When Good Dogs Turn Bad

A dog's bite may be worse than its bark -- especially if the pooch isn't feeling well. A new study has determined that dogs brought to a veterinary behavior clinic for biting children most often didn't have a previous history of biting. The research, which was conducted by a team of experts from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, found that about half of the 111 dogs in the study had preexisting medical conditions that may have triggered the lash out.

These Medical ailments that triggered lashing out included hip dysplasia (and the associated arthritic pain), compromised vision, itchiness and ear pain, says one of the study's authors, Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Reisner cautions that the association between bad behavior and illness in half of the dogs in the study doesn't imply that medical problems were the cause of the bad behavior. Some dogs are aggressive, and that needs to be treated as a behavioral issue. But veterinary experts say it's quite common for canines that have never shown any aggressive traits to snap, bite and show other signs of agitation when they are ill -- and particularly when they have chronic conditions.

Since your pet can't speak, here's how you can read the signs that something is physically wrong with your dog before it, too, may snap.

Signs That Your Dog Is Ill
Most people can recognize when a canine is sick to its stomach because it may leave behind telltale visible evidence, but other ailments are much harder to detect. In addition to physical symptoms, you should look out for behavioral signs. There are two main categories of behavior that can signal red flags:

  • Lethargy The most common indicator that a dog isn't feeling well is not aggression -- it's depression, or lethargy, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor at Texas A&M University. "The most common changes would be where the dog becomes less active, doesn't want to eat or eats less, tends to sleep more and tends to interact with the family less," Dr. Beaver says. "This is a common sign associated with fever, although it can be the result of other things, too, such as an upset stomach."
  • Aggression Another behavior that can be an indicator of a pet ailment is unusual aggression. In this sense, dogs have a lot in common with humans. "If I have a headache, I get grumpy. My fuse is shorter," Dr. Beaver says. "We don't know that dogs have headaches per se, but if they have a chronic pain, such as arthritis, or if they have an ear infection, they hurt. It eats at them. Their fuse is shorter, too." Little things that would not have bothered your pooch in the past suddenly become transgressions that merit a growl or even a snap. This is particularly of concern if children are in the household. Many children tend to want to hug, pick up or be physical with the family pet. A growl or nip may be the dog saying, "Leave me alone," says Dr. Beaver. But you should read these warning signs and take action before the interaction gets that far -- or worse.

Steps To Prevent Bad Behavior
Many dogs would never bite, snap or growl at humans, Dr. Beaver says. Like numerous other behaviors, it depends on the individual pooch, its inherent temperament, and even the background of the pet. If the dog was rescued from an abusive situation, you may not know whether the pup will respond with aggression to pain. Here are some steps that you can take to try to prevent a situation from ever getting that far.

  • Yearly veterinary exams These are a must to keep tabs on your pet's possible physical ailments. Dogs that come down with many diseases, such as cancer, liver problems, eye disease, etc. don't show obvious physical signs until the disease is quite advanced. Beaver recommends that you ask your veterinarian to do a complete physical exam, including blood tests, on your pet each year.
  • Treat ailments sooner rather than later If you see outward signs of sickness in your pup --scratching more than usual, a red "hotspot" on their body, or limping or crying when it jumps into the car -- it's important to have those symptoms treated as soon as possible. Ailments such as joint pain, ear infections or dental pain "can increase irritability," Dr. Reisner says.
  • Never leave small children alone with pets Pet owners need to constantly supervise whenever youngsters and pets are together. "Little kids don't mean to hurt, but they don't think. They may do things that scare or hurt the dog," Dr. Beaver says. Petting from a child may feel like slapping to the dog. And kids screaming and yelling may even frighten a pooch. "Even the most loving, trusting dog in certain situations can react," Dr. Beaver says.
  • Dogs should always have a quiet place to go Your home should have a place where the dog can go to escape noise, children, and other potential annoyances -- but especially when it's ill. This may be created by putting up a dog gate or by placing a dog bed in a quiet area of the basement. Make the quiet place warm, cozy and easily accessible for a sick pup. Dogs with arthritis may be uncomfortable lying down outside or on a cold floor. Similarly, walking up and down stairs to get to their escape place might be difficult.

Reisner says that her research on children who are bitten by dogs holds some important messages for dog owners -- and parents, in particular. Illness can increase the risk of aggressive behavior in dogs, even those with no predisposition to aggression. "When they're not feeling well, they need to be treated with some extra caution," she says. "Leave a dog alone if it's setting itself apart or moves away to the other side of the room. Don't let a child interact with the dog. And, if the child is too young to listen to those guidelines, put up a gate." Both dog and child may not appreciate the temporary solution, but they'll be better off because of it.

Photo: Corbis Images

How to Prevent 5 Common Dog Illnesses

A few simple steps on your part could mean more years of happy times with your dog. You are likely your dog’s primary health advocate, playing a critical role in your pet’s continued good health and long life.

Too often, illnesses and injuries that affect a dog’s health and even shorten its lifespan are easily preventable, say the experts. Yet it needn’t take great effort on your part to avoid these canine health problems. “That’s how most of life is,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “We find ourselves in these predicaments sometimes when we could have easily done the right thing. Most of the common dog diseases can be avoided.”

Helping to Prevent Dog Illnesses

You can hopefully look forward to a number of years filled with games of fetch, rambles on the beach and other pleasures of dog companionship if you work to prevent these health problems, say Dewhirst and other veterinarians.

Heartworm
“Heartworm tops the list,” says Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta. The heartworm is a parasite spread through the bite of mosquitoes. Heartworm disease, which affects the lungs and sometimes the heart, can be fatal if untreated. “Heartworm is such a devastating disease, and it can almost be totally prevented,” says Jones. Consistently administer a monthly preventative, such as Revolution, to protect your pooch, he advises. In the past, dog owners in cold-weather areas might not administer prevention during winter months. However, the disease is spreading, and it’s critical to treat your dog year-round. “Get the monthly Revolution and don’t worry about it,” he says.

GI Upset
Your dog’s upset tummy is likely preventable, according to Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. “Pets’ GI tracts are not equipped to handle all sorts of different protein and carbohydrate sources as ours are,” explains Nelson. “We routinely eat high-fat, high-protein or sugar-loaded foods, though they might not be the healthiest options. Our pets, however, are accustomed to a more controlled diet.” Even the smallest morsels of people food can lead to anything from diarrhea to pancreatitis in your dog. Limit your dog’s diet to canine food.

Diabetes

Nelson considers this debilitating illness to be the No. 1 preventable disease in veterinary medicine. “Obesity is the predisposing factor to this awful disease, and the way to avoid it is to keep your pets slim and trim,” she says. Practice portion control as you feed your dog, and provide regular exercise. Diabetes can lead to multiple health problems for your dog, such as heart and kidney problems. “Weight is a big thing that contributes to disease, and it’s one of the things that owners can directly have some control over,” advises Dewhirst.

Dental Disease

Your dog’s dental health has implications throughout its body, notes Nelson. “Dental disease has been linked to heart disease, kidney and liver disease and even some cancers,” she says. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly, and ask your veterinarian for advice if you’ve never done this before. Regular veterinary exams will let you know when your dog’s teeth need cleaning.

Injuries and Trauma

Too many emergency veterinary visits could be avoided, says Dewhirst. Make sure fencing is secure if your dog spends time outdoors, and use a restraint, such as a leash, on outings. Dewhirst sees many traumas caused by dogs being bitten by other animals or injured while chasing cars. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help prevent injuries, says Nelson. Don’t engage in bursts of activity (e.g., weekend warrior outings), but look for steady, frequent exercise opportunities.

Take practical steps to prevent illness, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come, says Dewhirst. “Your dog will live into its geriatric years very healthy, mobile and happy.”

What Snoring Says About Your Dog’s Health

Does your dog’s snoring keep you up at night? “We seem to put up with dog snoring more than spouse snoring,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a Laguna Hills, Calif., veterinarian and nationally recognized expert in companion animal health.

Your dog’s snoring, however, is more than an annoyance; it may be an indication of a wide range of health problems. “Any time a dog develops a new sign, such as snoring, it is a good idea to at least check in with your veterinarian,” notes Dr. Lauren Boyd, a veterinarian and an internal medicine specialist with Michigan Veterinary Specialists in Auburn Hills, Mich. “Any change could indicate a new problem. If it’s not a new problem but is progressing, your dog should also see a veterinarian.”

Why Dogs Snore
Any level of snoring indicates something is at last partially obstructing your dog’s airways. Veterinarians say common causes include:

  • Rhinitis Your dog might have a temporary inflammation in its nose. Dogs can catch upper respiratory infections or even suffer from allergies.
  • Fungal disease Aspergillosis is a type of fungal disease caused by a mold found in hay, grass clippings and similar environments. Left untreated, this fungal disease can cause discomfort, loss of appetite and serious health problems.
  • Foreign bodies or tumors Your dog could have inhaled something that is blocking its breathing. Snoring could also indicate a tumor, says Boyd.
  • Dental problems Bad teeth can cause your dog to snore, says Cruz. A bad tooth can lead to an abscess that penetrates the nasal sinus passages. Left untreated, dental problems can become a source of infection for the whole body, advises Cruz, which could lead to kidney failure down the road.
  • Obesity Like humans, our dogs are getting plumper. And just as obesity can lead to snoring in humans, it may cause breathing difficulties in dogs. “As your dog breathes in and out, obesity makes the trachea rings slam shut,” explains Cruz.
  • Breed-related anatomy Brachycephalic breeds -- the breeds with very short noses, such as English/French bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs -- have a natural tendency to snore. But it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure the snoring is normal and not an indication of a health issue, says Cruz. For instance, a pug or Boston terrier might be born with nostrils that are squeezed almost shut. After surgical correction, “the dogs have so much energy. They’re running around and finally breathing,” says Cruz.

How to Help Your Dog
Because snoring can be related to so many different causes, Boyd and Cruz emphasize the importance of having your snoring dog evaluated. You can help your veterinarian by being an observant dog owner. Keep a pet diary to note changes in your dog’s behavior and health so a veterinarian can look for patterns. For example, if your dog was snoring and sneezing last May and again this May, it might have an allergy tied to spring blooms.

Use your smartphone to videotape your snoring dog instead of trying to describe the snores. The volume or pattern of snoring isn’t the only information that will help your veterinarian, says Boyd. “It is often helpful to know if the snoring is accompanied by sneezing, nasal discharge or nasal bleeding,” she says. “It is also helpful to know if the discharge or bleeding affects both sides of the nose or just one.” If the nasal discharge is watery, your dog is likely suffering from an allergy or something similar, says Cruz. A mucous-laden or bloody discharge is an indication that your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately.

Don’t simply tolerate your dog’s snoring. “It can really decrease your dog’s quantity of life and your dog’s quality of life,” says Cruz. “If you’ve ever had that really bad cold and can’t breathe and can’t eat, then you know how hard it is to live with a breathing problem.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/tshortell

Could You Recognize Dog Flu?

“Flu” seems to be a catchall word used to describe many different illnesses, from human flu to avian flu. Now, dogs can catch dog flu. But do you really understand the symptoms, treatment and prevention of this potentially life-threatening illness?

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines about canine influenza (aka dog flu). Ruben Donis, chief of the Molecular Virology and Vaccines Branch of the CDC’s Influenza Division and other experts help answer key questions about this disease.

How did canine influenza first emerge?
The canine influenza virus was first identified in 2004, but scientists believe it was around for a while beforehand. “We have demonstrated that the virus was in the greyhound population as early as 1999, and we speculate it was likely introduced sometime before that,” says Tara Anderson, a researcher at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. She and others first became aware of it due to numerous outbreaks of respiratory disease among dogs at racing tracks.

Donis explains that the virus causing the flu, called H3N8, was known to exist in horses for more than 40 years. “Scientists believe that the virus jumped species, from horses to dogs, and has now adapted to cause illness in dogs and spread efficiently among dogs.”

Can it spread to humans?
There are no known cases of humans suffering from H3N8. “This is a disease of dogs, not of humans,” says Donis.

What are the symptoms?

  • Affected dogs may show the following symptoms: cough, runny nose, fever, pneumonia (but, as with humans, only a small percentage of dogs get pneumonia).

How does the illness spread from dog to dog?
Airborne transmission is the primary way canine influenza spreads, according to Annette Uda, founder of PetAirapy LLC, an Illinois-based company that specializes in air-purifying systems for the pet industry. “When an infected dog coughs or sneezes, it releases the virus into the air. The virus, which is in the form of droplet nuclei, is able to survive for hours -- and in some cases much longer -- on dust and dander until it is inhaled by another animal, causing infection.”

Can any dog get the disease?
“Nearly all dogs are susceptible to infection,” says Donis. About 80 percent will just get a mild form of the disease. A lower percentage can get pneumonia and suffer more severe cases. Among that group, the fatality rate is between 5 and 8 percent.

How is canine influenza treated?
It is important to first confirm the presence of H3N8 via tests -- either on blood or respiratory secretions or both. Once the disease is confirmed, treatment largely consists of supportive care, such as taking steps to ensure your pet is well-hydrated. “Broad-spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed by your veterinarian if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected,” says Donis.

How can you help prevent your dog from catching canine influenza?
Try to keep your dog away from other dogs that might be ill. Dogs in close quarters, such shelters and racing facilities, are more susceptible to this disease. “It’s very much a proximity issue,” says Ron Schultz, chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. “Open-air spaces like dog parks, however, carry a much lower risk.”

Schultz helped formulate a vaccine for dog flu, which is now widely available. He recommends it for dogs that are at high risk of infection, such as dogs that regularly go to doggy day care facilities or participate in dog shows. “Even if you have 20-30 percent of dogs vaccinated, that would make a difference. It’s a group thing,” explains Schultz. “It only takes one of those dog flu outbreaks, and then people really start to think. It’s not ‘mild’ for the dog that dies.”

What should you do if your dog has a cough?
Coughing in dogs is frequently associated with a contagious illness, just as it is in humans. Take your pet immediately to the vet for a checkup. This is for the sake of your furry pal, and also for that of other dogs that might catch the illness. Older canines and those with weakened immune systems are likely more susceptible to severe forms of the virus.

If your dog is diagnosed with canine influenza, keep it away from other animals. “Clothing, equipment, surfaces and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease,” advises Donis.

Are You Protecting Your Dog’s Health?

We all want our pets to live healthy lives, but are we as informed as we should be? Take this quiz and see how you measure up.

1. I schedule basic veterinary checkups for my adult dog:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. When needed

Optimal answer: b. Twice a year

Although annual visits are a good start, twice-yearly exams are your best insurance against hidden diseases. “I also recommend checking your pet’s blood test and urinalysis once a year in patients over 7 years old,” says Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in North Carolina.

2. I give my dog a bath using:

a. Dog shampoo

b. My shampoo

c. Baby shampoo

Optimal answer: a. Dog shampoo

“Though we often treat our dogs as our kids, they aren’t,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian in California. “A dog’s skin is much more fragile than ours, with a very different pH. Using our shampoos -- even a baby’s shampoo -- can strip a dog’s skin of its protective oils.”

3. I check my dog’s ears:

a. Once a year

b. Every few months

c. Every few weeks

Optimal answer: c. Every few weeks

Ear infections are common but preventable. “If the earflap is red and inflamed; if the canal is narrow, has a heavy buildup of debris or is smelly; or if touching your dog’s ears is painful; you have a problem that needs to be addressed,” says Cruz.

4. My dog gets its teeth cleaned:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. Once a year

Annual cleanings are recommended, but Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson -- a Virginia-based veterinarian who is a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council -- says some dogs need more. “Just like some people have more cavities, some dogs have more severe dental disease than others. Your veterinarian will be able to determine how often they need those teeth cleaned,” says Nelson. Between cleanings, brush your dog’s teeth at least weekly.

5. I bring my dog for vaccine renewal:

a. Yearly or sooner

b. Every three years

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. or b. Yearly or sooner, or every three years

Core vaccinations are given every three years, but many others last a year or less. Go over this with your veterinarian and know the schedule for each vaccine.

6. The best way to exercise my dog is:

a. Go for daily walks

b. Give him free reign of the backyard

c. Take occasional trips to the dog run

Optimal answer: a. Daily walks

Dogs left outside alone do not self-exercise. And while trips to the dog run are great, the most important thing is consistent exercise. Daily walks, as long as they’re substantial, are the basis of a good exercise routine.

7. I feed my dog:

a. Table scraps

b. Bones

c. Only dog food

Optimal answer: c. Only dog food

“An occasional bite of people food is OK, but a good-quality dog food is the foundation for a health-filled life,” says Cruz. Dogs love a big bone, but they’re dangerous to intestinal tracts -- especially cooked bones, which splinter easily.

8. My dog’s mealtime schedule is:

a. Once a day

b. Twice a day

c. I keep the bowl full all day

Optimal answer: b. Twice a day

A perpetually refilled bowl is a no-no that can lead to obesity, and Cruz says feeding only once daily can negatively alter metabolism. Three times a day is acceptable if portions are controlled. “The most important weapon against obesity is a measuring cup,” says Ward. “Find out from your veterinarian how many calories your dog needs each day and feed that amount to your pet.”

9. My dog’s food bowl is made of:

a. Plastic

b. Ceramic

c. Metal

Optimal answer: b. or c. Ceramic or metal

“Many dogs become sensitive to plastics and may develop skin issues if fed from plastic bowls,” says Ward. Plastic is also more likely to retain bacteria.

Score:

Eight to nine correct: Congratulations! You’re doing a great job safeguarding your dog against medical problems. But remember that as your dog ages, you’ll need to adapt too. Maintain a close relationship with your vet, and your dog will live a long and happy life.

Five to seven correct: Looks like you’ve got a decent foundation when it comes to safeguarding your dog against medical problems, but there’s room for improvement. Go back over your incorrect answers and take action on them!

Zero to four correct: Oh no! We’re sorry to say it, but at 50 percent or less, you scored an F. You’ve got some work to do with safeguarding your dog against medical problems.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/skynesher