute than ours. Also, be very aware of your timing. If Molly starts showing fear, don’t keep giving her treats, rather continue walking while being upbeat and enthusiastic. “Wow Molly, aren’t those planes cool? Don’t you wish you could fly too!?”

Good Luck

The Dogfather

1

A leash is a training tool for your dog, and it is a method of giving you control so you can keep everyone safe — you, your dog, other people, other dogs.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at: drjasny@comcast.net.

Stopping at SBS for guinea pig bedding, I spotted a handwritten sign on the door. “Please keep your adorable dog on a leash…and please keep the leash in your hand.”  I had to laugh.

We have a similar policy at my office. All dogs must be on a leash. We see many interesting interpretations of what this means. There’s the client who lets Rover jump out of the car loose in my parking lot, then chases the dog through my budding crocuses, trying to connect the leash. Rule number one: attach the leash while you are both still in the car. Next comes Fido. His leash is attached to his collar, but the collar is two sizes too big. As soon as Fido realizes he’s at the vet, he puts on the brakes, backs up, and backs his head right out of the collar. The owner is left looking foolish, holding an empty collar dangling from the leash, while Fido books it, naked, down the drive. Then there’s Goofy, who has a well-fitted collar with a leash attached, but no one’s holding the leash. These clients obviously just came from shopping at SBS.

These may sound funny, but they can lead to serious consequences. Rover may head for the road. Being scared, and in unfamiliar territory, he may lose his street smarts and get hit by a car. Fido may not let us catch him. I remember a big, extremely shy malamute who was what we call a “fear biter.” After slipping his collar on my front steps, and bolting down the dirt road, he would not come to his owner nor let anyone get near him. We tempted him with treats, which he snatched eagerly, but if anyone, including his mom, tried get hold of him, he growled and snapped. Luckily, his dad arrived and persuaded him to jump into his truck before anyone got hurt.

Goofy, on the other hand, will let anyone grab him. Goofy loves everyone. “Oh, he’s very friendly,” his owners say when I admonish them about not holding the leash. Okay. That’s great. But let me tell you something. See Bluto, that big golden retriever, coming out of my office? The one Goofy is running over to greet?  Bluto was here for a behavior consult because he has aggression problems and almost killed another dog recently. If your “very friendly” Goofy runs up to very aggressive Bluto, we’ve got a problem.

A leash has several purposes. It is a training tool for your dog, and it is a method of giving you control so you can keep everyone safe — you, your dog, other people, other dogs. But certain types of leashes can actually be a liability. According to a 2009 article in Consumer Reports in 2007 there were more than 16,000 human injuries associated with leashes serious enough to require medical care. Burns and cuts were the most common injuries but there have also been reports of amputations when a leash got wrapped around a body part like a finger, and retractable leashes are thought to be responsible for many of these. Retractable leashes are extra long cords or sometimes web leashes that automatically retract into heavy plastic handles which have brake buttons and/or release buttons to lock or release them.  These leashes have become extremely popular and although there may be a time and a place for them if used correctly, they often can be bad for both dogs and people.

For dogs, retractable leashes do not foster desirable behavior. Instead of learning to heel and walk politely on his leash, Rover learns that he can pull on the leash, and pull, and pull.  Unless that leash is locked, it really doesn’t provide an owner with any control at all. If Rover decides to bolt, he can get up quite a head of steam before reaching the full length of the leash, at which point he may be suddenly jerked to a halt, sustaining back injuries as severe as intervertebral disc herniation. Or it may be the person on the other end of the retractable leash who bears the brunt of Rover’s momentum. I once had an energetic young Labrador bolt down my porch stairs on his retractable. The owner, an elderly man, stood on the porch holding that plastic handle. When the lab reached the end of her leash, she was going fast enough that instead of stopping, she pulled her owner right off his feet. He sailed down three stairs, landing on his side and breaking his hip. Not a happy day for any of us, and one of the reasons I am so cranky about clients controlling their pups on the porch. I don’t ever want to see you lying in my parking lot surrounded by EMTs.

Another danger is dropping that bulky plastic handle while the leash is still attached to the dog. A fearful dog may be scared by that handle clunking along behind him, leading him to panic, and increasing the risk of injury. In a recent article on the VIN News Service, behaviorist Dr. Laurie Bergman of Villanova, Penn., relates the story of a dog whose retractable leash was dropped in an apartment building stairway. The dog ran away from the handle that was “chasing” him up the stairs to the open roof, where he fell to his death. Admittedly, this is an extreme case, but there are many reported injuries to dogs from retractable leashes getting wrapped around their legs or even their necks.

Maybe a retractable leash is okay if you know how to use it properly, if your dog is already well-trained, and you want to take him for a semi-controlled romp on the beach. But if you are going for a walk in town, or working on obedience, or taking him to the vet, I highly recommend using a traditional nylon or leather leash, no more than six feet in length — and please hold the leash in your hand.

When pets die suddenly owners may attribute it to a “heart attack,” but dogs and cats don’t really get heart attacks.

I got an unexpected crash course in a few aspects of human cardiology recently when I started experiencing tightness in my chest. At first I convinced myself it was asthma, but knowing my family history of heart disease, and knowing the signs of a heart attack can be very vague in women, and knowing too many folks who ignored those warning signs with dire consequences, I eventually went to the emergency room at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Four hours later, my X-rays, ECG, and blood work showed no abnormalities and I felt better, but Dr. Zack was sternly adamant. I could go home now, but must go to Mass General ASAP for a nuclear stress test, an evaluation that involves injecting radioactive dye, then taking images of the heart before and after exercise. These pictures would allow cardiologists to see if any areas of my heart muscle weren’t getting adequate blood flow.

While making travel plans, I thought about cardiac disease in dogs and cats. It’s not uncommon when pets die suddenly for owners to attribute it to a “heart attack.” But dogs and cats don’t really get heart attacks, we tell them. Before we go further, a brief disclaimer.  Damn it, Jim, I’m a veterinarian, not a cardiologist. (Okay, please dismiss all Star Trek references as a side effect of my recent illness.)

Seriously. I’m not a cardiologist, but to the best of my understanding, in human medicine what people refer to as “heart attack,” is an acute myocardial infarction. Acute means it comes on suddenly. Myocardial means “of the heart muscle.” Infarction is tissue damage or death caused by lack of oxygen due to an obstruction of that tissue’s blood supply. So a human heart attack, a.k.a. acute myocardial infarction, is caused by sudden blockage of one or more of the coronary arteries leading to damage or death of part of the heart muscle.

Sudden death. It happens to pets now and then. One day your dog or cat, Valentine,  seems perfectly normal. The next, he keels over and dies. It can be devastating for owners, who urgently want explanations for such unexpected losses. Many people’s thoughts go immediately to poison, especially if Valentine goes outside unattended, but most toxins an animal is likely to encounter around here, such as rat poison and antifreeze, will typically cause clinical signs of illness before an animal dies. “He must have had a heart attack,” is another common conclusion. Wrong. Dogs and cats generally do not get coronary artery disease and thus do not get myocardial infarctions. Perhaps it’s their diet, lifestyle, or just genetics, but they appear to be resistant to this particular cardiac problem. That is not to say there aren’t other conditions that can lead to sudden death.

A sidebar on terminology. The term postmortem is short for postmortem examination, the dissection of a deceased body. It comes from the Latin post, meaning after, and mors, meaning death.  Another term for a postmortem on a human being is autopsy. This word comes from the Greek auto, meaning self, and opsis, meaning sight, or eyes. Thus autopsia meaning eyewitness, or seeing with one’s own eyes. The word autopsy was first used to describe the act of dissecting a cadaver to determine cause of death in around 1670 and is technically reserved for when this is done on human remains. For nonhuman animals, the proper term is necropsy, from the Greek nekros, meaning dead body. The point of all this being that if your pet, Valentine, bites the dust unexpectedly, your veterinarian is probably not going to be able to tell you why without performing a postmortem examination, correctly called a necropsy.

One cardiac condition often proposed to explain sudden death in dogs and cats is ruptured chordae tendineae, fibromuscular cords of tissue inside the heart that connect little mounds called the papillary muscles to the heart valves. They are sometimes poetically referred to as the “heart strings.”  If Valentine ruptures one of these heart strings, it can result in sudden death. Theoretically this occurs primarily when there is underlying disease of the heart valve, but we rarely get the opportunity to do a necropsy and/or postmortem laboratory diagnostics to get definitive answers. Perhaps Valentine died of a ruptured brain aneurysm. An aneurysm is a blood vessel with thinning walls that cause it to bulge abnormally. It can suddenly burst, leading to fatal hemorrhage. Even when we do perform necropsies, we rarely examine the brain, so this is another theory we seldom get to prove.

Other common fatal conditions are easier to demonstrate. Middle-aged large breed dogs are particularly prone to a form of cancer called hemgiosarcoma. There tumors affect the spleen or the heart and can often lead to sudden, fatal internal hemorrhage. Presumptive diagnosis can be made by simply tapping the abdomen, or pericardial sac, depending on the location of the tumor, with a needle and syringe and seeing if there is free blood in these places. Other causes of sudden death can include ruptured spleen from trauma such as being hit by a car, electrocution from biting electrical wires, acute conduction disturbances in the heart causing fatal arrhythmias, electrolytes imbalances from adrenal gland disease, and a variety of genetic problems Valentine might be born with but which don’t cause visible symptoms until he suddenly expires.

By the time I got to Boston, I had fairly constant angina. After an abnormal stress test, they quickly admitted me to the ER, then the cardiac ward. Three days later, I was given what they call “conscious sedation,” and cardiologists placed two stents via an artery in my arm into my coronary arteries, restoring adequate blood flow to the affected part of my heart. Amazing technology. The main thing I remember was the cardiologist yelling at me to stop asking so many questions. I guess I was curious. I know I was lucky. My heart gave me warning. No actual heart attack. No sudden death. Just gratitude.

Rocco's not thrilled when other dogs end up with his toys.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather advises the owners of Rocco, who’s had sharing issues at the dogpark, and Crosby, who’s been acting out since the arrival of a new baby in the house.

 

Dear Dogfather,
I have a year old Boykin Spaniel who recently turned from a great puppy to a rambunctious and mischievous dog that is into everything, now that our newborn baby has arrived. Crosby is constantly “counter surfing” throughout the day while I am home with the baby. He has also started jumping on people when they come over, as well as constantly barking at guests for attention and to play with him. It makes it virtually impossible to have guests over to see the baby.

Signed,
Crazed by Cros

Dear Crazed by Cros,
Sounds like Crosby crossed over from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde stage. Actually, it’s quite normal. Dogs tend to go from puppy, to punk, to young adult (not much better than punk), to adult, to adult adult, to senior adult.

Since the arrival of a new baby, Crosby has been counter-surfing, and developing other bad habits.

Since the arrival of a new baby, Crosby has been counter-surfing, and developing other bad habits. — Photo courtesy of Nina Lombardi

Like people, dogs need real parenting, because so often like people, dogs get away with what they can. Parenting in this case means teaching Crosby to be a well mannered, cooperative gentleman. That’s accomplished through obedience training, which means much more than heel, sit, stay, down, come. It includes the not things. Not jumping on people and furniture, not mouthing and biting, not chewing on couches and rugs, not eating your credit cards ( there’s not a household item you can name that a vet hasn’t taken out of a dog’s stomach), not peeing on your carpet, not intimidating your friends, not barking to the point of acoustic trauma, not counter surfing, not…, not…, etc.

Most of this is going to have to be taught by a pro who is going to leave you quite empowered after the first visit. Crosby will be “towing the line” figuratively, and literally. He will be dragging a piece of leash so that your hands never go to him negatively. He will relate to your hands as “givers” of pleasure — petting, massaging, treats, food. The leash will serve as restraint, when needed.

Imagine you’re at the counter cutting steak for dinner and Crosby is standing next to you, drooling. You just happen to be casually standing on the leash he’s dragging at just the right spot so that when he jumps up he hits the end of the leash as you say “Off!”

Crosby also needs to be introduced to the “Dog God,” the God of dogs who doesn’t allow Crosby to take food off the low coffee table even when you leave the room. I use entrapment. Set up a mirror so you can see Crosby at the coffee table, but he can’t see you. Put a piece of chicken in a perforated tupperware container and leave it on the coffee table and head for the mirror. Next to the mirror is an empty aluminum soda can with a dozen pennies in it.

Watch Crosby look around to make sure nobody is looking, and then go for the gold. Just as his mouth reaches the tupperware, the soda can comes flying into the room near him. He’ll probably screw himself through the ceiling in startlement, but the shock is going to be related to TAKING FOOD OFF YOUR TABLE, not you. The Dog God sees all, all the time, and doesn’t like it when you take anything off a table, and SHE throws cans.

Your quality of life with Crosby for the next 15 years can probably be greatly improved with a few lessons with a pro.

Good luck,
The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,
I take my dog Rocco to the dog park frequently where he will chase his tennis ball for hours (if I throw it that long). Occasionally, another dog will catch sight of and chase his ball (or vice versa) and there’s usually a playful exchange that often ends up with the other dog acquiring a new toy and Rocco walking away sans ball. I’m always thankful that Rocco doesn’t get too protective of his ball, and we’re usually lucky enough to find another stray ball during the course of our walk, but I wonder if this could end up being a bigger problem some day. How do you feel about tennis balls and other toys at the dog park?

Thanks,

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Rocco and his tennis ball.

Rocco and his tennis ball. — Photo by Sarah Omer

It’s about time. Thank you. I’ve been waiting a long time for this question, looking forward to addressing it. I’ve worked with a lot of dogs at a lot of dog parks over the years in New York and New Jersey. To me, watching dogs interact is better than watching TV. With a discerning eye it can be quite educational. I was asked to speak at a National Search and Rescue Conference several years ago and one of the presenters showed a 40 minute video of dogs playing at a dog park. Then, based on the “mode” of play of the individual dogs, the personalities were discussed in detail, and what could be garnered from “how they play” was amazing.

So, toys at the dog park. Six years ago I was at a dog park in NYC that is located on the East Side, literally hanging over the East River. Great spot to watch the boat and helicopter traffic while the dogs do their thing. But I’m the kind of guy who, if a beautiful woman enters with a dog, I’ll be checking out the dog. I’m there with a client and her Brittany Spaniel, and before we go through the double gates to enter the run I zero in on a gorgeous Lab’s body language as he goes after a ball that his owner throws. The Lab is clearly stressed with the competition for the ball, and now I’m a little stressed knowing that Bonnie, the Brittany, loves chasing balls, so I don’t unhook her from the leash as the Lab owner tosses the ball again.

This time a wire hair fox terrier gets to the ball first, and the Lab attacks, and kills the terrier before anyone can prevent it.

Of my 800 training appointments per year, about half were for behavior problems, and the worst problems had to do with aggression. You go near the dog while he’s eating and he growls, it’s possessive aggression, or resource guarding, the resource being the food. I entered an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and in the middle of the huge, formal living room sat the food bowl. Right there in the middle of this humongous room, on a little place mat. The dog didn’t drag it there, it was there on purpose.

“Bob” is a PBGV, a one year old Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, the French version of a Basset hound. About 35 lbs, if the food bowl was at the far end of the kitchen you couldn’t walk by the kitchen, never mind entering it without Bob seriously threatening to bite. In the living room was the only place far enough away where you could roam the rest of the apartment without being bullied by your own dog.

The street dog that lived for awhile on garbage scraps probably fought over “finds” with other strays; his possessive aggression quite understandable. But not the case with the PBGV, it’s genetic, or maybe he got beat up one too many times at the nipple by his siblings. Whatever the reason, it’s very real, and I’ve seen lots of it, in many different forms.It can be the small poodle growling at the approaching grandchild while sitting next to Grand Ma, doesn’t want to share Granny.

Eight dogs chasing one ball, nah. Most of the time it’s OK. If there’s  a history of familiar dogs interacting with toys, it’s great. But enter a new dog, I’d curtail the toys and let them socialize.

Thanks for the question Sarah,

Good luck,

The Dogfather