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Disaster preparedness for pets.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

As we edit this story, the wind is whipping off Vineyard Haven harbor, the waves are crashing and the word “northeaster” is blinking on and off in news updates.

If you had to evacuate your house because of  a storm, would you know what to do with your pets? Rita Brown (most of you know her from Back Door Donuts) and the Martha’s Vineyard Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) sent us these helpful guidelines.

Take Fido along

The single most important thing you can do to protect your pets when you evacuate is to take them with you. Pets left behind during a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed; if left inside your home they can escape through broken windows, etc. Outside, they are likely to become victims of exposure, starvation, contaminated food or water, or accidents. Even if you think you’ll be gone for only a few hours, take your pets. Once you leave, you will have no idea how long you’ll be kept out of the area and you may not be able to go back to get them.

Until recently, Island shelters had various policies regarding pets. Last spring, the state mandated that all emergency shelters must also take pets. Once you’ve arrived at the designated shelter (in a disaster, these will be broadcast — the high school, or one of the elementary schools), MV DART will be there with vets to check your pet in.

Prepare a pet emergency supply kit

Just as you do with your family’s emergency supply kit, think first about the basics for survival, particularly food, water, and medicine. Consider two kits. In one, put everything you and your pet will need to stay where you are. The other should be a lightweight, smaller version you can take with you. Remember to bring extra cash in case your pet needs emergency veterinary care. Along with the following items, it’s good to keep a record of any your pet’s behavioral problems, a medication schedule, and the name and number of your veterinarian.

– First aid kit. Most kits should include cotton bandage rolls, bandage tape and scissors; antibiotic ointment; flea and tick prevention; latex gloves; isopropyl alcohol and saline solution, along with your animal’s medications.

– Collar with ID tag and leashes. Your pet should wear a collar with up-to-date identification tags attached at all times. Include a backup leash, collar and ID tag in your pet’s emergency supply kit. In addition, place copies of your pet’s registration information, vaccination documents and medical records, and the name and phone number of a relative or friend who is outside the disaster area in a waterproof container. You should also talk with your veterinarian about permanent identification such as implanting your pet with a microchip, and enrolling your pet in a recovery database.

– Crate or other pet carrier. If you need to evacuate in an emergency, the emergency shelter on Martha’s Vineyard will welcome you and your pet; M.V. Disaster Animal Response Team and the Red Cross will take your pet in the same shelter, but in a separate area. Dog owners should have a crate large enough for your dog to be able to stand, turn around and lie down in comfortably. Cat owners should have a crate large enough to put your cat in it with a carrier (as a hidey hole) and a litter box and bowls. You will be asked to feed, walk and visit with your pet at the shelter.

– Sanitation. Include pet litter and litter box, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household bleach to provide for your pet’s sanitation needs. You can use bleach as a disinfectant (dilute 9 parts water to 1 part bleach). Do not use scented or color-safe bleaches, or those with added cleaners.

– A photograph of you and your pet together. If you become separated during an emergency, a photograph will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you in identifying your pet. Include detailed information about species, breed, age, sex, color, and any distinguishing marks or characteristics.

– Familiar items. Put favorite toys, treats, bedding in your kit. Familiar items can help reduce stress for your pet. Plan what you will do in an Emergency.

Plan ahead for an emergency

– Create a plan to get away and be ready to assess the situation at hand. Use whatever you have on hand to take care of yourself and ensure your pet’s safety during an emergency. Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the emergency, the first important decision is whether you stay put or get away. You should understand and plan for both possibilities. Check TV, radio or the Internet for instructions. If you’re told to evacuate, shelter in place,   or seek medical treatment, do so immediately.

– Are there safer places for you to go to? Consider staying with family or friends who are willing to take in you and your pet in an emergency. On the Vineyard, some areas (low-lying flood zones) are more apt to be evacuated than others. Determine if some hotels or inns can take pets. Find viable options before an emergency.

– Develop a buddy system. Plan with neighbors, friends, or relatives to make sure that someone is available to care for or evacuate your pet if you are unable to do so. Talk with your pet care buddy about your evacuation plans and show your pet care buddy where you keep your pet’s emergency supply kit. Also designate specific locations, one in your immediate neighborhood and another farther away, where you can meet in an emergency.

–Talk to your pet’s veterinarian about emergency planning. Discuss the types of things that you should include in your pet’s emergency first aid kit.

For more information, visit ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY (237-3239). MVDART, which works with the state of Massachusetts animal response team (SMART), is looking for volunteers. Email Rita Brown at rabrown1950@comcast.net.

Angus (in front) protects Frankie, his new little sister.
The Dogfather, with Paula.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

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 the owners of a noisy new puppy and Tyler, who’s moving his pooches to VH.

Dear Dogfather,

Angus (in back) watches his new little house mate, Frankie, who can get sort of noisy.
Angus (in back) watches his new little house mate, Frankie, who can get sort of noisy.

Thanks to your advice, Angus and his little sister Frankie (who came home to us a few weeks ago) are best buds. They play rough, snuggle in Angus’s crate, and pal around all day. Frankie is more vocal than Angus when they play and walk around. For instance, she will “complain” and sounds as if she’s walking begrudgingly while trying to keep up with her pack, or growl and yip during play. Should we be discouraging this vocal behavior? Or keep letting her express herself?


Alex and JD

Dear Alex and JD,

Delighted to hear how well things are going with Angus and Frankie. I refer to dogs that bark too much as their being overly verbal. That usually refers to dogs that bark for attention, or at the window when someone has the audacity to walk by your house. Then there are the dogs that give the driver acoustic trauma when seeing anything while driving in the car, or the hapless barkers who suffer from separation anxiety when left alone. These being some of the examples of overly verbal canines, I don’t think they apply to Frankie. From what you described it sounds to me like play excitement barking. Paula, my poodle, will sometimes jump straight up and bark on the sighting of another dog, basically saying, “Oh boy, a possible romp with one of my own kind!”

When dogs play, they chase each other and play fight, and as often as not they verbalize when playing. My Doberman, Michelle, had a best friend, a German Shepherd named Daisy. They played often and sounded like two lions fighting to the death. When Michelle had a tug of war with a rope toy with my other dog Tri, it was a 90-pound Doberman against a 17-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She could have easily ripped it out of Tri’s mouth, but didn’t because she enjoyed the game, and you should have heard the decibel level of the growling coming from both of them.

Alex, if you tried to stop the verbalizing while she’s playing, Frankie would probably relate your correction to her playing, not her growling. Playing, to her — as with many other dogs — includes growling.

However, I’m a little confused when you mentioned that she “will complain and sounds like she’s walking begrudgingly while trying to keep up with her pack.” That almost sounds like she’s experiencing some physical discomfort while walking. You might want to keep an eye on that.

As I’ve said before, the best you can do to have dogs get along is interfere as little as possible, let them work it out.

Enjoy the extended family,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

I will be moving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven at the end of the month. I have two dogs. Will this be stressful to them,and if so, how do I lessen the stress?


Dear Tyler,

Will moving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven stress these dogs out?
Will moving from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven stress these dogs out?

I read somewhere years ago that moving ranked with death and divorce in terms of trauma. That of course pertained to humans as the article went on to explain that a large percentage of people have to move because of something catastrophic such as a job loss or cancer diagnosis. Countless times I’ve heard, “My dog’s behavior is regressing; she started destructive chewing again like when she was a puppy, or peeing in the house,” or whatever, for no reason at all.

But there’s always a reason, and it’s my job to find out what’s causing the dog’s aberrant behavior. Dogs are very aware and sensitive to the vibe of the household. The sadness of a wife whose husband passes away may create enough anxiety in the family dog to cause it to start nervously chewing on furniture.

So if you have to move because of a catastrophic change in your life, your dog is likely to be depressed or a basket case before you even move. Now add to that the fact that your dog can’t even conceive of the concept of “moving.” What the dog will perceive is the disassembling of her den, of her sanctuary, with no understanding of “why.”

When my wife Jaye and I decided to move to MV to retire it was all good. Yet Jaye cried for most of the 5 hour drive from NY just because of the trauma of the momentous change in our lives, leaving our beautiful house we had lived in for 30 years and being so far away from our children, friends and familiar environs.

So Tyler, even assuming that your move is positive, all your dogs see is your stress from the actual mundane hassles of moving all your stuff,  and their comfortable home being obliterated.

So what to do? If possible, before you move, bring the dogs to the new house, making sure they’re hungry, and feed them there. Play with them there. Walk them in their new neighborhood. Do this as often as you can. If you can’t actually get into the house, then familiarize them with the area around the house as much as possible. And when you do move make sure that their beds and bowls and toys are in the new digs immediately, not in a storage facility to be picked up later.

Best of luck,


Walter the beleaguered beagle.

Walter was a beagle-springer cross, so I was not surprised that he had an ear infection. Those breeds are both prone to otitis externa, the technical term for an ear infection. You know — when the canal gets all red and oozes that smelly, gooey discharge. Otitis may be caused by yeast or bacteria — sometimes both — and often is initiated by underlying issues such as allergies, frequent swimming, or problems with the anatomical conformation of the ear canals. We treated Walter with a standard ointment, a combination of antifungal, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory medications. The otitis resolved but then quickly recurred.

“Let’s see what organisms are in there,” I suggested, smearing the green goop I had extracted from Walter’s ear onto a slide, which my assistant heat-fixed and stained. “Lots of cocci bacteria,” I concluded, examining the slide on the microscope. A pretty routine staph infection. Walter also happened to be diabetic, making him more susceptible to infections in general. We dispensed a second ear medication. The otitis got better . . .  then recurred . . .   again. This time as I tried to clean it, the canal began to bleed, and Walter was too tender to let me look down with my otoscope.

When faced with a stubborn case of otitis, there are several things we can try. We could take a culture and see exactly what organisms were growing in Walter’s ear. The laboratory could then run an antibiotic-sensitivity panel to determine the most effective drugs. But some specialists say that culturing an ear is like culturing the inside of a garbage can. You’re going to grow a lot of stuff, but not all the information you get will be useful. Instead, we decided to try a special brew many veterinarians mix up for such situations.

We start with a liquid called trizEDTA, which breaks down bacterial cell walls, allowing antibiotics to then penetrate into the organisms and fight the infection more effectively.  Adding liquid antibiotic to a big bottle of trizEDTA, I instructed Walter’s mom to fill his ears liberally with the fluid twice daily for two weeks. “This should fix him up,” I said confidently. Then, almost as an afterthought, I suggested a recheck in a few weeks. Six weeks later, Walter was back. Once again, the infection had responded, only to rapidly recur when the owner stopped the medication. “OK, let’s see what’s going on,” I sighed, thinking it was time to take a culture, and wheeling over my bright exam light to get a good look. I pulled up Walter’s ear and gazed carefully into the canal. Oh, my. I hadn’t seen that before. A small, red, cauliflower-like mass deep in his ear. “He’s got a growth in there,” I said. At past visits a combination of tenderness, blood, and discharge had made it difficult for me to see what was probably a small growth back then, which had now grown and was easily visible. (Or maybe I just hadn’t looked hard enough.)

Ear tumors are relatively uncommon in dogs, occurring primarily in middle-aged or senior pets. They can affect the flap, canal, or middle or inner ear, and can grow out of the skin, connective tissue, or various glands. They can be benign or malignant. Often there are no obvious clinical signs, depending on where the tumor is, what kind it is, and how fast it grows. If the tumor occurs in the middle or inner ear, neurological and balance problems may occur, resulting in walking problems, facial-nerve paralysis or head tilt. As they did with Walter, ear tumors may lead to secondary infection as they occlude the canal, hindering air flow and trapping debris and wax.

“A lot of times with ear tumors, it’s impossible to remove the whole cancer without removing large portions of the ear canal,” I told his mom. But we needed to start somewhere, so we scheduled surgery to remove as much as we could without being too invasive, and sent out a biopsy.  My hope was that it would be benign and thus not a big problem, even if we had to leave a little behind.

No such luck. Walter’s biopsy came back as ceruminous adenocarcinoma, a malignant cancer originating in the wax glands lining the ear canal. Although in dogs these tumors have only about a 10 percent chance of metastasis (i.e., spreading to other places such as lungs or lymph nodes), they tend to be locally invasive and aggressive. After consulting with a veterinary oncologist, Walter’s mom and I discussed the bad news.  “If you decide to pursue treatment, we start by taking chest x-rays and a lymph-node aspirate to make sure it hasn’t metastasized,” I said. “Then a CT scan gets done off-Island at the specialists’ to determine how far it has spread inside the ear.”  Then, more surgery. Although benign tumors can be removed with less extensive procedures, for this malignant cancer the oncologists advise total ear-canal ablation (TECA), which essentially removes all the ear structures while leaving the flap intact. In about one-quarter of cases, such cancers extend into the tympanic bulla on the skull, in which case the surgeon would also open this area and remove any abnormal tissue in a procedure called a bulla osteotomy. Postoperative complications might include facial-nerve paralysis, healing difficulties, and, of course, deafness on one side.

Walter is not a young dog, and his diabetes increases the potential for poor healing. There are only limited studies tracking the prognosis for dogs in Walter’s situation. Expected survival time for dogs with ceruminous adenocarcinoma who have the TECA surgery is reported to range from one to three years, but these statistics are based on very small numbers of cases. Without treatment, the oncologist says, Walter may develop trouble with his balance as the tumor spreads, and become severely uncomfortable within one year. His mom is considering their options, weighing all these factors . . . and I am taking a good long look down the ears of every dog who comes in with recurrent otitis.

Jada and Magnum were born three weeks ago — on August 28. The third triplet did not survive, but these two are opening their eyes and on the move. (Photo by David Roberts)

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 the owners of a pregnant Vineyard Haven dog, eagerly awaiting triplets.

Dear Dogfather,

Our dog is going to have puppies soon. We are looking forward to the adorable pups, but not so much for all the cleaning up after them. How can we housebreak them as soon as possible?

Awaiting triplets in Vineyard Haven

Dear Awaiting Triplets in Vineyard Haven,

Congratulations on your (probably by the time you read this) enlarged family. One of the lines in my book is, “It’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.” If you’re a dog trainer it’s true. I don’t care if the dog is so well-trained that it takes out the garbage and loads the dishwasher; if it poops or pees in the house it’s no good. Period.

Initially, most mothers will clean up after their pups. Dogs are strong creatures of habit, and what they’re standing on when they first become cognizant of the comfort of relieving themselves can be meaningful. That’s been my experience. If as soon as possible you can have them get accustomed to making pee and poop outdoors, instead of on floors and carpets, it speeds up the housebreaking process.

Dogs have a “den instinct.” They don’t like to make pee or poop where they eat and sleep. That’s where the expression “dirty dog” comes from. If the dog goes in its den, he’s considered dirty. Get a crate large enough for him to stretch out lying down plus a little, and get him to love it. This should start happening at about six to eight weeks of age. Feed him his three meals a day in the crate, crate door open. During the day toss special treats in the crate, praise him whenever he goes in, and put his bed in it, making sure that that is the most physically comfortable place for him to hang out.

As long as he’s too young to hold it all night, the crate, with crate door left open, needs to be boxed in by an x-pen (eight paneled metal gate with all panels jointed so it can be easily configured anyway you want). Next, put a pee pad that has a touch of the dog’s urine on it outside the crate at the back of the confinement area so that when pup wakes up to relieve itself it can leave its den, and pee or poop on the pad which he will be attracted to by the urine smell. The last thing you want is the dog going in his den. You know he can hold it all night when the time comes that you wake up and discover a clean pee pad. That’s when you close the crate door for the night.

If you don’t want a pee pad in the house, have the crate near your bed with the crate door closed and when you hear him crying or whimpering fly out of bed and get him outside immediately. Initially, always praise the puppy with voice and treat as soon as he’s finished going, except at night. No treat then. Keep praise low-key so he goes back to sleep. Most dogs have the ability to hold it all night when they are about 10 weeks old.

Try feeding on a structured basis, close to the same times every day. This way you’ll get a handle on when he has to go in relation to when he eats. I’d suggest he gets fed three times a day until about four months of age, then lose the middle meal and feed in the morning and evening at your convenience. Leave the food down for 20 minutes or so, then remove it and lose the guilt if he misses a meal. He’ll learn to eat when it’s available and you’ll both be better off if he’s on a schedule. (This is not the place for me to deal with the dogs who can’t afford to miss meals for one reason or another).

Also, a dog needs one cup of water for every 8 pounds of weight in a 24 hour period to be properly hydrated. Most vets will tell you to have water always available. That’s because they’ve had clients actually dehydrating their dogs by holding water back to eliminate the peeing mistakes. Cut the water off by 7 pm so pup has a better chance of holding it all night sooner.

During the day, assuming someone’s home, pup is confined within view of caretaker. (The x-pen can make this relatively easy). Enter the Dog God. What happens in most cases all over the world, when an owner sees their dog starting to relieve itself in the house, the person is charging at the dog arms flailing, yelling whatever they’re yelling to stop the dog from going. And what does the dog learn from this? Well, from his perspective, when you see him going,  you clearly lose your mind, charging at him yelling and flailing. That’s why dogs get very good at getting sneaky; they wait till you’re distracted and then step out of sight behind the couch and take a quick pee to avoid your insane reaction to their natural needs.

The Dog God is anything that startles the dog and it doesn’t come from you. Several empty soda or beer cans with a dozen pennies inside, strategically placed to be quickly picked up and shook or thrown near the dog (depending on the dog’s sensitivity) as the dog starts to go hopefully stops the process. Don’t let the dog see you shake or throw the can, and get him out, treats in pocket to reward the outside pee or poop.

Signs of a dog seriously thinking about making pee or poop are a sudden intense sniffing (looking for the right place to pee) or a kind of darting back and forth or circling (looking to poop). If you can’t watch him for whatever reason, he has to be confined in the crate/x-pen area with crate door open and pee pad available, or in the closed crate, depending on his progress. If he goes in the house and you didn’t catch him within 15 seconds, just clean up and deodorize. It is extremely important that the odor of any mistakes be removed, as dogs really do go where they smell it. White vinegar is as good as the odor neutralizers on the market and much cheaper. If the dog is basically housebroken but has a proclivity for going on occasion in a particular spot, feed him on that spot for a week. Dogs don’t like to relieve themselves where they eat anymore than you like to have meals in your bathroom.

In my experience most dogs are pretty reliably housebroken by about five months of age.

Good luck.

The Dogfather

— Photo by Alexandra Loud

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?



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. — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Comm
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.


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.


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.



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

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.

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.

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. — Ildar Sagdejev via Wikimedia Commons
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?


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.