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    Bring Back Play!  

 

  “What do most Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, artists and performers, well-adjusted children, happy couples and families, and the most successfully adapted mammals have in common? They play enthusiastically throughout their lives."

Dr. Stuart Brown, a researcher of the National Institute of Play.

    Playtime goes beyond the intrinsic fun that can be had.  Play time with your pets can be mutually beneficial, simultaneously benefitting both parties as a source of relaxation and stimulation for the brain and body. 

 

     Bring Back Play!    Photo


                                                                               MOVE IT OR LOSE IT   (From a Bird’s Eye View)

                 

                                                                 SUB-TITLED:    (“PEOPLE CAN LEARN A LOT FROM PARROTS”)

 

         Dear readers, permit me to introduce myself.  My name is Pedro, and for those readers that haven’t heard of me yet, I am a youthful Amazon parrot in the prime of my life. For this same group of folks, I would like to add (with tacit modesty of course) that historically, we parrots as a species are gifted with an intelligence and beauty that has appealed universally to people throughout the ages.   Even further, we are considered to be one of the most adaptable and flexible species on the planet.  But forgive me… I digress…

 

       Personally, I feel very fortunate to be enjoying a fantastic life with a couple of humans that adore me and work hard to keep me healthy and happy. Of course, like all dependents they periodically need to be guided and rewarded for positive behaviors and when necessary have some privileges removed if they become misguided or misbehave. Now, having my humans care for me so very well as well as live a very healthy lifestyle themselves makes me proud of them having these priorities!  In sharp contrast to our family’s lifestyle, I find it quite distressing know that there is a large segment of the human population that chooses to complacently set themselves up to the health risks of a sedentary life rather than put out a little energy to keep themselves in better shape.  As a common example, I will refer to those folks that prefer a couch potato existence lounging in front of their noisy flickering machines and munching on crispy crackers after their working day.  In my opinion, they would be much better off health-wise with fewer crackers and way more brisk walks around the block, perhaps with a leashed parrot on their shoulder or a least some bird seed in their pockets to feed wild birds in the park.   But, dear readers, in all probability, I am most likely screeching to the converted so will drop this subject for now.

 

      Now, bear with me just a moment to allow me to make a personal confession before I veer back to my main topic for today.  I do have a certain pastime that I pursue with shameless passion.   My obsession is surfing the net.  I exercise this delightful hobby using my owner’s iPAD, which I am permitted to use when they are at work.   (They also have a smaller iPhone, which I have little interest in since I much prefer the larger tablet touch screen, which provides me with much more foot and beak room).  

 

      Now that you all know me a little better, I will plunge into the depths of this article without further delay. My focus today is based on a “MOVE IT OR LOSE IT” theme.  Or to be more explicit, we birds of ALL varieties and species need regular exercise, to stay healthy in body, spirit and mind.  Of course, a well balanced varied diet; fresh air, clean water, sunshine, adequate shelter and yearly check-ups by our doctors are also essential to help us maintain our optimum health but I am choosing to focus today on the significant benefits of exercise for birds.  Also, later in this article, I will offer some simple suggestions to guide any of you readers that are bird owners on how to provide exercise for your lovable feathered companions in ways that are fun and rewarding.

    

                    Now, as almost everyone knows, all living creatures can benefit from regular exercise routines and that small changes can achieve significant gains.  Regular exercise strengthens the heart, circulatory system, bones and muscles. It helps with weight management and strengthens the immune system. Additionally, exercise improves digestion, helps to restore natural body rhythms, and can prevent the development of many diseases and disorders such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety. In contrast, lack of exercise in any living creature, be it a parrot, person, dog, cat lizard or fish, contributes overall to muscle loss, poor conditioning and deterioration of overall health.  Take for example any bird type. One should never forget that in the wild, we birds fly free and are very busy and active spending about fifty percent of our day finding food.   Those of us who are less fortunate nowadays ,who are spending most of our days existing in a form of solitary confinement in a cage are functioning at only a small fraction of our potential capacity.  So it is very easy to see why a sedentary life can so easily lead to degenerative conditions, including obesity, hardening of the arteries and heart disease in inactive birds as with inactive people. Now, you may be surprised to learn that well-researched studies indicate an alarming incidence of atherosclerosis, a serious disease of major blood vessels in companion birds, especially parrots.  Atherosclerosis is very similar to the human condition in which artery walls thicken as the result of a build-up of fatty materials within the artery walls.  Eventually, it can cause a total blockage of blood flow within the blood vessel.  There is a strong association of this disorder to high-fat seed diets and inactivity.  There is no question that captivity – and too much fatty food always available in a dish right under our beaks - leads many of us birds to an early demise from this disorder.

 

     By now, dear readers I am sure you are anxious to start learning about how to start  an exercise program for your beloved feathered friend.  However, before you start your bird circuit training or sign him up for any marathons (just kidding of course), you must first ensure that your bird is fit enough to get started on any kind of exercise program.  So, a visit to your bird’s veterinarian is necessary for a general health and fitness exam.  The doctor will be paying particular attention to your feathered friend’s heart and respiratory system, body weight and stress tolerance.  He or she may also wish to perform a few basic blood and fecal tests to assist in his assessment of your bird’s general health.   Also, your vet may trim your bird’s nails and feathers if needed. 

 

       Of course, as with any exercise program, it is best to start slow and build up from there.  Remember that even slow starts can reap significant health benefits to your bird. However, a trip on your shoulder from cage to kitchen and back to the cage does not qualify as significant exercise for either of you! 

    

 

    Within their cages these little guys need enough room that they aren’t bumping into their perches or toppling over their cage accessories as they spend their day. A cage size accommodating at least three times their wing spans in height as well as width, is a minimum guideline to give them enough flight room to be able to safely flap their wings, execute short flights and to flutter from perch to perch as finches and canaries are wont to do. Small amounts of food positioned at opposite ends of the cage can encourage more activity.  Also, consider placing the cage close to a window, (avoiding drafty windows of course and not in prolonged direct sunlight), because this encourages these small bird folks to engage vicariously in what is happening outdoors.

 

         Sturdy resting perches are as important to us birds as are park benches to fitness buffs that run on trails. Perches also provide us with an opportunity to exercise our feet and to keep our beaks trimmed and tidy.  Perches need to fit our feet, be supplied in varied diameters and textures, and be well secured.  There are no shortages of sources of perch materials that are safe but please avoid sandpaper perches for all of us birds large and small…these are hard on our soles and certainly are not effective as nail files, as some people are lead to believe. We don’t care much for metal perches either since they can be quite cold and slippery. Rope perches are okay but should be laundered regularly. Natural perches made from untreated wood like apple wood or aspen are also fine, since they not only provide exercise for our toe muscles; they also keep us gnawing on the bark and the wood. For some shy birds, greenery in front of the perch for them to hide behind can make perches more attractive to them so that they will use them more often.  Also, moving perches around now and then can be a beneficial method to keep our lives interesting and fun. 

  
      Many birds also enjoy swings, but they do need to be secured well.  Horizontal bars on the sides of birdcages are very important for birds that like to climb, such as parakeets, cockatiels and lots of playful parrots. However, be sure that the bar spacing is small enough that the climber can’t get its head jammed through them.   Of course any sharp wires, loose toy threads, jagged metal edges or exposed splintery wood edges, need to be eliminated to avoid us acquiring cuts, abrasions or tangled toes.

 

       It is easier to encourage small pet birds like budgies, canaries, cockatiels, and lovebirds to fly and exercise in a cage than it is to encourage a larger bird to do so. However, all kinds of birds can be allowed to experience the joy and benefits of exercise associated with flight time outside of their cages, but it should always be under an owner’s supervision. It is obviously safer for us to be kept in our cage or aviary when not being supervised since we can make ourselves very difficult to catch if we have the opportunity to find a secret hiding place. Also, it goes almost without saying that a bird in the cage is worth two hiding in the heat vent!

 

      Very important precautions that owners need to take prior to allowing for our indoors flight are to close all windows and doors that open to the outdoors since if the opportunity presents itself, most birds will fly away, answering to the call of the wild. (Present company excepted of course!).  Also, one should be sure to pull curtains across windows and cover up large mirrors since more than one bird has tried to fly through glass, with a broken neck being a most unfortunate result. Further precautions include: screening off of a fireplace, avoiding having any water-filled vessels lying around, or the toilet lid up, making sure the ceiling fan isn’t on that the stove isn’t hot and that hot beverages aren’t accessible to your bird friend. Another very important safety measure to take prior to allowing us our out-of –cage experiences is to keep any pets confined especially those sneaky, pesky cats that keep one eye closed and one eye open just waiting for the ideal opportunity to munch and lunch! 

 

     Oh, and another thing…we birds prefer that you keep our cage door open since we generally like to return to our sanctuaries after a while to rest on our perches and catch our second wind or just to regroup. I would suggest you sit still when you let any of us out of our cage, especially at the beginning until we can orient to the room; even more so for our first few times out.  Also, expect those of us that aren’t used to flying to get tired fairly soon and make more frequent landings. 

  

     It's more difficult to get larger species that have become sedentary to fly for exercise unless you have a large outdoor aviary, which few people do. For those owners that enjoy honing their carpentry skills, information can be readily acquired online regarding aviary construction. Your bird will love you for this but do be sure to allow for protective measures such as shady places of retreat from direct prolonged exposure to sunlight and also avoid any potential contact with wild birds that possibly could transfer parasites or disease to your birds.   Another rather fun way to encourage exercise in larger birds is to purchase a Harness and Leash (feather tether), which can be a great way for both you and your bird to enjoy the great outdoors!

 

 

       It is very important to know that all birds are SUPER-SENSITIVE to toxic chemicals so all cleaning chemicals, nail polish chemicals, and basically any chemical or product that can be carried in the air that has a strong, lingering odor can readily kill us. Therefore, keep us out of kitchens, bathrooms, and recently cleaned areas. It is also very important to not allow us to chew on curtain rods that contain lead or on your costume jewelry, which also can contain lead or other toxic metals.   

 

    Earlier in this article you will recall that I mentioned that your bird’s veterinarian might clip the wing feathers of your bird, especially if allowed to be outside of his or her cage at times.  Some owners do not clip their birds' wings so they can fly normally about. However, as described previously, flighted birds are subject to increased risks such as escape, flying into windows, landing on hot stoves flying into ceiling fans, or possibly, on occasion into your hot soup!  Therefore, for your bird’s safety and for your peace of mind it is usually best to have your bird’s wing feathers clipped.  Be sure to entrust your bird’s doctor or a trained bird professional to perform this task because they know best how to trim our wing feathers so that we can land nicely instead of falling with a thud on our keel bones.  Properly done, the procedure doesn’t hurt a bit other than ruffling of our contours and composure and the trade-off is that it may just save one or more of our lives.

 

      As most astute bird-owners know, we are in general an inquisitive, social, playful lot. We can quickly learn neat games of an interactive nature with our owners and also can enjoy new and challenging toys for our own self-amusement when left to our own devices.  Further, play, especially involving interactions with our owners can also help with riddance of many bad habits some of us may have such as feather plucking (similar to compulsive hair pulling in you humans), destructive behavior, and un-welcome screaming all of which are generally due to boredom or frustration.  

 

         Some examples of fun toys that can be made at home include:

      1) Smooth natural wood blocks equipped with wells to secure treats like nuts and fruit
      2) natural leather strips to chew on

      3) Treats tied to swings

      4) Paper towel rolls or twisted paper cups with treats hidden inside
   
          For more  creative owners, playpens can be set up as universal gyms.

 

     It is important to be always keep in mind that plastic toys and plastic bottles are only safe for small birds since us larger folk are more driven to search and destroy these toys and sometimes be injured by the chewed pieces.
                   

 

 

To conclude, in a nutshell, regular exercise allows us birds to live longer and have more powerful lungs so that we can entertain everyone with our songs and quaint dialogue over many of these healthier, happier years!

 

 Post script: It has been a toss up for me whether to set up a twitter or a Facebook page.   I kind of like the idea of exchanging “tweets”, however, for now Facebook is working for me. I will be sure to let you know of any changes.

   Just one more thing…I have been checking daily on eBay for a parrot-sized treadmill but no luck so far. If any readers have any leads I can be e-mailed privately at PEDRO @ Parrotsrule.com.  or at www.veddermountainvetclinic.com to the attention of Pedro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifted your pet’s lips lately?

 

  If you answered “Yes”, GOOD FOR YOU!  Consider yourself to be a member of a select few in the group of pet owners.  On the other hand, if you haven’t checked inside your pet’s mouth recently then you may be in for an unpleasant surprise! It is possible that instead of smooth, shiny, ivory-white teeth, you will see a build-up of rough, yellowish- brown deposits coating many of your pet’s teeth. Additionally, you may also notice reddened and swollen gums.  In a more extreme case, you may actually need to brace yourself not to be overwhelmed by a malevolent odor wafting out of your pet’s mouth as he pants away.  If you persevere with your examination, you may have time to observe a sludge-like thick, greenish-grey matter coating numerous teeth to such an extent that the individual shape of each tooth is lost.   It is very likely that, in this case, you will need to be gentle and speedy with this exam, because it is very likely that your poor pet, in anticipation of more dental pain than he or she is already accustomed too draws back and avoids your efforts to continue with your exam,! 

 

    Grossed you out yet?  Please be assured that this is not my objective.  Although the above scenarios seem to be exaggerated, they are, in fact, quite common.  Also, it is important to  be aware that even if your pet’s teeth look o.k. on the outside, you are only seeing what is happening above the gumline,  what is happening underneath where the tooth roots anchor the teeth to the jaw could be a totally different scenario!  It may be just a matter of time for what is lurking deep to surface.  

 

 

    As a group, vets are very familiar with the challenges of tooth diseases of all sorts and we do our best to teach and promote basic preventative measures to help delay the onset and progression of tooth disease in all pets.  Take, for example, events such as broken teeth.  This risk can be significantly decreased by not allowing your pet’s access to bones, and avoiding rock-carrying and tennis ball and Frisbee play. (A trip to a well-equipped pet supply store can usually provide you with some tooth-friendly Frisbees, Kongs and soft rawhide alternatives that can keep your pet just as entertained)  Regular tooth-brushing, optimally daily, is considered to be the “Gold Standard”of home care to help slow the onset and progression of dental plaque and calculus build-up. (Although often not a ton of fun, tooth brushing can be made into a more pleasant exercise if training starts early and rewards such as flavored tooth paste and dental treat rewards are coupled with the activity).  Another very good preventive measure is to offer your cat or dog veterinary approved dental foods, dental chews and plaque inhibiting water additives.   In the long run, these measures can generate a big-payoff in terms of general pet health as well as in more specific dental benefits.   However, a word of caution regarding the use of non-veterinary approved over-the- counter dental prevention products.  Some are more hype than help.  Some can even be a health hazard to your pet.  It is always best to keep your veterinarian informed about your interest in these products and rely on professional advice before implementing their long-term use.  

 

     Another important point to keep in mind is that no single product can perform miracles.    Unrealistic expectations are the main cause of frustration and disappointment and can interfere with one’s dedication to these options. Also, it is important to be aware that although the preventive measures discussed above can provide significant dental benefits, to keep your pet’s teeth in the very best shape one must use every golf club in one’s bag, metaphorically speaking, and this includes regular annual dental assessments and cleanings performed by your veterinarian. Said another way, there is nothing that can be done short of mechanical and or surgical intervention to treat established dental disease. 

 

        I will now slightly digress to briefly discuss a fairly common misconception regarding the procedure of hand-scaling without the benefits of anesthesia.  

 

       As many pet owners may already be aware, this procedure involves the scraping off of tartar and calculus from teeth by hand with metal tools designed for this purpose.  In more formidable cases calculus-cracking forceps may be used as well.  This procedure, if properly performed, is not damaging to the tooth enamel itself however, it is potentially dangerous to the animal because the operator can cause damage to a pet’s mouth if the pet moves unexpectedly causing the sharp metal instruments to cut or gouge its gums or cheeks. It also has numerous disadvantages in comparison to dental cleaning under anesthesia; which I will now discuss.

 

    Anesthesia enables the taking of dental x-rays that can reveal problems in a mouth that may externally appear to be in excellent shape Also, anesthesia allows for the complete visual examination of all surfaces of the teeth and all the hard to reach places in the mouth. Further, it allows for the important procedure of tartar and calculus scaling under the gum line, which is not possible in a conscious animal. These advantages are the reason that the common viewpoint of professionals is that hand scaling without anesthesia is considered to be beneath the standard of care expected of a veterinarian.     A relevant statement from Dr. Fraser Hale, a dental specialist substantiates this viewpoint.  “Do not hand scale in a conscious patient, it is bad dentistry, bad medicine and can make the animal more head shy and so less compliant with the tooth brush”.   To summarize, the basic problem with hand scaling without the benefits of anesthesia is that one is only getting off the ugly tartar but not getting under the pet’s gum line where undetected problems may be brewing.   Another dental specialist, Dr. Matther Lemmons, puts it this way” Hand scaling is like trying to fix a car’s bad transmission by washing and waxing the car.   The teeth look nicer but the mouth is no healthier”.

 

      Before finishing this article I would like to address, the concern of many owners about the risks imposed by general anesthesia.  Although it can be hard on an owner’s nerves and sometimes on their wallets, modern methods make this process much less risky than ever before, and it allows for far greater health benefits in the long run, even for older pets.  A healthy mouth leads to better health overall since serious tooth and gum diseases commonly lead to damage to other major body organs such as the kidneys and heart.  It is far better for your pet to be completely toothless than to suffer in silence from a mouthful of rotten teeth.  It certainly trumps living with the misery of dental pain; pain that is tolerated as a necessary burden of life since pets cannot speak up for themselves.

 

     

 

 

                                                      GASSY PETS          by Dr. Leslie Ross B.Sc.  D.V.M.

 

       “Windy pets”…oh yes, such great travel companions during long car rides!

 

          Before beginning to discuss some affordable measures that can often decrease hasty trips to the Febreze cupboard let’s start with some basic definitions for clarity’s sake.

       “Flatulence “refers to increased quantities of gas expelled as “flatus” through the ah… please permit me to use the term out of context, “outlet valve”.  “Flatus”, is fittingly described in the Latin translation as “a blowing, or a breaking wind, and refers to the generally offensive gas itself.

     “Flatology “is the scientific study of increased gastro-intestinal gas.  There are numerous documented studies of this topic including   specific studies involving chemical analysis of expelled gas products, airflow studies, and graphed statistics from population studies (flatulograms). These are all fairly discreetly documented because references to this subject material can offend certain individuals, especially those folks endowed with delicate sensitivities.

     Increased gas production can cause pets to belch, feel bloated, have grumbling sounds coming from their abdomens and cause them to evacuate a bad odor to their nearby air space.   

 

      Three common causes of flatulence include:

 

1)     Swallowed air acquired while eating

2)     Inefficiently digested food products or

3)     Excessive gas produced by large intestine bacteria

   

       Many of the components of intestinal gas are odorless and not of a type that can offend the human nose.   The odor of the flatus that we so readily recognize is from substances such as skatole, hydrogen sulfide, indole, volatile amines, and short-chained fatty acids.  Often these are present in very small amounts.

 

     Excess gas production is more common in dogs than in cats, rabbits or ferrets.  Amongst the dog population, short-nosed breeds such as Boxers, French Bulldogs, and Pugs, are more prone to being gassy. This is because these kinds of dogs are mostly nose-breathers rather than mouth-breathers causing them to swallow lots of air in the processes of breathing and eating. .  

 

 

   Most pet-owners who own pets that are prone to “breaking wind” are very eager to decrease their pet’s rather embarrassing gas-producing tendencies. Below, I will offer some suggestions that are worth trying prior to arranging a visit to your veterinarian, assuming, of course, that no other problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating or weight loss are also present. .   

 

 

        A good place to start is to try feeding several smaller meals throughout the day with the food spread around on your pet’s plate.  Offering meals this way may lead to a more measured food intake.  “Obstacle bowls” may also help to slow down his or her gulping of food and air. For families owning more than one dog, feeding them in separate rooms in a quiet, secure location may help to eliminate hasty, competitive eating

 

     A diet change is another practical consideration.  One should look for a highly digestible, low fat, and low fiber diet. A diet of this nature helps to reduce gas production by decreasing the food sources of fiber-consuming bacteria, the main culprits involved in intestinal gas formation.

 

    Numerous reputable pet food suppliers produce well-balanced, easily digestible pet foods.  In general, good quality pet foods containing lamb meal, rice or barley are excellent starter foods. It is usually best to start with a canned (wet food) diet then to slowly transition, on a trial and error basis, to a mixture of canned and dry foods with matching or similar protein and carbohydrate sources.

 

     As is the case with people, certain foods are particularly likely to cause intestinal gas build-up in susceptible pets.  Therefore, for gas- prone pets, and actually all pets in general, it is best to avoid feeding table foods as treats. Specific foods to avoid are broccoli, peas, beans and dairy products such as ice cream and cheese.  Milk in particular can cause digestive disturbances in many cats and some dogs because they often lack the enzymes needed to break down milk sugars, Also, avoid offering vegetarian diets, foods containing soy products, fresh or dried fruit treats, and vitamin and mineral supplements since all of these tend to increase bacterial activity in the lower bowel.

 

      Always bear in mind that this pursuit will be on a trial and error basis. And also that it may require some detective work!   For example, in the case of farm dogs, it is not an unlikely possibility that they could be sneaking into the stables or stanchions of horses or other kinds of livestock and ingesting high fiber animal feed or manure. Another, not uncommon scenario might be a dog sneaking into the household’s kitty litter box to retrieve and enjoy buried delicacies tucked away in the litter sand!

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     A new habit of a leisurely walk with your pet, timed roughly about 30 minutes after his meal, may also allow for the passing of gas outdoors rather than in close quarters indoors.  However, it is very important not to allow extremely vigorous activities at this time, especially in deep-chested large breeds to avoid increasing the risk of potentially deadly gastric accidents such as bloat and torsion.

 

    BEANO and OVAL are two over-the-counter products useful for gas control in people and can be effective for some pets.  BEANO contains an enzyme that breaks down complex sugars into simple sugars that are more digestible. Beano is best given with meals.  Ovol, (simethicone) is another safe over-the-counter product that is effective because it reduces the surface tension of gas bubbles in the gastro-intestinal tract, allowing for the release of entrapped gas.    If you wish to try either of these products it would be best to first consult with your veterinarian for dosage advice. 

 

       Carminatives are botanical preparations that have been used by chefs all over the world for thousands of years to flavor starchy dishes, especially those containing beans.  These are natural products that can decrease excess gas production.   Some common examples that cause this effect include garlic, fennel, ginger, oregano, parsley and peppermint.  Unfortunately, their use in pets is, for the most part, a trial and error process and not without potential risks to their heath.  This is because there is a lack of research- based information available to date regarding safe and effective dosing for pets.  Therefore, it is very important to consult with your veterinarian if you wish to try using any of these products to avoid the potential of adverse drug interactions and to ensure that it is safe for your particular pet.

 

       By now, if you are in a state of limbo with your goal still unachieved after trying all of the above measures, your best bet is to consult with your veterinarian to achieve some professional guidance. He or she will be prepared to conduct a physical examination on your pet and likely will suggest further diagnostics such as fecal floatations ( to check for intestinal worms), blood tests, and possibly other more complex  procedures such as x-rays, ultrasound,  gastrointestinal tract contrast studies, and endoscopy.

 

     If your veterinarian gives your pet a clean bill of health he or she may prescribe a prescription hypoallergenic diet.  In cases where pets have food sensitivities or food allergies, these specially formulated diets can be effective where store-bought limited allergen diets may have failed.

 

 

         Passing on to  the bottom line of this topic  ( pun intended, ),  your best approach to this problem overall  is to  systematically change one variable at a time starting with  the basic feeding plan changes noted above  then later,  trying  the additional oral anti-gas aids.   This approach, accompanied by lots of patience will generally allow achievement of your goal. 

 

      “Windy” pets can be a source of considerable embarrassment to some owners, to others, a source of simple humor.  For pets themselves, some may find the experience to be a little scary as well as uncomfortable. (As in the recorded case of a French bull dog that ducked and hid whenever he experienced an unexpected hind-end explosion!). 

 

       Rather than surrendering to this predicament, try some of the measures discussed above.  Also remember that your veterinarian is only a telephone call away to guide you in this undertaking if you feel the need.

 

 

 

 

                                  “A Barking Dog Never Bites” 

 

 

                 For English-speaking folks, it is common to imitate a large dog’s bark phonetically as a “woof”, and for smaller dogs; “ruff, arf, yip yelp, aur, au and more rarely, bow wow”.  Wolves, foxes and numerous other related species can bark.  Even parrots can be taught to bark.

 

         Interpreted literally, the expression “a barking dog never bites” supplies little consolation for many folks, dog-lovers or not, who happen to be within acoustic range of a raucous dog.

        Along with being undeniably annoying, prolonged, high-decibel barking can cause psychological distress and sometimes permanent hearing damage to humans and other pets within hearing range.

 

     Many dogs are capable of barking at a sound intensity level in the 100-decibel range. In rough comparison, starting at 0 as a baseline, 80 dB s a person shouting loudly and about 110 dB is a pneumatic drill nearby. A dog barking from four feet way can be as loud as 95 decibels.  If the dog is closer up, the number could be much higher; two dogs barking together, higher yet! 

 

      According to the March 2013 edition of THE INDEPENDENT, Charlie, a six-year-old Golden Retriever has made the Guinness book of records for the loudest ever recorded bark at 113.1 decibels, This noise level approximates that of a loud rock concert!  According to the owners, very fortunately, Charlie uses considerable discretion when he chooses to bark.

 

    According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) noises louder than 85 decibels can cause people to suffer hearing damage leading to hearing loss or persistent ringing of the ears (tinnitus).   Furthermore, widespread noise control bylaws make it unlawful for a dog owner to allow a dog to bark or howl to the annoyance of neighbors or the public. For these reasons it follows that dog-owners must accept the responsibility that comes with owning a dog and control any objectionable barking behavior that their dog may have.

 

 

  Easier said than done of course!   There is no canned solution since the causes of undesirable barking behavior of dogs vary widely with the individual dog and his or her environment.   The key is to figure out the reason WHY a dog barks.

 

    

     
    Below, I will outline some solutions that are often effective for most but not all problem-barkers. For dogs that do not respond to these measures, professional trainers and veterinarians generally need to be involved.   In fact, it is best to have a problem-barker examined by your veterinarian in any case since the dog may have an underlying medical condition that is adding to the problem.  For example, as dogs age sensory decline, particularly of their sense of hearing, cognitive decline or pain from degenerative joint disease can all lead to more vocalization. 

 

     Healthy dogs have been known to bark for hours on end.  Common reasons for strident, prolonged barking include an emotional state of anxiety or outright fear, attention seeking, (often from boredom), and frustration. Many dogs are triggered to bark when they hear other dogs barking.  Since dogs are social animals, trying to be with other dogs, i.e. the neighbor’s dog across the street can also be a trigger. 

 

    Many kinds of inappropriate barking behavior can be eliminated in an inexpensive way with basic training techniques that anyone with a generous amount of patience and time can apply.  Perhaps the most difficult part is determining the barking trigger or triggers for the problem dog.    Observations need to be made on when the barking occurs, what triggers the bark, what the dog’s body language is when he barks and whether the barking occurs when one is absent. Videotaping him during your absence will answer this last question if, of course, the neighbors don’t provide this information to you first!

     Once these barking triggers are determined, then when the dog responds more appropriately to these triggers, favorite treats can be provided.   Then eventually, for example, the dog can be trained to lie quietly on a mat, or to respond to a hand or clicker signal as a “quiet” cue rather than bolting to the door and barking every time he hears a pin drop.  

 

 

     If a quicker fix is desired or if these training measures are unsuccessful, then there are collars of different types available that are designed to control problem barking. One type that is quite humane is the citronella collar which when activated by a bark directs a spritz of citronella oil at the dog’s muzzle.  In general, these collars are quite effective however, some inventive dogs will learn how to still bark yet avoid the spray by directing their snouts skyward when they bark!  It is also important to be aware that the citronella spray can be caught up in the furry mane of Pomeranians and other longer haired dogs and lose its efficacy. (Clipping of this interfering hair is a simple remedy).    Two more downsides are that citronella oil has an odor that some people find offensive and it can stain some upholstery.  Still, all in all, these collars can be effective and are worth thoughtful consideration. 

 

    Other types of collars such as electric (shock), ultrasonic and vibration collars and various combinations of these are also available. Downsides include that they don’t work on all  highly bark-motivated dogs, and also that “breakthrough bark” can occur if there is not ongoing consistency and maintenance of these collars. They are particularly useful for “distance barkers” who bark some distance away from the owner.  Of course, it is very important to have a fail-safe mechanism for these kinds of collars to cause the unit to shut itself off after a set period of time to avoid sustained shocking of the poor dog.   Many people and animal rights groups are opposed to the use of these collars, particularly the shock collars. However, most Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are in agreement that as a last resort, it is better solution than euthanasia for highly motivated barkers.

     Sometimes simply managing a dog’s environment to reduce his exposure to his triggers can result in a very satisfactory outcome.   For example, when visitors first arrive, one might move him to another room or put him in his crate, pick him up or redirect his attention to a number of his favorite treats that you have just tossed on the floor. For dogs with storm phobias,” thunder capes” (a body-hugging spandex-like affair) may help.  If the neighbors are complaining that the dog is barking when you are not at home,  you could consider crating him  ( for a limited time and only if the dog is comfortable in his crate), or blocking his view of the street, taking him to doggy day care or even to work with you. It is also worth mentioning sound-absorbing wall panels as a trade-off for peaceful neighbor relationships.

      When anxiety is the driving force behind a dog’s extreme barking behavior medications can often be very beneficial. Some useful options include pheromone collars, anti-anxiety medications and some holistic products. Of course, your veterinarian should be involved to ensure safe use of these medications.

      Finally, it seems relevant to point out that the idiom “barking dogs never bite” is actually not true.  In fact, they may.  So it is most prudent to keep your eye on a strange dog barking at you up close and personal!

 

 

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