Paku, a five pound nearly hairless Chihuahua, is an occassional resident of my little zoo. I have to admit that I am not a Chihuahua person. They typically strike me as needy, frightened (both timid and agressive out of fear), and all around odd. So when 7-yr old Paku arrived six months ago it took me awhile to warm up to him. But eventually, he won me over with his funny antics and snuggly nature.
One of the things I find most amusing about Paku is the way he plays with stuffed toys, pouncing at them, chasing them around, carrying them in his mouth. But when the fun is done, Paku gets weird. He begins to lick his paws. Obsessively. His mom told me that, at times, he has gotten so over zealous that he has licked the hair right off. Lately, I have noticed Franny licking her paws, too. It seems to occur when she lays down for or wakes up in the middle of a nap in the evenings and, though she doesn’t obsessively lick, the action is the same as Paku’s. So, why do dogs lick their paws?
There are several possible reasons:
– an allergic reaction to diet or outside stimulus (like chemicals used on lawns)
– psychological reasons (obsessive-compulsive behavior)
In Paku, the behavior seems to be obsessive compulsive. In fact, Chihuahuas are among the most likely breeds to have obsessive compulsive disorders (along with Australian Cattle Dogs, Chows and Dobermans, among others). With Franny, the problem may high levels of cortisol in her blood stream. Stress is typically the cause of high cortisol levels but Franny’s Cushing’s Disease also causes her to have excessive cortisol. Franny’s paw licking, then, is likely a side-effect of her Cushing’s Disease!
For some suggestions on what to do about paw licking, check out tomorrow’s blog!
Franny has gotten in to a number of little skirmishes with other dogs. Usually, it’s a quick bark or growl, telling another dog to back off, but occassionally it escalates into something more. Dusty is the second foster dog I attempted to bring into Franny’s home. The first was a sweet, confused mutt who had lived his life tied up in a backyard. The last year of his life, his humans stopped feeding him and he was kept alive by the neighbors. By the time he got to Muttville, he was severely underweight after having been removed from his home by Animal Care and Control. When I brought Franny to Muttville Manor to meet this sweet guy, though, there were just enough signs of agression to suggest that it wouldn’t be a good match. I brought Franny home alone.
And then Dusty entered our lives and, the first week, things were fine between them. Franny was clearly dominant and would let Dusty know when he was too stepping on her proverbial toes. Then we spent an afternoon at the park with a group of friends. Whether it was the shifting attention of the humans, the stress of a day in the heat or another spark, I don’t know, but Fran and Dusty got into a scuffle which, with snarls and yelps, sounded worse than it really was. I pushed Franny away with my knee to her shoulder and things calmed immediately. We had no more incidents until last night. I was preparing dinner for the dogs and both sat in the kitchen looking at me with their big hungry eyes. Then suddenly, Franny was on top of Dusty, pinning him to the ground with her teeth. Though it lasted only 20 seconds, it felt like minutes. I finally pulled Franny off of Dusty from her collar (behind her neck so she wouldn’t bite me on accident) and Dusty lay on the floor. I pulled Franny outside, closed the patio door, and went back to check on Dusty. He was fine – a little shaken, but no wounds – and within minutes it was as if nothing had happened. I called Sherri at Muttville immediately and let her know. Her wise advice? Franny doesn’t need that stress, Dusty doesn’t need that stress, and you don’t need that stress. A fellow foster mom, Yoko, came to pick up Dusty later that evening, and just like that, he was gone.
After Dusty left, I wondered what I should have done in this situation to make things better. What if, for example, Dusty was not a foster dog but a permanent one? So, I began to read and here is what I did wrong:
– I was treating Franny and Dusty as equals when, in reality, they were not equals in the pack. In fact, Franny may have felt I was giving Dusty preferential treatment (i.e., treating him as if he was dominant). Franny loves love but she also likes to have her own space. She rarely sleeps on my bed and doesn’t like to be on the couch (interestingly, her disinterest in being close could be a symptom of her Cushing’s Disease). Dusty, on the other hand, is a typical Doxie. He wanted to be as close as possible as often as possible and would whine if I didn’t put him up on the couch with me or let him sleep in my bed.
– Even though it sounded bad, I didn’t really need to pull Franny off of Dusty. She was reaffirming the pecking order in the pack and by pulling her off of Dusty, the pecking order issue was never resolved. If the fight became bad enough, I should have pulled Franny away by her back legs, silently (without saying things like “Franny, no!” or “Bad dog”). Another option is to shift the dogs’ attention by spraying something at them or making a loud noise away from them.
– I should not have put Franny outside and gone to check on Dusty. Dusty was fine and I just showed Franny that Dusty ranks higher than she. In other words, I contributed to her need to show she was dominant. I am also lucky that I did not make the situation worse by seperating the two. Franny could have come back inside and restarted the fight.
The first health problem I noticed in Franny was her excessive water drinking and urinating. After several tests, the vet diagnosed her with Cushing’s Disease. There are two primary causes of Cushing’s:
1. A benign tumor in the pituitary gland (usually less than 3mm in diameter) which causes the oversecretion of a hormone called ACTH. Normally, the release of this hormone causes the release of cortisol by the adrenal gland. As the cortisol is released, the pituitary responds by stopping the release of ACTH. But in pituitary dependent Cushings, the hormone release doesn’t stop. In response, the adrenal glands become very large to keep up with the cortisol production.
Pituitary tumors account for 85% of all cases of Cushing’s.
2. A tumor in the adrenal gland that causes the secretion of too much cortisol. The brain doesn’t register that the cortisol is being released and the ACTH hormone is also secreted in excess. Half of these tumors are benign and the other 50% are malignant.
In both types of Cushing’s disease, then, it is the overproduction of cortisol which causes a number of symptoms. Franny’s signs of Cushing’s included increased/excessive water consumption, increased/excessive urination, loss of muscle mass, giving the appearance of weight loss, hind leg weakness, excess panting, seeking cool surfaces to rest on, and coat changes like dryness.
Other symptoms of Cushing’s can include:
• urinary accidents in previously housetrained dogs
• increased/excessive appetite (polyphagia)
• appearance of food stealing/guarding, begging, trash dumping, etc.
• sagging, bloated, pot-bellied appearance
• bony, skull-like appearance of head
• exercise intolerance or lethargy
• new reluctance to jump on furniture or people
• symmetrically thinning hair or baldness (alopecia) on torso
• easily damaged/bruised skin that heals slowly
• hard, calcified lumps in the skin (calcinosis cutis)
At it’s worst, Cushing’s can cause diabetes, pancreatitis and seizures.
Cushings typically strikes dogs of 10 years of age or older and left untreated, it will progress. Excess cortisol suppresses the immune system and can, therefore, lead to congestive heart failure, seizures, liver and kidney failure, and more. If treated, the symptoms of Cushing’s can resolve fully in 4-6 months. A dog will never completely recover from Cushings but treatment can improve the quality of life and perhaps even extend it.
If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, especially excessive water drinking and urination, see your vet