Rabies

     I’m going to talk about something scary today. Not an alien life form but a very real live virus called rabies. Rabies didn’t die out with Old Yeller – it is still very much with us, and definitely present in the wildlife of Merced County. In fact, Merced is considered an endemic area for the disease. We have positive cases every year! In the 30 plus years I have lived and worked here, I have watched both the Public Health Department and Animal Control cooperate to monitor Rabies positive cases turned in to the County. They map where the rabid animals were discovered, watching for “hot spots” of possible contagion in the wildlife. Positive rabid bats and skunks have been identified, often after a dog or cat has carried it into the house or killed it.

     But what about the animals that just quietly die in the wild, that may be carriers of the disease? This, of course, is how it is spread. Consider: Rabies virus enters the body through a direct bite or contact with the mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose). Once there, it slowly spreads into the nervous system, eventually reaching the brain. There is NO CURE for the disease at this point. In fact, only because the virus multiplies and spreads so slowly is it possible for post-exposure immunization to work and save human lives. Rabies is diagnosed after the brain of the suspect animal has been inspected. There is no way to diagnose the disease in a living patient.

     California is considered to have a high incidence of cases – over 400 cases in wildlife reported annually. Skunks and bats are the most frequent wildlife involved, but other carnivores such as  raccoons, foxes, coyotes and bobcats are often positive.

     Each year one or two cases of human rabies is reported in the United States. Since 2002, 21 of 24 reported human rabies cases in the US were linked to bats, per the Center for Disease Control (CDC). July 24, 2013 a young girl was bitten by a rabid bat at the Oakland Zoo- it was not an exhibit animal, just local wildlife. She received post-exposure immunization and is fine. Easter in Bakersfield, California of 2012 was grim for the family whose pet cat bit their child, after itself contracting rabies from area bats.

     In June, 2011 an 8 year old girl from Willow Creek, California actually survived the disease after intensive treatment at UC Davis’s Childrens Hospital. She is only the third person in the US to survive rabies without receiving the post-bite immunizations. Most people die or become vegetables. In countries where vaccination vigilance is not as high as the United States, rabies is a serious threat : 60,000 people die from this entirely preventable disease every year! Three “islands” are isolated enough to have no rabies : Hawaii, England and Australia. Travelling with pets to these places is a complicated process as they strive to remain rabies free, protecting people and their indigenous or native wildlife from sure death.

     Because wildlife cannot be vaccinated against Rabies, your FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE is to vaccinate your pets, the carnivores at highest risk of coming in contact with wildlife. ALL DOGS and CATS should be vaccinated against rabies. And you should never approach wildlife, especially when they seem sick.

     If your dog or cat is bitten by a bat or suspect carnivore that isn’t available for brain examination it is presumed exposed to a rabid animal. If the bat or skunk is confirmed positive and rabid and the dog or cat is NOT current with rabies vaccination protection it may be recommended that it be immediately destroyed. If the pet is current on vaccination, by law it will still be isolated for anywhere from 10 days to 6 months, depending on the individual circumstances of the case.

     If a human is bitten, whether it be a pet or a stray dog or cat, or any wildlife, it should immediately be reported to a physician. If the animal is available, it will be quarantined or its’ brain will be examined to check for rabies. The type of bite, animal involved, vaccination history and other factors will determine the recommendations made by your physician and public health authorities.

      This is where your money for those darned rabies licenses go. This is what it’s all about. The message : Vaccinate your pets against rabies. It’s the law – and it’s a good one!

Christine B. McFadden, DVM

 ValleyAnimalHospital                                                                                                                                   drmc@mcmenagerie.com

Heartworm

     Moonshadow gently waved his tail from side to side, tongue pink as he greeted us. The older black lab moved with a stately grace across the exam room, a gentle cough escaping from his throat. “There, did you hear that? Why is he coughing like that?”, his owner queried anxiously. I stared down at him, mind running through possibilities. Moonshadow was old, so I had to put cancer on the list. Not a happy place to start. I said nothing as I began a full exam, checking out his teeth, moving over areas where lymph nodes lurked, probing his tummy, riffling through his fur. Moonshadow cooperated with everything, seeming to enjoy it all as one big petting fest. I pulled out my stethoscope and listened carefully to his chest, timing his heart rate and listening to his lungs expand and contract with each breath. A lot of times you don’t hear much listening to healthy lungs, maybe a quiet whoosh. Today I was hearing crackles and rales, sort of like Rice Krispy cereal when you first pour the milk on. Not a good thing to hear. I stood up from the floor where I’d been kneeling at Moonshadow’s side. He side-swiped me with a lick of appreciation, then coughed gently with the extra effort. His owner, in her late twenties, shifted from foot to foot anxiously. “We’ve been through so much together. He’s travelled across the country with me.” Her voice trailed off, tears threatening. Her dog walked over to her and pushed his head up under her hand.

     I asked to run a blood panel and take a set of chest x-rays. The x-rays would show me any masses in his chest that could be cancerous or might point to an odd disease like the fungal infection Valley Fever. I could evaluate his heart size and shape and find markers for other lung diseases. The bloodwork would check for signs of infection, diabetes, thyroid disorders and see if his liver and kidneys were functioning ok. Not much point in making a diagnosis of one problem and later finding out that my patient’s renal function was toast. Obtaining a complete picture up front was in the best interests of my patient so I could help him – or know that I couldn’t, should that be the case.

     One of the blood tests was for Heartworm, Dirofilaria immitis, a long spaghetti-like worm that lives in the blood stream, bobbing around through little capillaries and veins as larvae until they eventually grow up and take up residence in the lungs and heart. There can a fistful of worms clogging the heart. Nothing microscopic about it – unfortunately, the patient is usually dead when you get to see it that graphically.

     Heartworm goes through one of its life stages in the mosquito. It is when the mosquito bites your dog, sucking out a bit of blood (the mosquito’s meal) that it injects the microscopic larval form of Dirofilaria into your pets’ bloodstream. If you give your dog the heartworm preventative EACH MONTH it kills off all first-stage larvae encountered and the story ends there. If your dog isn’t protected by a heartworm preventative, or you forget to give it for a couple weeks (even if you re-start it and get back on track), then there is a window of opportunity for the first-stage larvae to grow on to the second stage and into the adult worms living in the chest. The whole process from mosquito bite to worms clogging the lungs and heart can take up to 2 years. The symptoms your pet shows may range from something mild like restless sleeping to wheezing to full out coughing and heart failure.

      Todays’ tests are very sophisticated, requiring only a few drops of blood to detect antigen, the bodies’ response to invasion by a foreign invader, in this case the heart worm. If your dog does test positive for heartworm, a second test is done to look for actual microfilaria larvae circulating in the blood, which helps stage the disease progression and predict the prognosis for your pets chances of beating this disease.

     Is there a treatment for dogs that have heartworm? Yes, an injectable form of arsenic. Can some dogs die from the treatment or get very sick from it? Yes. Does the treatment work 100% all the time? No. Once a dog has had heartworm and been successfully treated do its lungs go back to normal? It depends. Sometimes. Can cats get heartworm? Yes, statistically 5-10% as often as the dogs in a given area of California.

     In February 2015 there were two (2) cases of heartworm diagnosed in local dogs : a little Yorkie in Merced and a medium sized dog that lives in Atwater. Both are house pets and neither has ever travelled outside of town. For years we have known that pets that travel to the foothills, such as Mariposa or Sonora, are at very high risk; also the Delta area of Stockton. Most of the United States is infiltrated, so ALL travelling dogs and cats should be on monthly preventative. Heartworm is HERE in Merced County. Most dogs can be protected for less than $100 a year. Talk to your veterinarian about the best choices for your pet and family.

     And Moonshadow? He tolerated the arsenic treatments. His lungs were permanently damaged and he needed medicine for the rest of his life to keep the post-heartworm immune reaction under control. He was a dog that appreciated everything done for him and gave another two years of love to all he met in his journey through life.

 

Christine B. McFadden, DVM

Valley Animal Hospital, Merced

To Spay Or Not

     So you think your dog is cute and your friends wish they had one just like yours? Or you think it would be good for your children to witness a live birth? Or you paid money for a dog “with papers” and now it’s time to recoup the investment? You can breed it yourself and make a fortune (no fortune, of course, if the bitch requires a C-Section to deliver, or if you have the puppies examined and vaccinated, or heaven forbid they don’t sell quickly and you have to start feeding them). Yes, mutt or purebred, you have talked yourself into breeding your pet.

     Wait a minute. Please. Just because your pet is cute doesn’t mean its progeny will be equally attractive in looks or temperament (do you follow Hollywood?). And those friends who were just WAITING to get a dog often find it inconvenient when the time comes and decide to “wait till the next litter”. And why is it that you want your kids to experience the birth, but you fail to include them in the rest of the story – the ultimate Reality Show where you find out that half of the litter is not expected to stay in its original home? Should you tell your children to choose their favorite, then “kiss the rest goodbye”? Do you know that 25 % of the dogs turned in to Animal Shelters are purebred? That you can spay or neuter your dog for less than it costs to raise a litter of puppies? That HUNDREDS of dogs are euthanized every month, not just here in Merced County, but every city and county in the United States, because we would be over-run with stray and unwanted pets if we didn’t?

 

Start with one female dog and let’s do the math (as the Arizona Humane Society did years ago):

In her first year she produces 4 pups, 2 of them females (4 total)

Second year production of first and second generation females is 12 pups, 6 female (12)

Third year production of 3 generations of females is 36 pups, 18 females (36)

Fourth year production of four generations of females is 108 pups, 54 females (108)

Fifth year production of five generations of females is 324 pups, 162 females (324)

Sixth year production of 6 generations of females is 972 pups, 486 females (972)

Seventh year production is 2,916 puppies…..

 

If you think there is a population problem in the world, it does not even compare to the population explosion in the pet world!

 

Christine McFadden, DVM

DrMc@McMenagerie.com

Valley Animal Hospital, Merced

The DiVot Code

      While conducting some ‘field research’ for my latest article, I was fortunate to stumble upon a secret society that knows the answer to one of the world’s most perplexing mysteries.  For years, The Knights Fescue have closely guarded the truth, but they let me into the inner circle and now I can finally explain “Why do dogs eat grass?”

     Insisting that we meet on his turf, the Chief of The Knights Fescue gave me directions to his hidden fortress—the Temple of Sod.  It was located in the old, seedy side of town.  The Chief Knight was dressed in green and wore a ceremonial blade around his waist.

            When I asked why dogs eat grass?, the Knight answered, “Because they don’t have thumbs.”  He went on to explain that dogs understand their world based on how it feels in their mouth. Dogs test everything for pressure, taste, and texture. Since they can’t pick things up with their paws, everything ends up in the mouth!

            “But some dogs will chew on grass to make themselves sick.  Why is that?”

            The Knight leaned forward and spoke in hushed tones.  “That’s not exactly true,” he said.  “Dogs can actually throw up any time they want.  It’s as easy as wagging their tail.”  I couldn’t believe it!

            “Really,” he continued, “they can control the muscle up and down their esophagus—so when they want to throw up—they just do it.”

            “Yet, all dog owners have seen their pet eat some grass and then become sick.”

            The Knight germinated on this for a moment.  “Yes, we have to weed out the fact from the fiction. Some dogs will eat grass to try and settle their stomach.  This is a lot like a person who will eat a few crackers to curb nausea.”

            “Why do so many dogs have upset stomachs?”

            “Usually, it’s because they ate too quickly or too much. Sometimes, it’s because they ate some people food or cat food!”  I liked this Knight . . . he was down-to-earth.

            “Is there a special nutrient in grass that helps settle the stomach?”

            “No, grass is about 80 percent water and about 20 percent fiber. It doesn’t have much nutritional value—particularly when you only have one stomach!  Dogs and people digest their food the same way—when is the last time you saw a person eating hay?”

            “Are dogs eating grass out of some instinctive need for more fiber or vitamins in their diet?”

            “Ha ha,” he laughed, “you do have a fertile imagination.  No, dogs can’t sense the nutrients in grass any more than you crave bran muffins when you’re constipated. Or do you?”  Though his piercing look could have mowed me over, the cutting edge answers were beginning to grow on me.

            The Knight continued, “Let me plant this idea--- when it comes to eating grass, dogs are pretty simple. If the grass smells good, has a nice texture, or tastes good, then they are going to eat it.  Dogs eat grass for the same reasons that people chew gum—it gives them something to do. ”

            A bell chimed in the Temple of Sod and I knew that our interview was at an end.  Without another word, the Knight Fescue jumped on his riding lawn mower and puttered away.

           

           

            

The NUTS Syndrome

Yesterday, a local psychologist called me to discuss some unusual cases in her clinic.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of men with abnormal behavior,” she said.

“Sorry, I only treat animal’s with behavior problems,” I replied.

“But that is exactly why I called you. It seems that these men all have one thing in common—their dogs need surgery.”

“Aha, I think I’ve seen this before.  What exactly are these men doing?”

“Fainting.  They can’t seem to discuss their dog’s operation without getting light-headed and passing out.”

“Wow, that sounds pretty serious.”

“Yes, the good news is that they’re only unconscious for a few minutes, and then they wake right back up.”

“They must really be worried about their dog’s surgery.”

“So it would seem.  With careful questioning, I have been able to learn some things about the operation—until they pass out again.”

“Terrific!  Tell me what you’ve learned, and hopefully I’ll be able to help you figure out why these men are getting so light-headed.”

“In most cases, it’s practically an ‘outpatient’ surgery— the dogs don’t even need to spend the night.”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound very risky. What else can they tell you?”

“After the operation, dogs are more likely to live longer and less likely to develop several kinds of cancer.”

“Wow, I’m sure the men want their dogs to live a longer, healthier life. What else do they say?”

“The procedure reduces a dog’s tendency to run away or roam by ninety percent!  Since they aren’t running away or roaming, it also lowers their chances of getting lost or hit by a car.

“A surgery that helps to prevent dogs from getting lost or hit by a car.  The answer is becoming clearer. . . .”

“I don’t understand why these guys are so apprehensive.  They also say that after the operation, canine behavior problems are reduced and dogs are 60% less aggressive!”

“For guys who keep passing out, they sure remember a lot of details.  Did they say anything else?”

“The operation reduces a dog’s temptation to urine mark his territory by fifty percent, and it even decreases that embarrassing leg mounting behavior by seventy percent.”

“I wonder who did that study?!”

“Seriously, I’m really worried about these guys. I can’t have them fainting in my office all day long.”

“So let me get this straight. This surgery is minor enough that dogs don’t even have to spend one night in the hospital, yet it will help them to live longer, have a lower risk of cancer, less roaming and fewer behavior or aggression problems.  Are there any downsides to the operation?”

“There is a chance that some dogs might gain a little weight.”

“That’s it?”

“Yup, just weight gain, that’s the only potential downside.”

“Well, that’s easy to deal with—if a dog is gaining weight, an owner just needs to feed him less food.”

“A solution so simple that it’s brilliant!  So, what’s the deal with this surgery?”

“Well, this is actually a common problem in men.  It’s referred to as being NUTS.”

NUTS!? That’s not a term we like to use in my business.”

“You’re misunderstanding me—NUTS is an acronym. It stands for Neuter Unease Transference Syndrome.

“Which is?”

“The irrational fear that having a dog neutered will somehow have an effect on the male owner.”

“How do I treat it?”

“I’m not sure that you can. For some men it looks like being NUTS is a lifelong condition.”

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary animal hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.valleyanimalmerced.com.  Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg.

Wanda Weaver is one of my most interesting clients

    Wanda Weaver is one of my most peculiar clients. Last week, she charged into the clinic with her three dogs—Stinky, Scruffy, and Itchy.

    “Doctor, please help my dogs with their shedding, it’s just terrible.”     

    I looked at her half-bald dogs and nodded in agreement.  “Even though most dogs will lose their summer coat this time of year, it looks like your dogs may have a health problem.”

    “That’s what I was thinking.  Last year wasn’t this bad.” 

    I remembered things differently—last time I saw her dogs, they were completely bald.   “Actually, your dogs lost all of their hair last summer. We treated them for that.”

    “I know.  And I want them to lose all of their hair this year, too. Can’t you make them shed more?” asked Wanda.  

         Now, I was confused.  “Don’t you want them to stop shedding?,” I asked.             

     “No, I want them to lose their hair—all of it—I  weave blankets and couch covers out of dog hair and I need more raw materials!”

         “Oh,” I said, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice.  Wanda really did want her dogs to go bald. For an instant, I saw the world through Wanda’s eyes and worried about myself-- If you can understand a crazy person, does that make you crazy?

         Her dogs looked miserable, and I decided that I had to help them regain their hair coat, even if it meant upsetting Wanda.  

         Stinky was the first to be examined.  “He has red and oily skin and a dull, coarse hair coat,” I showed Wanda.

    “Stinky is always getting dirty, so I bathe him two or three times a week. The funny thing is that he smells even worse within a few days.”

    “What kind of shampoo do you use on him?”

    “I know that human shampoo is too drying for a dog’s skin, so I don’t use that.  Instead, I picked up something at the supermarket. The bottle said it was for dogs with sensitive skin.”

    “I’m afraid that Stinky has developed a skin infection and that is why he smells so bad.  The shampoo probably has soaps in it that are removing the natural oils that keep bacteria on his skin in balance.  Here’s a special medicated emollient shampoo that will restore the skin’s natural balance and then he will stop stinking.”

    She put Scruffy on the exam table.  “He is my most finicky dog and will only eat cheap dog food and table scraps.”  Scruffy was fat and had a lot of dandruff.  It is ironic that the ‘finicky’ dogs are always the fattest—he must be eating something to get that fat!

    “Scruffy’s diet lacks the fish oil and vitamins that he needs to have a healthy hair coat.  If you buy a better dog food, you’ll see improvement within a month.”  

    “What if he doesn’t eat it?”

    “In all my years, I’ve never seen a dog starve himself just because he didn’t like the menu—and I don’t think that Scruffy will be the first.”  Scruffy gave me a dirty look; his gravy train was over.

    Itchy had been quietly licking her paws while I examined the other dogs.  “She is always licking or scratching something,” said Wanda.  Since, Wanda purchased a good flea control product from the clinic, I knew that Itchy’s problem wasn’t related to flea bites.  

    After several questions and an exam, it appeared that Itchy had developed allergies.  The pattern of hair loss and the areas where she licked were the best clues.  I gave Itchy a treatment that was going to help her feel better and stop licking within a few days.

    Two months later, Wanda came in to show off her dogs. I barely recognized them, because they each were completely covered with shiny hair.

    “Doctor, look what you’ve done!” she said to me.  

    “Yes, I’m sorry Wanda, but I couldn’t let your dogs go bald, it just wasn’t healthy.”

    “I know that you’re responsible for their beautiful hair coats, but I’m not mad.”

    “You’re not?”

    “No, just think how nice next year’s crop of dog hair is going to be!” 


Valley Fever in Dogs

I have followed with some interest the newspaper stories on the invasive fungus, coccidiodomycosis, that causes Valley Fever in people here, up and down the Central Valley. Coming from Arizona years ago, another dry, warm climate where the Fungal infection is extremely common, I learned a lot about Valley Fever, if for no other reason than you won’t pass the Arizona State Boards to practice there if you don’t. It’s just that common in Arizona, the fungal spores picked up in the dry winds blowing off the mountains and desert, settling in the lungs and bodies of two especially susceptible species : Man and his best friend, the dog.

This is not your everyday little athlete’s foot fungus or swimmers ear kind of yeast that creates mildly aggravating rashes and inspires odd TV commercials. While most fungi like a moist environment, they have trouble getting past the body’s great defense : skin. Coccidiodomycosis (we’re going to shorten that to “VF” for Valley Fever pretty quick here) is a “systemic” fungi, meaning the fungal spores invade deep inside the bodies’ systems and organs. I know of 3 different systemic fungi common to the United States, each found primarily in its own region of the country. For us in the Central Valley desert and arid parts of the West, we have to deal with Valley Fever.

It was July of 2011 when Mr. Cardwell brought his dog in. Named “Tick”, she was a hound of mixed pedigree (a bit of a mystery, but every girl needs that) going into her 11th year of age. “Tick” had been coughing for a couple days, just a little tickle in her throat but rather persistent. The common stuff we were looking for ran the gamut from Kennel Cough to Heartworm disease to Congestive Heart Failure to Cancer and then some. Every veterinarian’s mind has a ticker tape running through a list of disease possibilities that rivals any Wall Street machine.

We noted she had a high fever. Her weight was good, even plump. We took a set of chest x-rays, and there on the images that captured the outlines of her heart and lungs we could see a fuzzy white shadow lurking low in the right lung. Hmmm. Unfortunately, indistinct shadows are not enough to make a diagnosis (choices, always other possibilities!) and Tick didn’t seem so very sick to Mr. Cardwell. Reasonably enough he asked to treat her for something like Kennel Cough ( a story on that disease complex later, please), so we complied with a course of antibiotics and cough suppressants.

Which was all well and fine, but no one consulted Tick, and she wasn’t having any of this medicine stuff. No way, no how. After a couple of trips back to our hospital  to discuss new ways to get a pill into her, we weren’t sure if her failure to improve was because she wasn’t getting her meds or if it was time to go further in our diagnostic tests. Ten days after we’d first examined her, Tick’s fever was down, but so was her weight. She’d lost 4 pounds (she started at 28) and her lungs sounded dry and crackly. The coughing was persistent, though still more of a wheeze. Mr. Cardwell gave the ok for a battery of general blood and urine tests, which revealed that she did not have heartworm and that most of her organs were functioning well but she had a terrible infection driving her white cell count up over 36,000 (normal’s probably around 8,000).  I liken the white cells of the body to Soldiers marching off to battle disease and infection : 36,000 soldiers is a huge army. What WAS that white stuff in her lungs? We sent out a blood test checking for Valley Fever. Tick’s tests were positive on 2 out of 3 run for coccidiodomycosis. Bingo! Definitive diagnosis!

With this information, and knowing that her other tests and body organs were normal, we could recommend a treatment plan, one where she would take a powerful anti-fungal pill for a minimum of 6 months (such a long time!), and knowing that some dogs immune systems never can quite fight it off and either require medication the rest of their life or, worse, may not tolerate the strong pill necessary to save them.

Tick started her pills the next day. They had to be hidden in home cooked chicken smushed in a cheese ball. We didn’t mind. Five days later she had lost another 1 ½ pounds and was sleeping a lot, but her owner reported the cough had slowed considerably. Within 2 weeks she was jumping onto the bed at home ( it’s the little things you don’t notice fading away sometimes), had no cough, and was firmly addicted to Velveeta cheese.

Listening to her lungs through my stethoscope wasn’t quite as great an experience – that raspiness was to remain for a long time – but over the ensuing months Tick’s blood counts slowly normalized and she regained her weight. One year later she was finished with medication and deemed fully recovered, as do approximately 80% of treated dog cases. ( You may find more information at The Valley Fever Center For Excellence at the University of Arizona). Only her daily Velveeta cheese serves as a reminder of Ticks’ terrible near death experience with Valley Fever.

Christine McFadden, DVM

Valley Animal Hospital

 

For every Adult flea you see. . . there are 100 baby fleas in the environment!

Yuck!

Fleas  only have two jobs and they do both of  them very well:
    1) To suck blood from their host

    2) To reproduce

Along the way, fleas have picked up a few other tricks— such as transmitting diseases like the Bubonic Plague and acting as a taxicab for parasites such as Tapeworms.

Modern flea preventatives are designed to attack the fleas’ chemical messages (neurotransmitters) that regulate their jumping and biting!  

By blocking these neurotransmitters, a flea is quickly paralyzed and killed. Unfortunately, many flea neurotransmitters are similar to those found in people, dogs, cats and most mammals, so we have to take great care to poison the flea without poisoning the pet.  There are many “effective” flea killing products that are actually hazardous to your pet, and you will find them sold over the counter in many places.  This is a real ‘Pet Owner Beware’ situation!!

Flea control is a 3-pronged attack— for lasting control you must treat the pet, the yard and the household.  However, with quality products, just treating the pet may bring significant relief to an animal when there is a flea infestation.

These days, it’s a good time to be a pet with fleas, because we have so many great options.

Some people prefer to “go natural” with their flea control, but there can be pitfalls with that. Topical oils such as Cedar or Eucalyptus can be irritating to the skin and respiratory tracts of pets. Also, Diatomaceous Earth (DE) may kill fleas, but it needs to be present in such high quantities in the environment that it is a significant irritant to the lungs of humans and animals— and since dogs and cats stand closer to the ground than we do, they end up breathing in more of the DE!   

There are many very effective and safe products available for flea control in pets. Cats tend to be much more sensitive to flea medication, so greater care needs to be taken when choosing a flea product for them.  New products are available all of the time, and your veterinarian will be familiar with the products, their advantages, disadvantages and safety studies.

At Valley Animal Hospital, we almost always beat the price of the online pharmacy’s—

For example:


                                                                     Our Price                   PetMeds

Bravecto  (Flea & Tick control)             $46/ 1 dose                 $49.99/ 1 dose    Our price is better!

Trifexis (Flea & Heartworm Control)    $100.99/6 doses        $114.99/6 doses    Our price is better!

Advantage (Fleas only—20-55# dog)    $71.99/ 7 doses        $65.98/6 doses    Our price is better!



You are welcome to share this blog with others. Please give the author credit— Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg, DVM who is a veterinarian at the best animal hospital in Merced, California, Valley Animal Hospital.

    

Freshman

I remember so well my beginnings at Davis. Being accepted to veterinary school was a dream come true. Large parties were held in my honor. My parents bragged. I bragged. I found an apartment in Davis, bought some new clothes, and picked up a set of dishes from the local grocery store with a large quantity of stamps I’d saved (remember those thick china plates you could save up for with stamps from your purchases?). I got a chair from the Salvation Army at an incredible price because it leaned a little to one side when you reclined in it, and I took the formica kitchen table my parents had when they were starting out. Obviously I was ready for vet school. I rented a U-Haul truck and managed to cram everything in and still close the doors. Everything except a car.

My mother, bless her heart, had the perfect solution. She presented me with a bicycle. Now Davis, as you may know, considers itself the Bicycle Capitol of the world. However, I have not been an avid fan of this form of exercise since age 10. But a bicycle it was to be. My mother didn’t understand why I had to have a French-built ten speed when there was a perfectly good used bicycle next door, rescued baskets and all from the Wicked Witch of the West just as she was riding by with Toto (Surely you recall that bicycle?). I can’t remember if I cried or not when I saw it. I was to go forth and conquer the world on THAT? To start my illustrious career on a bicycle that had a seat broad enough for my bottom and a revolting little bell that went ding-ding? My mother made room for it in the U-Haul, shut the doors and waved me off. The woman had a heart of stone.

sheep_thorax_PB030061.JPG

These meek beginnings did not prevent me from throwing myself into the wonders of veterinary school. One of my first classes was Anatomy. The class spanned most of the first year and went on for hours. When a client comments “But there are so many different animals to learn” I can only give a surly nod. Spend six months minutely dissecting all the differences, then see how you feel. (In veterinary medicine, as elsewhere, everyone has their own opinion. Two years later a teaching surgeon interrupted my gabble of muscle identification during an exploratory to mutter “you can name it and cut it or you can just cut it!” So much for six months of study).

I acquired a cat and then a dog during my first year. I was given a couch. I traded in my mothers bicycle for a ten speed of obscure origin that I rode in one gear anyway, and eventually got a car. It was a good year and a good introduction to a profession that has never disappointed me.

 
 



Does my dog have mange?

When a dog has little tiny mites causing hairloss or itchiness, this condition is often referred to as “mange.”  

There are two main kinds of mange that we see in dogs, and distinguishing the type of mange is important, because one type is contagious to other dogs and people, and the other is not!

When the Demodex mite causes mange, it is often called Puppy Mange.  Why?  You guess it!  Because it is usually seen in puppies or occasionally in immune suppressed animals (such as dogs that have a severe allergy problem in their skin.)

Puppy Mange (Demodex) typically causes:

  • Hair Loss around the eyes, lips and feet

  • Isn’t very itchy

  • Patch hair loss along the sides of the body 

  • often results in crusty, thick and stinky skin

Here is a picture of two demodex mites under the microscope. They are so small that they can fit inside a hair follicle!  

The adult Demodex mite has eight little legs and a “cigar shaped” body.  

When these mights cause mange, it’s called “Demodectic Mange.”  There are numerous treatments for this type of infestation and it can take several months to resolve. The long time course for treatment is in part because 1) the patient has a lowered immune system and 2) the secondary skin infection can be a real challenge to bring under control.


While there are some over-the-counter remedies for this type of mange, many of them are too toxic to be safe for puppies. Remember:  Our goal is to poison the mite without poisoning the patient. OTC products don’t provide the same safety guarantees as the products your veterinarian has in the clinic pharmacy!


Scabies is the other type of mange.  The Scabies mite is constantly biting the dog (to feed) and this causes intense irritation and itchiness.  

Sarcoptic (or Scabies) Mange typically causes:

  • Intense itchiness— often to the point where the dog is doing nothing but chewing on himself and scratching.

  • Hair loss starting on the legs and working its way up the sides of the body.

  • Red bumps wherever there is hair loss.

These mites are intensely contagious, and will bite people, too.  Most people who get scabies from their dog will note increased itchiness and a pimple-like rash on their bellies.  

The good news about Sarcoptic Mange is that these mites tend to be quick to control. Usually within a couple of days of the first treatment owners note a marked decrease in their dog’s chewing behavior.   

Your veterinarian has a number of safe and effective products for bringing a Sarcoptic Mange problem under control quickly— hopefully before it spreads to other animals (or people!)  Also, the veterinarian can help your pet with any secondary skin infections or other issues that the mites caused with all their mischief!

If the above problems don’t sound like your dog’s issue— then it is time to see your pet’s Doctor!  Your dog may have allergies, a hormone imbalance, skin infection, vitamin deficiency or a number of other issues that can cause some combination of smelly skin, baldness, itchiness and more.  


Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Jon Klingborg. You will find him at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg, DVM

Hot Dogs & Cool Cats

            Your pet may appreciate a shady dog house on a hot summer’s day, but simply providing shade is not enough to keep your pet safe from the stifling heat.  Walk into your garage during the hottest part of the day--- since the garage is shady, why isn’t it very cool in there?  Because there isn’t enough air circulation to give you that “cool” feeling.  Does your pet’s dog house or other outdoor shady spot provide enough air circulation to keep him cool?

            If your pet isn’t using the dog house during the hottest part of the day, then you probably have your answer—his shady spot is still too hot!  One easy option is to freeze water jugs and put them in the dog house or somewhere shady. If your pet gets too hot, he will go lay against the cool water bottle. 

            Many pets prefer to rest in the flower bed on hot days. They’ve found a great place to keep their cool.  To keep your cool and save your landscaping, try removing the floor of the dog house so that your pet rests on the cool ground.  Soft dirt is as comfortable as a blanket to most pets, and it is much cooler in the summer time!  If you don’t want the dog or cat sleeping on the ground, then get them an elevated bed, so that their body heat is not trapped against the floor of the house.

            In terms of design, a dog house with a higher peak allows for hot air to escape up and away from your dog—so get one with an “attic.” Building the floor 3-4 inches off of the ground will also help your pet stay cool.  There are even air conditioning units available for your pet’s house! 

            Every summer, local veterinarians see pets who have life threatening heat stroke.  In some cases, this occurs in the old pet who is too “creaky” to get up and move to a shady spot.  In other cases, heat stroke effects the puppy or kitten who didn’t have enough sense to find a cool place for their afternoon nap.

            Dogs and cats are good at staying warm, but they’re not very good at keeping cool.  Of course, long haired pets have an extra layer of insulation that makes it more challenging for them to lose body heat.   Short-nosed dogs and cats also are prone to overheating, because their panting is not very efficient.  Panting takes a lot of work, and a dog or cat can actually overheat themselves by panting while they were trying to cool off!

            If you can’t keep your pet indoors during the heat of the day, then you may need to place some water misters or fans near their favorite outdoor spot.  Water misters are reported to cool the air by up to 30 degrees.   When it’s one hundred degrees outside, don’t you wish it was seventy degrees instead?  Combine a water mister with a fan, and you have a very comfortable and safe place for your pet relax for the day.

            However, make sure that your pet can ‘get away’ from the fan and water misters if he wants to—we don’t want your pet to get too cold. But that’s a different article . . .

             

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Jon Klingborg. You will find him at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg, DVM

Ear Jam

      Today we will tackle the shakey subject of ear infections in the dog. Ear infections rank right up there with some of the smelliest problems you might ever endure with your pet. And your dog feels a lot worse about it. The ear is exquisitely built in the dog – those long, silky flaps (pinnae) framing your dog’s face, so pettable, tilting to make clown faces, waving in the wind during a glorious ride peeking out the car window. Some ears stand upright at attention and a few are bald. All ears are beautiful. The inner workings of the ear contain the mysteries that lead to one of the major 5 senses in the body : Hearing. A dogs hearing ability is considered to be 4 times that of the average human being. Sound is caused by air vibrations – the more vibrations per second, the higher the sound. Humans are limited to hearing sounds that vibrate at 20,000 vibrations per second, while dogs pick them up at 50,000 vibrations per second. Another factor is that people have only 8 ear muscles to help wiggle their ears to funnel sound in and capture noises ; the dog has 18 muscles (Not to be outdone, the cat, with 30 ear muscles, enjoys the best hearing of all!).

     Did you know that dogs lack most of the skin glands that a person has? One place that they DO have true skin glands is lining the inner ear canal or passageway into the ear. If you gently lift your pets ear flap, or pinnae, you’ll see a hole at the base which goes into the head: this is the ear canal. The average ear canal is 2 inches long! In the dog it travels down, with a little L-shaped jog at the end just above the ear drum (tympanic membrane). This may serve to protect the ear drum from things that fall into the ear. Just as in a person, the ear drum is exquisitely sensitive, a barrier between the outer ear and the middle and inner ear where the hearing organs are located. This fine membrane vibrates in response to the sound waves it receives, transmitting them to the middle and inner ear for complex translation. Any fluid, foreign object, mass, or swelling inside the ear may deflect the passage of air vibrations and alter hearing. Long term infections may lead to permanent thickening (hyperplasia) of the canal, blocking the travel of sound.  Loss of elasticity to the ear drum may result in deafness to varying degrees. Ear infections are serious.

     So what can go wrong with an ear? How can you tell? One of the easiest things to remember is that dogs don’t really make ear wax like people do – so if you see yellow or black discharge lining the ear you know something is very wrong. This ceruminous or glandular discharge may be made up of several bacteria or yeast or both. Some people will note a bread-like odor if yeast is present, and one bacteria, pseudomonas, is quaintly referred to by its “rotten taco smell”. Because the average length of a dog’s ear canal is over 2 inches long, a veterinarian requires a specialized instrument, the otoscope, to examine deeply. An otoscope has a strong halide light and magnifying lens, coupled with a long tube sized for the individual to look deep into the canal for the cause of the problem.

     Like something out of a cheap horror movie, sometimes we put our eyeball to the scope and see giant (magnified) grey legs waving at us - ear mites, Otobius megnini. These are not to be confused with the cat ear mite, Otodectes cynotis, which would be about the size of a small grain of pepper if visible at all and never waves at you. We don’t see them that often around Merced and it’s usually good for a surprised shriek. In the USA the Otobius mite is most common in the arid regions of the Southwest and has a preference for the ear, even, occasionally, in people.

     Very commonly we find foxtails buried deep into ears, painfully jabbing the tender canal. Sometimes they can be removed with a long narrow instrument called an “alligator forceps” – your pet will let you know if sedation is required! The pointed, piercing end of a foxtail awn must feel like an ice pick is poking into their head! Foxtails in a deep ear hole are never good, as they may perforate the ear drum and travel into the head, adjacent jaw or lymph nodes. The ear responds vigorously to this foreign body, mounting a massive infection in an attempt to eject the invader; alas, to no avail as gravity keeps it buried deep in the canal. The best news about foxtails is that once removed the infections are usually responsive to medication and clear up quickly.

     Chronic, recurring ear infections are extremely common in our Valley. Properly called “otitis externa”, these infections bear no relationship to the inner ear infections young children often suffer from. They do not respond to oral antibiotics given to toddlers. They are not similar infections at all. Hayfever, or Atopy, may be behind much of the recurring or chronic infections of dogs. The ear canal of a dog is lined with true glands. Glandular tissue may respond to an allergen, like pollens in the air (and is our Valley not King of Pollen?) by becoming inflamed. Some breeds, like the Labrador Retriever and Cocker Spaniel, are genetically born with twice as many glandular cells lining their ear canals as other breeds, making them even more susceptible to ear infections. When the ear canal is examined we can see the tiny blood vessels swollen and red and the little glands puff up, making the inner ear canal look bumpy like a cobblestone road. As the tissue swells, a thin fluid exudate oozes out, creating a warm, wet environment deep in the ear hole – perfect for breeding yeast and bacteria. And do they ever! This ear soup is stuck, since it can’t drain by itself. If unattended, blood and pus may form. These infections are very painful, and a dog may paw or shake its head so hard the blood vessels burst and the pinnae fills up like a balloon with a blood hematoma. Polyps and cancerous masses can occur. All ear infections require careful treatment plans only your veterinarian can prescribe – your pets smiling face and happy head wag is its own reward!

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Christine McFadden. You will find her at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com

Leader of the Snack

         On the average day, over half of the pets that I treat are ‘heavier than ideal,’ and about 10 percent are what I would call morbidly obese—meaning that their weight is going to cause serious health problems in the near future.

         Most owners feel guilty when told their pet is too fat, but I’ve come to realize that it really isn’t their fault—the feeding of our pets is an innate human behavior—almost as basic as laughing or walking.

aok.jpg

         Even toddlers seem to understand this relationship. Children don’t need to be coached to share their food with the family dog. Instead, youngsters take great delight in throwing handfuls of delicious bounty off of the high chair tray and down to the waiting furry friend below.

 People Training Dogs--        This human-dog dynamic—the exchange of food for affection and protection—is probably what domesticated the dog in the first place.   Pavlov explored this relationship further when he would ring a bell before every meal for the dogs. Pretty soon, the dogs were drooling as soon as they heard the bell.  The dogs became conditioned to perform the behavior of drooling in response to the bell and not the food.

   Dogs Training People--      If you are one of those owners who gives your dog a treat every time you open the fridge or every time he does something cute, then it is time to ask "for whom the bell tolls.”  In other words--  who is ringing the bell and who is performing the behavior?  Many owners don’t even realize that their dog is the trainer who has taught the person to feed them on command. Oh, we are so easily trained . . .

         Cleverly, dogs gradually train their owners. A dog’s introductory training course starts with him asking for an extra treat every once in awhile. Then, if you are ‘smart enough’ to be trained, the dog will expect a treat whenever he performs a behavior (e.g. barking, sniffing at the treat cabinet, etc.)  You’ve entered the advanced class of dog training when your dog goes to the food bowl and then looks at you with big, sad eyes.  This passive-aggressive canine is saying “I’d eat this horrible food, if only you loved me enough to put some chicken on it.”  Tsk, tsk. 

         And you are the college level if your dog will only eat when you hand feed him.  People!  Have you lost your minds?  You’re hand feeding your dog—and I’ll bet that he isn’t that skinny, is he?  Do you really, really think he'd let himself starve if you weren't hand feeding him?

         Dogs that are overweight are at a far greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.  Research has proven that overweight dogs don’t live as long and they have more health problems—in other words, your dog may look fat and happy, but he’d be happier (and live longer) if he was a little leaner.

         Don’t allow your dog to be the Leader of the Snack. Instead, offer him two measured meals at specific times of the day.  Give him fifteen minutes to eat his food, and if he doesn’t eat it, then pick up the food.  Within two or three days, he will be eating at mealtime--- without drama or hesitation.   I recommend counting out a very limited number of treats.  When the treats are gone, they’re gone.  Be tough, and don’t feel silly that you’ve been trained by your dog.  After all, it isn’t all your fault, we’ve been hard-wired to do it!

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Jon Klingborg. You will find him at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com Copyright 2015 by Jon Klingborg, DVM

A Midsummer's Horror Story

Zombies!  Vampires!  Our houses are being overrun with these shady characters at an alarming rate.  There is a metaphorical horror film being recorded daily on a small scale, but with real consequences for the happiness of our pets, and for our own sanity.  You notice Fido scratching or biting out large patches of fur, even damaging his own skin.  Mittens is spending more time grooming, and is also starting to show thinning fur and scabby skin.  They couldn’t possibly be turning into zombies, could they???

    Of course (and thankfully) these supernatural beings are figments of Hollywood’s imagination, but there is still real-life parasite war going on under our feet.  You may have guessed that I am talking about FLEAS, one of the many Vampires of the animal world.  These bloodsuckers do a fairly good job of making your pet’s life an itchy, scratchy world of pain, and it doesn’t take long for the whole house to become infested.  The Central San Joaquin Valley in California is a perfect environment for fleas to multiply, and it doesn’t take long for Fido or Mittens to be inundated by hundreds, if not thousands of fleas.

 

For every adult flea, there are at least 10 flea eggs in the environment. Yuck!

For every adult flea, there are at least 10 flea eggs in the environment. Yuck!

A Brief Education on the Flea Life Cycle:

    It is important to understand the flea life cycle in order to figure out how to conquer the flea problem you may be having.  The adult flea spends its entire life on an animal, with the sole purpose of eating and reproducing.  Fleas consume blood meals (just like Vampires!) many times per day, causing itching and redness at the site of the bite.  Adult fleas can live longer than two years as long as food is continuously available.

    The adult female flea lays thousands of eggs during her life.  The eggs do not stay on the animal, but fall off onto the ground (or carpet, or pet bedding), where they hatch into little flea larvae.  Flea larvae are like a cross between a vampire and a zombies:  they hate light (like vampires) so they crawl around in the depths of the carpet or underneath the bed and into cracks in the floorboards;  here they crawl slowly and aimlessly (just like zombies), hoping to find old skin cells or flea poop or other debris to eat.  Once the larva matures, it forms a silk cocoon, maturing over 2 weeks, then lying in wait for the vibrations, heat, or carbon dioxide of an unsuspecting host.  Mature fleas can wait for many months inside their silk cocoons before a host approaches, at which point they spring out of their hiding place, jumping onto a new animal and starting the cycle over again.

 

Signs of Flea Infestation:

    Fleas crawl all over your dog or cat, from head to toe, but most animals tend to scratch at one specific area—the area just in front of the tail on their back.  This area is usually the first to show signs of hair loss and irritation.  Seeing this pattern of hair loss almost always indicates flea allergy.  You may also notice small pepper-like flakes in your animal’s fur.  No, Fido and Mittens haven’t been raiding the spice rack (or maybe they have, knowing my personal pets), but these little black specks are the signs of flea poop, the end result of a day filled with blood meals.  Of course there are other types of allergy than can cause similar signs, but none is as easy to treat as flea allergy.

 

What’s the Antidote for Vampires and Zombies?:

    Fortunately, we have some FANTASTIC flea treatments available in the veterinary world.   All are aimed at putting a big STOP SIGN in place at some step in the flea life cycle, preventing fleas from continuing to multiply.  The treatments are generally either topical drops or oral medications, both of which are super easy to administer, allowing flea protection for 1 or 3 months (depending on product).  The nice thing about these products is that they are actually effective, as opposed to the old flea bath/flea collar combination that never did work as advertised.  If you’re already using flea protection for Fido and Mittens, GOOD JOB.  Your pet is happier and healthier because of it, and your house is a cleaner, safer place for them to live.  Remember, it is important to put a stop to all fleas in the environment, so all dogs and cats must be treated to gain true control of the problem.

    The second phase of treatment for fleas is household cleaning.  Remember all those eggs being dropped onto the carpet?  50% of eggs can be eliminated by frequent vacuuming, helping to prevent the larval stages from doing their zombie-crawl.  In addition, there are household parasiticides available that help to control the remaining flea issue, but they usually only have to be used in a severe infestation.

 

AM I SAFE NOW???:

    Yep, year-round flea protection of all household pets is usually all you need to prevent those Zombie and Vampire outbreaks from ever becoming a problem.  Which really is quite a feat if you think about it—Hollywood’s been trying to kill the undead since 1922 (first sighting of mainstream Dracula in Nosferatu)…

 

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all we ask is that you give credit to the author Dr. Adam Lauppe. You will find him at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  and www.valleyanimalmerced.com

I know why the caged mouse sings . . .

A Story of The Birds and The Bees  . . . and Mice

                "I Want You To Want Me"

                "I Want You To Want Me"

          A few years ago, researchers discovered that male mice sing. You may have heard the news, but you haven’t heard the singing, because mice apparently sing at frequencies beyond our range of hearing.  Thank goodness for that, Alvin and the Chipmunks are annoying enough.

This ‘discovery’ seems to have caught scientists and Mouseketeers by surprise.  Yet, it doesn’t shock me.  Males of all species will do anything to get the attention of females. Whether it is through brightly colored feathers or fur, elaborate dances, or singing in a high school rock band, males expend a lot of energy to get noticed.

Now the race is on to determine if other species of rodents also like to serenade their potential girlfriends.  Perhaps there will be some useful applications for this knowledge. I can’t wait for the first mouse trap that emits the ultrasonic love song of mice—they could call it the “Love Shack—Mice Check In But They Don’t Check Out.”

After hearing about the singing mice, I started to wonder if males go through elaborate courtship rituals because they have to “prove” that they are worth the trouble to their mate.  Just the same, performing a song or a dance still isn’t a very big price to pay when compared to the difficulty and risk of pregnancy—whether you’re a mouse, bird, or a humpback whale.

Of course, there is one group of animals where the male carries the young, and that’s Seahorses.  A quick internet search revealed that even in the case of seahorses, it is the male that approaches the she-horse and impresses her with upside down swimming and fancy color variations.  So, it appears that showing off is a male thing, regardless of the species.

In our domestic cats, however, it is the female that does most of the talking when she’s “in the mood.”  (Though, I hardly think that her vocalizations are considered to be singing by any person within functioning ears.)  Female cats are called Queens, and when it comes to getting pregnant, they really are royalty. Every time a female cat is bred, the likelihood of becoming pregnant is nearly 100 percent, because the act of mating actually induces the eggs to be released just in time for fertilization.

Female dogs emit special scents to signal when they are looking for love.  And every intact male dog within nose range gets the message. I end up treating a lot of dogs in the clinic that were hit by a car or injured when they escaped from the backyard in the hopes of sniffing out their future mate.  In the dog world, looking for boyfriend or girlfriend may be hazardous to their health!

As you know, mice are similar enough to people that they are used in the laboratory to learn more about ‘what makes us tick.’  Perhaps this discovery about singing mice will help explain the peculiar popularity of bars that offer Karaoke singing . . . but probably not.

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all I ask is that you give credit to the author and furrbits.com.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  Copyright 2012 by Jon Klingborg.

Harnessing Your Dog's Power

                                     "Will you be my friend?"

                                     "Will you be my friend?"

     Taking your dog for a walk is more than just good exercise, it is key to your dog’s mental well-being. Dogs were ‘designed’ as hunting pack animals, which means that they are supposed to spend a lot of time walking from place to place. During these walks, dogs learn about their pack and their neighborhood—who is in charge, what noises are normal and which are to be feared, and they burn off a lot of nervous energy, too.

             Who's in charge in this picture?

             Who's in charge in this picture?

     Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to walk their dog. First and foremost, your dog is supposed to walk at your side. When he is allowed to constantly walk in front of you, this means that he is in charge. Remember, the top dog is the one at the lead of the pack! Dogs who think they are ‘in charge’ tend to have a number of problem behaviors, including housetraining problems and incessant barking.

     A good walk begins with a proper leash and collar. At some point, a dog may see something that interests him on the sidewalk—a piece of food, a leaf, or another dog. A well-trained dog will respond to a slight tug on the leash that in turn creates a slight ‘pulling sensation’ on the collar. This pulling sensation should be enough to tell him when he’s at the ‘end of his rope,’ so that he stops pulling and returns to your side.

Choosing a Leash:

I prefer a long flat leash—it gives you control and is less likely to cause rope burn (than a cord leash) if you need to give a brisk tug.  Also, with a flat leash you don't have to use the handle to hold on to-- in case of emergency, you can grab anywhere on the leash and pull your dog to safety.

 

 

I don't care for self-rewinding leashes because they always have tension and pull, and that teaches dogs to ignore the pulling sensation that should be the signal to "get back to the pack." With self-rewinding leashes, dogs quickly become less responsive when you really do want him to come back.  

 

 

Collar or Harness?

 

 

There are only three times when a harness is appropriate for your dog—1) if he is pulling a sled or 2) he is a highly trained guide or assistance dog, or 3) an existing health problem demands that he not have the pressure of a collar placed around his neck.

When your dog is at one end of the harness and you are at the other end, this means that your weight is distributed across the dog’s body. A harness allows your dog to have more ‘pulling power’, which means that it is easier for him to cause injury to you—by constantly yanking on your arm and shoulder. Harnesses do not give the proper feedback to your dog—he never gets the message that he’s at the end of the leash because the force of you tugging on the leash never creates the ‘pulling sensation.’

 

 

 

Using a collar:  

When a dog is going for a walk, it is very important for his collar to be positioned high up on his neck—just below his jaw. This will create the feedback of a pulling sensation without choking and stressing your dog.

 

As training collars, choke chains (it’s more politically correct and accurate to call them “slip chains”) are probably the least understood and most abused collars out there.  When a dog is properly trained on a choke chain, he should never need to be choked!  In fact, the tightening of the choke chain is supposed to alert him before the choking occurs, so that he decides not to pull on his own.  The most common mistakes with choke (slip)  chains are that 1) they fit incorrectly (too big or too small) and 2) they are put on backwards—yes, there is a right and a wrong way to put on a choke (slip) chain (and it’s easy to choose the wrong way nearly 100% of the time.)  If you insist on using a choke (slip) chain, then read this website for a refresher course–Here’s an excellent YouTube video on the use of slip chains:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo0BKCTncEc

 

Prong or pinch collars may look like cruel torture devices, but can work well for many dogs. These collars are designed to fit snuggly around (and high up on) the dog’s neck. If there is any ‘wobble’ to the collar, then it isn’t properly fitted.  A prong/pinch collar works by tightening evenly around the dog’s neck when he is at the end of his leash.  Once again, if a dog is allowed to tug and get ‘pinched’ repeatedly by the collar, then it will lose its effectiveness. A terrific website that covers the prong collar is http://leerburg.com/fit-prong.htm

An interesting hybrid is called the Martingale collar. With a Martingale collar, a tugging dog will feel a pulling sensation around the neck without getting choked.  These collars offer increased safety (they are less likely to accidentally snag on something and strangle your dog) with a streamlined design (they look like a flat collar.)

                        The Gentle Leader Collar

                        The Gentle Leader Collar

The perfect collar for the dog that insists on pulling and walking in front of you is called The Gentle Leader. A Gentle Leader collar fits snugly around the dog’s neck, and has an extra loop that sits loosely over the top of the nose. When a dog begins to pull on the leash, the Gentle Leader tightens under the nose—causing the dog to do a u-turn, because where the nose goes, so does the dog.  There are imitation Gentle Leader collars, but the original is still the best.  I’ve seen problem dogs begin to walk properly within 5 minutes when a Gentle Leader collar is used.

The same geniuses who designed the Gentle Leader collar have also redesigned the harness—and have created the Easy Walk Harness.  If a dog has to wear a harness, it is the only one that I would ever recommend. The leash clips to the front of the harness at the dog’s chest. This creates a different kind of ‘pulling sensation’ that alerts the dog when he’s at “the end of his rope.”

Once a dog is properly trained, you should be able to hold the leash between your thumb and forefinger and provide enough feedback to keep your dog from pulling.  If this doesn’t sound like a walk with your dog, then it is time to reconsider the collar and leash system you are using, and to think about a refresher course in obedience training.

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com 

Curing "Slurpophrenia"

Slurpophrenia (n.)  The insanity caused by a dog licking and slurping all night long.  

            Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of tired, crazed dog owners in the clinic, and they are all suffering from Slurpophrenia. Correctly diagnosing and treating the cause of this disease will lead to happy dogs and happier owners.  Dogs that cause Slurpophrenia usually fall into 3 categories—the bored, the anxious, or the allergic.

            Some dogs will repeatedly lick their feet to alleviate boredom. These dogs typically start the slurping when you settle down at night to watch television.  Since your dog doesn’t want to watch TV, he needs something to do.  While compulsively licking, his body releases chemicals that relax him.  These endorphins are the dog’s natural narcotic, and some dogs seem to get hooked on them! 

           

To break the cycle of licking, you must deal with your dog’s boredom. Often, obsessive dogs will stop licking if they are given enough exercise.  Tire him out, and he won’t have the energy to be bored or lick!  Also, provide him with a special toy or a chew bone that he only gets in the evening. It will become part of his routine, and he’ll look forward to it.

            Nervous dogs will lick to relieve their anxiety. The licking behavior seems to give these stressed dogs something else (besides their worries) to focus on.   This behavior is very similar to a child who sucks his thumb—a dog’s licking is a reassuring behavior, and this encourages him to do more licking. 

            If your dog’s licking is driving you crazy at specific times—when you are leaving for work or another pet is nearby or when it is mealtime—these can all be signs of anxiety.  Once again, recognizing the underlying cause of the behavior is the key to stopping it.

            Allergies are the number one cause of Slurpophrenia.  When a dog has allergies, his skin is itchy and it drives him crazy!  Most allergic dogs will scratch and chew all over their bodies, though they tend to pick on a couple of specific areas (over the rump, ears, bottom of feet).

            Dogs are susceptible to all kinds of allergies from hay fever to flea bites to grass allergy.  Often, owners will give their dog an anti-histamine to help their itchy, slurpophrenic dog. Unfortunately, anti-histamines don’t help dogs with allergies. Instead, these drugs just make dogs sleepy. Though a dog on anti-histamines may scratch less (because he is sleepy), the itchy and inflamed skin hasn’t been treated.

            Oatmeal based shampoos can quiet down a dog’s allergic skin condition for a few days, and hydrocortisone sprays can also help. However, hydrocortisone lowers the skin’s resistance to bacteria, so your dog may scratch less and stink more if his skin becomes infected.

            In many cases, allergies are controlled with anti-inflammatory pills or injections.  After receiving an anti-inflammatory treatment, most dogs go home and sleep soundly for a few days.  Apparently, Slurpophrenia affects your dog’s sleeps as much as your own!  Whether your dog is bored, anxious, or allergic, proper diagnosis and treatment for Slurpophrenia can allow everyone in the household to get a good night’s sleep.

 

 

Please feel free to distribute this article via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital.  www.vahmerced.com.   Copyright 2012 by Jon Klingborg.

           

           

            

Getting Dogs Over "The Hump"

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          Since this blog is rated PG-13, we must approach the current canine problem in a delicate fashion. However, leg humping in dogs is a serious problem that is serious-- seriously embarrassing, that is. . . 

         After watching commercials during sporting events, I’ve noticed that embarrassing problems are given initials, so from here on out, I am going to refer leg humping as Canine Mounting Behavior-- and we're going to call it  'CMB.'

CMB is usually seen in young puppies.  Male or female, this problem behavior is not gender specific. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that CMB isn’t even a sexual behavior in most cases, because these puppies haven’t gone through puberty.

     Instead, CMB is a sign of dominance, or ‘ownership,’ as I like to think of it.  When a puppy displays CMB on a pillow or toy or another dog or a person’s leg, that puppy is actually saying “I own you.”  Left untreated, CMB is not only embarrassing for the owner, but it also creates a bratty dog that thinks that he owns everything and will refuse to respect everyone.

It’s not “puppy love” that is making your dog mount toys, blankets, or your leg.

It’s not “puppy love” that is making your dog mount toys, blankets, or your leg.

     If your puppy is less than 6 months of age and is displaying CMB, then this most assuredly is a behavior problem and not a sign that she or he is “in love.”  Remember, most puppies go through puberty between 8-9 months of age (though it can be as early as 6 months of age in some cases.)

     Adult dogs tend to be very forgiving with puppies, and they will tolerate CMB because they realize that young dogs have no manners. However, if you allow the puppy to repeatedly display CMB on the adult dog, then you are actually sending a message that the puppy may be in charge.

     It is important to correct CMB as soon as it begins, and it starts with a clear, loud, firm “No!”  Clapping the hands or providing some other sort of distracting noise can send a message that this behavior is unacceptable.  For goodness sake, don’t laugh at the dog, because this just encourages more bad behavior.

     Some puppies are so stubborn that we need to place a long leash on them and give a firm tug on the leash whenever he’s being naughty (and say “no.”) Of course, if a puppy continues to “own” a particular pillow or toy, then take it away.

     A repeat offender doesn’t deserve to play with the rest of the pack (human or canine), and isolation can be an effective punishment for some dogs, but the puppy must be immediately isolated as soon as the behavior begins.

The alpha rollover-- used appropriately-- can send a message to a bad dog that he needs to behave!

The alpha rollover-- used appropriately-- can send a message to a bad dog that he needs to behave!

     It is important for your dog to respect you and the normal pack order within your household. If a dog keeps displaying CMB with people or dogs, then he doesn’t respect those individuals.  In extreme cases, I have had to roll a dominant, misbehaving puppy on his back (just like a top dog would do) in order to teach him that I am the boss and he isn’t.

     Don’t expect a dominant puppy to like getting that message—many will try to bite their owner and have a tantrum when being held on his back.   You must hold the puppy until he has submitted by no longer struggling or having a tantrum.

     When adult dogs engage in CMB with people, it is a very worrisome sign that they don’t respect those people at all. An owner who tolerates CMB in their adult dog actually reinforces the message that the dog is in charge—and that dog will assert his dominance in other ways—often by soiling in the house, refusing to eat dog food, or running away whenever he is called.  I don’t recommend rolling adult dogs on their back—unless you have been advised to do so by a dog training professional who knows you and your dog.

     Having a pet spayed or neutered (at about 6 months of age) will eliminate a lot of the dominance (ownership) behaviors that we see in intact pets.  Even ‘fixed’ dogs have a certain pack order, but they don’t usually need to assert it as much as intact canines.  Certainly, if your adult dog is exhibiting CMB, he or she should be fixed (immediately!) and enrolled in obedience classes—both activities will improve your dog’s overall personality, as well as his respect for you and the rules of the household.

 

Please feel free to distribute this article via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital.  www.vahmerced.com  You may reach him at docjon@furrbits.com.  Copyright 2012 by Jon Klingborg.

About Talking to the Animals

by Dr. Jon Klingborg

I always seem to have an ongoing conversation with my pets.  From asking them ‘how is your day going?’ to ‘would you like a treat?,’ every thought is conveyed in  a complete sentences.  At least the family dog makes me feel a little like Dr. Dolittle, the fictitious English physician who could talk with the animals.  Our cat seems to regard every conversation as a prompt for me to fill his food dish, whereas the chinchilla and finches aren’t very interested in what I have to say.

            There are a few studies published that maintain dogs can understand over 100 separate words.  It is said that some dogs have the ‘vocabulary’ of a three-year old child.  In 2004, scientists were excited to find a dog named Rico was shown to possess a cognitive skill called ‘free mapping.’ 

            Free Mapping is a sort of process-of-elimination, and is one of the ways that children learn to pick up language so quickly. If you ask a child to get a type of fruit that she’s never seen (a tangerine, for example), if the youngster sees and identifies the bananas and apples that are also in the fruit bowl, she will select the tangerine because it is not one of the fruits that she recognizes.

            Rico the dog was also able to use the process of free mapping to select the correct object when it was placed with other toys that he had already ‘named.’  Certainly, most dog owners have eventually reached the point where they are spelling key words such as t-r-e-a-t or w-a-l-k in front of the dog.  Whether or not dogs have a three-year old child’s vocabulary, they definitely don’t seem to spell very well.

            So, how do we develop this cognitive skill in dogs without having to buy “Canine Einstein” DVDs for them to watch?  Dog trainers will tell you to use simple key words that have one or two syllables at most, a different word should be used for each command, and the words shouldn’t rhyme with “No.”              One word that owners mistakenly use in two contexts is “down”.  Owners will order a “down” when a dog has jumped on them when they should have used the word “off.”  A real “down” is used to direct a dog to lie down after a “sit.”

            It’s important to keep the language simple because dogs are masters of reading the owner’s body language more than just focusing on the words.  With my (not-so-gifted) pooch, whenever I move toward the door and ask her ‘do you want to go outside?,’ she gets up and goes outside.  Now, if I move toward the door and ask her ‘do you want to get eaten by a bear?.’ she will still get up and go outside with enthusiasm.  However, if I move toward the door and say ‘do you want a treat?’— well, shame on me--- I just uttered a magic word that will cause conflict and confusion to her doggie brain. 

            There are many types of intelligence, and your dog doesn’t have to know 150 words to be at the top of the class. In fact, instead of a spelling bee to test your dog’s smarts, perhaps it would be more fun to have a “smelling bee.”  That’s a competition your dog is bound to enjoy!