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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!

 

 

                                                 HELP!

                                   MY DOG HAS GONE MISSING!  GENEROUS REWARD!  by Dr. Leslie Ross D.V.M.; B.Sc.

 

 

                                            Attached to the privilege of pet ownership is an individual’s responsibility for maintaining the pet’s health and safety. Safe and secure confinement when the pet is left to its own devices is of particular importance Still, in the rush of the day, most people will agree that there will be times when doors are incompletely closed, windows accidentally left open or gates improperly latched. Most pet owners will also agree that it is a rare pet that won’t take advantage of any opportunity to go exploring if the occasion presents itself!  Fortunately, there are a variety of choices of pet identification methods available ranging from very basic pet collar I.D to more technical electronic devices to insulate against permanent loss of the pet should an escape misadventure actually occur.  

 

     A very simple and affordable yet effective form of protection for dogs and most cats is a sturdy collar or harness equipped with a legible I.D. tag and worn 24-7.   Ideally, the collar needs to provide basic and current information such as the name of the pet; phone number and address of its home. It may mean the difference between a quick return home, and an impounded pet. ( It is an unfortunate fact that in Canada and in the United States a substantial number of lost pets are received daily by humane societies without any owner identification to make easy their safe return.  Consequently, and very sadly, over 50% of dogs and even a higher percentage of cats are euthanized every day at these facilities due to limitations of housing space for these pets).

      Rabies vaccine collar tags, frequently supplied by veterinarians for free when a cat or dog is vaccinated, can be very useful as additional identification insurance since these tags are engraved with information that allows for efficient tracing of the lost pet to its owners.  Very importantly, this information needs to be kept current should circumstances such as new ownership or a new phone number occur. 

     Unfortunately, collars are not fool proof.   Some cats, like Houdini, can wiggle out of almost any style of collar or harness, either because of their temperament or because of circumstance. (In fact, for an outdoor cat, breakaway collars are actually designed to release should the cat become entangled in a bush, peg or tree branch to avoid it potentially hanging itself).  Also, a significant number of dogs will chew through rope tethers or leashes, especially if left unsupervised, so for these individuals, and ideally all pets, tattoos and microchips are excellent considerations for back-up identification purposes. 

 

      Veterinarians will commonly tattoo pets when they are admitted to their care for surgical procedures such as for neutering or spaying.  Tattoos are applied with a special kind of durable ink to the inside surface of a pet’s ear flap or less often, the inside of its thigh while the pet is still anesthetized. Should the pet go missing at some later date, the tattoo can be traced from its unique coded combination of letters and numbers that identifies the location of the veterinary hospital that performed the tattoo and the year that it was applied, ultimately, leading to retrieval of the owner’s information.  Tattoo drawbacks are that darker skin may be harder to read, that sometimes shaving of the ear may be necessary to see the tattoo and that the tattoo may fade over time.  Also, very   importantly, the owner’s contact information must be kept current if they move or if new ownership of the pet is involved.

 

 

     Microchips are electronic implants that are roughly the size of a grain of rice. They are injected under the skin of animals between their shoulder blades.   Since the injections only cause a momentary mild discomfort they can be administered during a regular physical exam with no requirement for anesthesia.  When a scanner device is held close to the chip it emits an electric field that activates the chip causing it to transmit an identification number back to the scanner. From this number, through a registered database the owner’s information can be determined. There are two specific limitations of microchips that must be recognized, especially if they are intended to be the only form of pet identification. The first is that because they are invisible externally, identification information can only be obtained if a facility such as a rescue society, S.P.C.A or veterinary facility has a scanner. The second limitation is that in the United States, some scanners will not read all microchips.   

 

     A natural desire of any healthy pet is to explore its surroundings and experience adventures outdoors.  Unfortunately, numerous hazardous situations can occur when pets are roaming about unsupervised.  Therefore, yard confinement is a necessity to ensure their safety.  For dogs, a sturdy fence will usually adequately fulfill this need.   Along with sturdiness of structure, additional important features are adequate fence height and depth into the ground .to avoid a bored, energetic dog scrambling up and over the fence or digging under it.  Other outdoor confinement alternatives that may be convenient in some circumstances are Aerial Cable Trolleys and Pulley systems.

 

    

    Cats that prefer the great outdoors are much more difficult to keep confined within a yard.  Most won’t be confined for long by a fence unless it is of the invisible kind (pun intended!).  A common type of invisible fence system includes an energized wire buried at the perimeter of a designated area.  This electronic wire emits coded signals that are received by a shock collar worn by the pet.  When the boundary area is approached the collar makes a warning sound and then gives the dog or cat a harmless shock if it ignores the warning and continues on.   Some invisible fence variations are wireless or use radio signals from a central unit to define the boundary area.  At its best, these electronic systems prevent pets from straying from a yard or area, however they have quite a few downsides.  Firstly, an invisible fence doesn’t prevent a neighbor’s pet or predator from entering the area where the confined pet is forced to stay.  Also, it can create a phobia in a sensitive pet resulting in a fear of the yard and unwillingness to venture outside because of anticipation of a shock.  As well, it may not be a deterrent if an animal is bound and determined to pursue a target outside of the defined safe zone.

 

   For many owners of particularly energetic and adventuresome pets, G.P.S. equipped collars are excellent options for tracking of these guys eloping from their home range. Most types can be configured to different boundaries.  Two of the three front runner types of GPS units are the Garmin and Tagg. 

These  two units will send an alert by a text or e-mail to an app on one’s smart phone or uploaded to a browser on a computer. The third kind, PetTronic communicates through radio waves to an owners handset.   Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages of each kind. Battery life  may be shorter with some types than others.  Also, some send more frequent test message alerts than others. So,for these kinds, unlimited text plans may make costs less of a concern. A summary of the main attributes and disadvantages of these  three types of GPS can be found online at www.consumereports.org May 2012  ( how to track a lost pet ). The cat versions  are lightweight and attach to most collars.  In general, they serve their purpose well however, there always is the slim possiblility that one day  you may find yourself on your hands and knees under a thorny bush expecting to find your cat but instead finding just his collar with the  GPS unit well attached but no cat in sight!

     

    Obviously,for all the identification measures that have been discussed, none are 100% foolproof. However, in general, their individual effectiveness is directly related to how current the owners identification is maintained.

 

 

         To  protect your pet from becoming permanently lost it is best to research your options thoroughly and then consider at least one, or ideally more than one of them.  Obviously, there is no single cookie cutter approach since every pet-owner has different needs and requirements.  Optimally, more than one identification safeguard is safest.  After all, your four-legged best friend is worth the investment.  Saving his or her life can be your valuable personal reward!

 

     Imagine, if you will, a warm, sunny afternoon with you seated on a park bench with your four-legged companion happily romping about sniffing at intriguing objects for a minute or two until he is distracted by the motions of a butterfly then gaily pursuing this new object of interest. For a minute, your attention is diverted and then suddenly, you hear a bone-chilling scream from your pet and you turn to see him pinned to the ground with a snarling, much larger dog hovering over him with his jaw clamped on your terrified dogs neck!

       Not uncommonly, a scary event like this can occur very unexpectedly when a roaming dog seeming to appear out of “nowhere” and starts to cause trouble.    Dogs will show aggressive behavior for a variety of reasons.  Often anxiety, fear or territoriality instincts can be underlying motivations.  Inherited personality traits and environmental factors also significantly influence a dog’s personality. For example, a dog brought up in an abusive or neglected manner can become aggressive since, quite understandably, having experienced many bad experiences in his world and very few good ones, he will tend to assume worst-case scenarios for most of his future life experiences.

         Fortunately, however there are a few measures that you can take to help keep your pet safe from these potentially dangerous individuals.  First and foremost, try to find safe areas for you and your dog to walk and play, away from areas where you may expect dogs to be out running unsupervised and loose. However, this does not mean keeping your pet away from all dogs since all dogs, particularly young ones, significantly benefit from socialization with other dogs.

     Young dogs need to learn the body language of other dogs as well as human body language to coexist with dogs and humans and feel worthwhile, confident and secure in their daily life experiences. For example, your pup needs to learn that growling and baring of teeth, staring, snarling and lip lifting are all clear signals by another dog of these individuals drawing a line in the sand that he best not cross. 

       It also pays for you, as well as your pet, to learn to interpret correctly that a dog approaching with his body curved is usually communicating that he is not interested in an attack, while one approaching with a straight and stiff body with or without his hackles raised, is a sign of attack-mode intentions. A relaxed, loping gait generally means a curious and playful dog while an even, beeline run towards the two of you means be very wary!

        Early training of your pup to teach him or her to return immediately to your side in response to your voice command or to the sound of a clicker can be a very useful safety measure to make use of if you sense that a dangerous situation may be unfolding. In the event of a challenge by a loose dog, it is very important to keep yourself very calm, standing tall and still and with your dog close at your side, ideally seated, with the both of you facing the dog. Since the aggressor is generally more interested in your dog as a target rather than you are, it is important to keep your dog calm and still.   Often, basic commands such as “GO HOME”, or DOWN or “GO AWAY” spoken in an authoritative tone will be all that is needed to cause him to slink down and retreat.   Even if this is the case do not turn your back to him or he may seize the opportunity and return to attack. 

         Often pebbles are handy on the ground to pick up and throw at the dog to scare him off.  Also, if you have come prepared for your outing, an umbrella that opens quickly and easily in your hand can be very useful tool to shield you both from the other dog. Another useful aid is a squirt bottle containing water, a water and vinegar mix, or a commercial dog repellent spray.  Again, as mentioned above, do not turn your back to the retreating dog but back away slowly until you are out of his immediate range to avoid him returning for another attack attempt. Also be very careful about using pepper spray or mace since if you are downwind, the spray may affect you and your pet way much more than the challenging dog.

         If the aggressive dog is actually locked onto your pet, a cloth coat thrown over his head may be confusing or scary enough to cause him to let go and retreat. Another very useful method to separate the two animals is to grab his back legs and elevate them into the air while you step back, pulling him away from your pet.

          Vets are accustomed to dealing with the challenges of healing injured pets that have sustained dogfight injuries.  Hidden damage to torn or compressed tissues or body organs is the rule rather than the exception.  Sometimes vital organs such as the liver, spleen, lungs or intestines are damaged very severely, and even if this isn’t the case, the infection rate occurrence is very high from bite wounds.   Further, even if a dog attack victim is not seriously injured it can develop phobias or other temperament problems resulting in him becoming defensive or very fearful about all dogs in general. 

        If your neighborhood has a problem with roaming dogs it is best to involve the animal control authorities in your area. It is important to keep in mind that loose dogs are in danger too since unsupervised dogs can be accidentally hit by vehicles, or injured in other ways while running at large.  So you are acting in their best interests by stopping their roaming activities.

 

  Please note: 

Internet access to some notes by Kathy Diamond Davis, an author and trainer has been a helpful source of some of the information for this article.   (Veterinary Partner, published 11/15/2004)


 

 

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