Archive | December 2011

Proper greetings

The Chihuahua's tucked tail and stiff, backward leaning body tell us he is not all that excited to meet a new friend.

In a perfect world, every dog would be happy to see one of his kind on the street. He would politely walk up to his new buddy with a wagging tail and courteously sniff his rump, then the glands at his neck, and then back to the rump again before inviting him to play or continuing his walk. But in this world, only a fraction of our canine companions fall in to this category. The others are too flush with fear or aggression to respond with anything but barks and growls or avoiding the situation altogether by running the opposite direction or making themselves busy staring at the grass or a far-off fire hydrant. For those with the first kind of dog – the friendly, polite kind – it’s sometimes hard to remember that not every dog is as well-mannered as yours.

So how do you great a new dog that could be frightened or mean?

First of all, if you are in an off-leash dog area and you see a dog on a leash, do everything you can to avoid a meeting between your dog and the leashed dog. That dog is leashed for a reason and it probably has to do with the way he reacts to strange dogs. Granted, most owners of fearful or aggressive dogs will not bring their pups to a dog park but there are plenty of hiking trails and parks where a majority of folks do not have their dogs on a leash. In these cases, call your dog back to your side or even temporarily leash him if you must so as not to stress out the other dog and cause a dangerous reaction.

When you pass another dog on the street there are a couple of ways to tell if they want your dog to meet yours or not.

– If you notice them tensing up or shortening the leash as they approach you, do not greet the dog.

– If the owner switches the side of their body the dog is on or moves farther to one side of the sidewalk, do not greet the dog.

– Listen. It can be frustrating, even embarrassing to have a dog that doesn’t play nicely with others, so some owners will head you off at the pass by speaking to their dog loudly enough so you can hear. Any comments like “be nice” or “it’s ok, Rufus” should be understood as subtle warnings to please keep your dog from getting too close.

If none of these signals are obvious, when in doubt, ASK “can we say hi?” But be prepared for the possibility that the owner will say no. This has nothing to do with your dog – do NOT try to convince the owner that your dog is friendly or gets along with everyone – accept that they know their dog’s threshold better than you do and move on.



Ear infection

Yesterday Ginny and I took a trip to see the vet at Pets Unlimited. In addition to identifying her skin problems as a chronic allergy that has probably plagued her all her life, she diagnosed an ear infection. Ear infections are commonly associated with allergies. Ginny’s scabby, speckled skin chronic allergies have probably given her ear infections since she was a puppy.

Ear infections look different. My cat Phoebe also has chronic ear infections which look like she has extra dark brown wax in her kitty ears. The visible part of a normal cat’s ear should be clean; no wax, just healthy and pink. Yesterday I noticed that a client of mine, Moma* (who also has severe chronic allergies), also has an ear infection; his ear was crusty and scabby with a pool of mucus-like wax at the entrance to his ear canal. Ginny’s infection appeared somewhat less severe than Moma’s with dark crusty wax and what looked like severely dry skin around the edges.

Ear infections are frustrating in and of themselves – they can be painful and itchy for your pet. But chronic ear infections also have a sinister secondary effect: they can lead to a ruptured ear drum, deafness or facial nerve paralysis. My theory is that Ginny’s deafness is the result of failure to treat her chronic ear infections because, at the age of 8, she seems too young to have lost her hearing due to old age.

Long-eared dogs and those with hair in the visible area inside their ears are more susceptible to ear infections than those with pointy ears that don’t fold over. Other than allergies, drug reactions, the build up of hair or dead skin, the development of bacteria or fungus or excessive moisture caused by swimming. Common symptoms include pain, head shaking, scratching at the ears and a bad smell. In more serious ear infections, the inflammation spreads to the inner ear and can cause your dog to tilt his head, become uncoordinated, vomit or even develop anorexia.

If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, it is important to have it diagnosed by a vet. For less severe infections that have not entered the middle ear, she will probably prescribe drops to be massaged in to the ear canal a couple of times a day; this is the treatment Ginny is now on. These infections typically clear up in three to four weeks. For more difficult infections, oral antibiotics and/or antifungals may be prescribed.

Commercially bred puppies

Puppies rescued by South Paw Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Tennessee.

With today’s news from Arkansas about a puppy mill raid that rescued 175 puppies from filthy and dangerous conditions, I wanted to know a little more about the hard facts of commercial puppy breeding.

Seven states are known as “puppy mill” states for the large number of puppy mills they harbor: Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. In these states and elsewhere throughout the country, over 4000 kennels are federally licensed to breed dogs. Approximately 500,000 puppies are sold by puppy mills each year, primarily in pet stores. The puppy industry in Missouri, alone, is estimated at bringing in $40 million dollars a year!

The U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA) provides some protections for commercially bred domestic animals like dogs, but the standards are the bare minimum in housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures. The AWA does not cover retail pet shops (unless they sell exotic animals), animals used for food or agricultural purposes, and cold-blooded animals like snakes.

Despite the law, most puppy mills are extremely under-regulated. Puppy mill dogs are often rescued covered with matted and filthy fur, rotting teeth, and with ulcers in their eyes. They are kept in small wire cages – many breeding dogs have never touched solid ground or run and play. Several dogs are often kept in the same small cage, making fights (and injuries) common. The cages also cause problems for some dogs who panic when their feet get caught in the wires, causing them to lose feet and legs. Unregulated temperatures mean many dogs freeze in the winter or die of heat stroke in the summer; when wire cages heat up, they can “cook” puppies in their cages.

The dogs used for breeding in puppy mills are bred from the first time they come in to heat until their bodies give up. This is often by the time they reach five years of age, at which point they are killed – sometimes by being bashed in the head with a rock. Other brutal techniques, like ramming a metal pole down a dog’s throat to rupture the vocal cords and debark the animal are common. Puppies are shipped to pet stores between the ages of 5 and 8 weeks (a prime socialization period) often without adequate food or water. The food fed the animals in the facility is typically bought by the truckload and often contains such a high level of things like floor shavings, that it has little to no nutritional value and causes rotting teeth early on. Man puppy mill puppies have hidden genetic problems and are susceptible to disease. Emotional problems are also par for the course, given the lack of socialization and proper nutrition they are subject to.

Before you buy a dog from a pet store, even those that claim their puppies came from reputable breeders, be sure to ask the right questions. If a pet store will not show you paperwork on the puppy, the dog has come from a puppy mill. The only way to stop the cycle of abuse in puppy mills is to stop buying dogs from pet stores.

All they want for Christmas is….

With all these great dog toys, your pup doesn’t have to miss out on the festivities this Christmas*.

Put a treat in Jolly Pets’ Monster Mouth and watch your dog problem solve while he plays! Monster Mouths come in different sizes and are made of 100% non-toxic rubber.

Cost: starting at $7.00

Chuckit’s are old school. Get some serious ball throwing distance with ProBall’s Go-Frrr Ball Fetch Kit. The slingshot  saves your shoulder from overuse while playing with your dog and comes with two balls.

Cost: $20.00

Many dogs love chasing sticks but they can be dangerous, splintering and puncturing the inside of your mutt’s mouth. With Safestix Original Fetch Stick, your dog gets the fun of a stick (it even floats on water!) without the risk of accident.

Cost: $17.99

You’ve switched to organic materials for your towels and pillows so why continue to let your dog chomp on toys made of plastic and chemicals? Several companies make adorable organic stuffed and chew toys including Simply Fido, whose adorable rope toys are made of 100% bamboo.

Trainer Kelley Filson at DogEvolve discovered this awesome new product: Lickety Stik by PetSafe. Treat your dog on the go without gooping up your hands. The liquid formula is “all natural” and works like a roll-on deoderant; your dog licks the tip for a yummy taste of Smoky Bacon, Savory Chicken or Braised Liver. There are over 500 licks in each bottle and only one calorie per ten licks.

Cost: $8.00

While it may not be as nutritious as peanut butter, with the new Kong Stuff”n you no longer have to struggle trying to fill up a Kong toy for your pup when you leave the house. This paste is dispensed just like classic Easy Cheese, so your hands stay clean and you stay on schedule!

Cost: $4.00

*I am not affiliated with or paid by any of the companies listed here. They just make fun toys!

Final goodbyes

I didn’t expect to cry when Franny was returned to me. After five weeks she has become a series of great memories so I was not prepared for the wave fresh pain that came to me when I was handed her ashes in a handsome wooden box. I brought Franny home and placed her in a safe place.

The following Saturday, it was time to bring Franny to her final resting place. I invited my friend Mark, who was with me when Franny died, to come with me to say our final goodbyes; I thought it was only fair that he get the same closure I wanted. When I picked him up, he handed me a small gold frame with a photo he took of Franny at Baker Beach, the same place I wanted to scatter her ashes. I tucked it in to my bag and carried her along for the ride. We brought Franny and my current foster dog, Ginny, to the beach and as I stood on the waterline, slowly pouring her ashes in to the waves, Ginny explored the sandy beach. When almost all of the ashes had been scattered, Mark told me that when his grandmother passed away, they spread half of her ashes at her favorite beach and buried the other half in the yard of her beloved home. The thought of having a little piece of Franny stay with me made me smile so I wrapped the remaining ashes in the bandana I made her, which she wore daily, and placed her back in the box.

For the moment, Franny stays, wrapped warmly in her bandana, and protected by her wooden box. At some point, when I’m ready, I will place her in the ground behind my home…her home.


Itching like crazy

Osito - skinny and scabby in our first week together.

I had no idea how common allergies are in domestic pets until I found Osito, my rapscallion cat.

Osito chose me, not the other way around. When I moved to a new apartment with a large backyard in October 2009 one of my greatest joys watching all of the animals living their lives in my little slice of nature from my home office. The yard was a crossroads of sorts for several different cats – a large orange male I called Ginger Cat, a slinky black Tom I creatively dubbed Black Cat, and second black cat, scruffier and smaller than Black Cat, that I saw only occasionally. He was clearly hungry, too skinny, missing hair – he didn’t seem feral like Ginger Cat and Black Cat and by January, this little scoundrel had become increasingly brave, coming close to the porch when I was outside. I began setting food out for him and, within days, he came close enough for me to touch.

It was as if that first contact brought back for him all of the joys of home and love. He crawled in to my lap making baby meowy sounds, flipping around, rubbing himself on my legs. I began leaving my patio door open during the day and over the next week he came in and out of the house, staying longer and longer each time. I searched for an owner – one woman even came to see if he was her lost and beloved Monkey – but no luck. After a week I had fallen head over heels in love with him and began to hope that no owner existed. By the end of the second week, I claimed him for my own and dubbed him Osito – little bear for his long, untamed fur.

When I took Osito in to my neighborhood vet to be vaccinated and checked out, I asked about the sores covering his body. Allergies. Dr. Leyba didn’t know what he was allergic to – that would take extensive tests, slowly removing one possible stimulus, then another, until we could determine what was wrong. In the meantime he recommended high quality food, flea treatment, and time. Presumably the stimulus was outdoors, since Osito had been homeless for weeks, so I put him on house arrest until he was well on his way to healing.

When I adopted Phoebe, my second cat, in April, the vet surprised me by saying he thought she, too, had allergies. Phoebe didn’t have any scabs, but she did have daily black eye and nose boogers that developed so readily, they were probably her body reacting to some kind of antigen.

But the worst pet allergies I’ve seen belong to my newest client, Moma*. Moma, a three-year old Westie, is covered, from neck to feet, in angry red skin. His hair has fallen out and he is constantly scratching. His dad is a regular (like weekly) visitor to his vet and, together, they have identified dozens of antigens to which Moma is allergic including grass. The vet thinks he finally has it under control and that Moma’s condition will slowly improve. In the meantime, he wears a wet suit (a full body neoprene jacket) to keep him from doing too much damage to his skin.

Moma in his allergy wet suit.

There are thousands of things a pet might be allergic to; they can even be allergic themselves (i.e., to common skin bacteria). The way an animal’s body reacts to an allergy differs – scabs, red inflamation, watery eyes and nose are all possibilities – but the way the animal reacts is usually the same, scratching, biting and licking the itchy spots. Food allergies are among the most common and often occur in pets eating low quality pet foods such as the major brands sold at any grocery store. Grain, in particular, is bad for pets. There are plenty of grain free brands including EVO, The Honest Kitchen, and Wysong that may not only diminish your pet’s allergies, but will improve their health overall.

More severe allergies may require medication provided by your vet. My friend’s Siamese, Katinka, is on steroids that boost her immune system and decrease her itching. Moma is receiving intravenous medication to control his itching. Unfortunately, the management of allergies is likely to be a lifetime issue.

Allergies are not the only culprits of severe itching in pets – fleas, fungal infections, even neurological problems can lead to the scratch, bite, lick behavior. Ginny, my newest foster, appears to fall in the non-allergy category of scabby, itchy skin. But if your pet constantly itchy, is forming large patches of inflamed skin, losing hair, developing scabs, or experiencing other skin issues, there is probably something that can be done to improve their lives. Talk to your vet as soon as possible.

For more on itchy pets, check out Pet MD’s overview of dermatological issues.

Leash Monsters: Part II

Cricket* on a walk in the Presidio.

“Leash monsters” are far from a unified group. Dogs of every size, age and breed are Cricket’s* classmates including a 20lb Brussels Griffon, a Boxer mix, a Shepherd mix, a Lercher, and a Pit mix. Cricket is just as different as the rest – a 3 year old Patterdale Terrier weighing no more than 30lbs. The “monster” form they take also varies. Cricket has a subtle response to other dogs – he freezes, but in doing so, his tail is often high in the air and his mouth open so that, to the untrained eye, he doesn’t look particularly concerned. Many other dogs, including the Shepherd mix in class, have an explosive reaction to other dogs; the Pit mix is attending class because he is so excited to see another dog that he bounds towards them, dragging his owners along, and frightening the dog (and owner) that he is headed for. The Brussels Griffon is snarly and snappish.

The significant variation among Cricket’s classmates makes me really respect Kelley and Pamela’s versatility. As teachers, they can show us techniques that can help to manage a dog’s stress and fear while on leash, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution; every dog is different. This makes it all the more amazing that, this week, every member of the class reported having seen some improvement after diligently working on last week’s assignment. In general, every dog was more tolerant in its walks and had fewer freak-outs. So it was time to up the ante a bit.

Last week, all six dogs (and owners) were placed around the room a safe distance from one another. This week, we created a close circle with each dog only a couple of feet from the next. This raised the tension in the room. Cricket and I sat in between the Brussels Griffon and the Boxer mix but, when Cricket figured out that the Griffon’s mom had yummy treats too, that became his focus rather than the fact that his nose was only inches from the other dog’s butt. Kelley added a new command to our repertoire, sort of grade school level version of what we had learned at kindergarten level last week: instead of just praising the dog for looking at another, we asked our dogs to “Be nice”, praising them only when they looked back at us. Some of the dogs got this quickly but it was a bit difficult for Cricket while we sat in the circle. He was distracted by the proximity of the other dogs and had trouble focusing on me to follow through the whole repertoire. When we worked on this same sequence while moving, he did far better. This, combined with the “blast past”, quickly walking by the scary object, would be our primary homework for the week.

We also learned how to distract our dogs while walking by another scary canine. Counter-intuitively, the dog should be on the side of you that is closest to the scary object, not farthest away. This is because when you distract your dog with a delicious treat in your far hand, he turns his head away from the other dog. If the dog were on the far side of you, looking at the treat in the near hand, he would be forced to stare straight in to the face of his perceived enemy. Eye contact between dogs is often the spark that ignites a full-on brawl so avoiding that possibility is crucial.

When Cricket and I ran in to Kelley with several dogs on Clay Street the next day, we got a chance to practice our “be nice” for the teacher and I realized one of the limitations of dog reactivity – how do you stop and chat with someone walking a dog when your own pup might flip out? Trying to work out a solution in my head, I pulled Cricket over to the side after our first two runs through “be nice” and did a distraction technique when I should have practiced our “blast past.” Cricket didn’t mind, though, he kept his eye on the treat and, afterward, merrily continued on his way.

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