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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!” 


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

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.

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         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

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!