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

Hydrotherapy Helps Dogs Get in Shape for Adoption

Emma, a golden retriever, clearly loves her hydrotherapy sessions at Doggie Paddle in Portland, Oregon. The two and a half-year-old swims for 45 minutes with the water jets blasted on high. And then there’s two-year-old Labrador retriever Seamus. “He won’t get out of the pool unless he’s retrieved four rubber chickens. Not two or three, but always four,” says Julie Thomas, who owns the canine therapeutic swimming and exercise business.

While the sessions might seem like fun and games to Emma and Seamus, hydrotherapy provides important physical therapy to dogs, especially those who have difficulty engaging in regular outdoor activities. “It can be comparable to human physical therapy, only for dogs,” Thomas says.

What Is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy usually involves either a small pool with a treadmill or, in the case of Doggie Paddle, a larger pool with adjustable swim jets that provide resistance. With the latter on high, just a five minute swim can be equivalent to a five mile run. Most facilities keep the temperature comfortable and warm. Chlorine can irritate the skin, coat and eyes of dogs, so look for a pool that offers some other, gentler form of filtration and sanitizing.

Dogs either walk right in or, if they need a bit of help, are carried into the pool. “I had a Great Dane once who just lay in my arms and did not move a muscle,” shares Thomas. “I simply got behind him and moved his legs as though he were riding a bicycle.” This got his circulation going, helping to relax his muscles and improve his joint function.

Which Dogs Benefit Most From Hydrotherapy?

Thomas says that at least seven types of get the most out of hydrotherapy, including:

·         Dogs recovering from surgery. This includes canines that have undergone everything from amputations to hip surgery.

·         Overweight dogs. For pooches with packed-on pounds, swimming provides “a safe, low-impact way to burn calories.”

·         Older dogs. When arthritis kicks in and energy levels slow down, hydrotherapy can still provide your pet with regular exercise.

·         Overactive dogs. Some healthy dogs just have incredible energy to burn. They can work it off safely in the pool without driving your family nuts.

·         Sporting dogs. Dogs that compete in sports, such as agility, gain conditioning from pool time.

·         Dogs -- both literally and figuratively -- on their last legs. Thomas often sees dogs right before they are euthanized, allowing the dogs to naturally relax and providing owners with one final meaningful, shared moment with their beloved pet.

·         Dogs up for adoption. Doggie Paddle is located very near the Oregon Humane Society’s Westside adoption center.

 

How Hydrotherapy Helps Homeless Hounds

Go into any animal shelter, and you’re bound to see dogs looking less than fabulous. They are often stressed, older, out of shape and perhaps feeling unloved. That’s where Thomas’ work comes into play. For the past two years, she’s been donating swim sessions to homeless dogs and improving their chances for adoption.

“They not only get in shape physically, but they also become more socialized and used to handling,” she explains. Karl Willard, an animal care technician at the OHS, believes the shelter is the first in the country to offer this form of enrichment.

Splashy Fun for Owners Too

At some pools, such as the one at Doggie Paddle, owners can go in along with the dog(s). This can lead to a great workout for all, and what amounts to a mini-refreshing pool party.

“Sometimes friends will do this together,” Thomas says. “I have a few clients who bring all six of their bearded collies.” She has yet another client who brings her four dogs -- along with her 5-year-old son.

The Human-Dog Connection

Before starting her hydrotherapy business, Thomas earned a doctorate in adult education and gerontology. She is also certified to do hydrotherapy and massage for dogs. All have come in handy. “In terms of gerontology, the basic concepts concerning many physical issues, emotional concerns, and more carry over to dogs,” she says.

As for massage, many dogs enjoy a soothing rubdown as they enter or exit the Doggie Paddle pool via ramp. “Dogs frequently bark like crazy in their owner’s cars because they can’t wait to get here,” she says. After hydrotherapy, they display another mood, she concludes. “One dog is so relaxed that he drifts into blissful slumber after each session.”

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.”

Dogs Can Improve the Mental and Physical Health of Kids

Just by owning a dog, you are improving your chances of living a longer life. Consider the statistics. Your chances of having a heart attack are reduced by 4 percent, likely due to more regular exercise. A survey of 1,000 Medicare patients found that 40 percent of all respondents with pets went to the doctor far less often than those without a canine friend around. Nursing homes that have companion animal programs are able to reduce their usage of prescription drugs. The good news about dogs just goes on and on.

Now, several compelling studies indicate that dog ownership is particularly beneficial to children, with positive health impacts likely extending into adulthood.

Dogs Protect Against Respiratory Infection Linked to Asthma
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, recently conducted a study that found that the house dust from a home with a cat or dog is distinct from the house dust in homes without pets. That in itself is common sense. But when they further investigated the differences, the scientists discovered that microbial agents in the pet-contributed dust contained microbes, which appear to protect against infection. The illness in question is a common respiratory virus associated with the development of asthma in kids.

Kei Fujimura, a researcher on the study, speculates “that microbes within dog-associated house dust may colonize the gastrointestinal tract, modulate immune responses, and protect the host.” A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics supports the overall determination.

Eija Bergroth of Kuopio University Hospital in Finland studied 397 children from their birth onward. A diary was kept for each child, mentioning the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections, together with info about dog and cat contacts during the first year of life. Kids that were in contact with dogs and cats had fewer instances of infection and, as a result, required fewer antibiotic treatments.

Bergroth and team suspect that “animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system.” It’s therefore possible that early exposure to pets stimulates growing human bodies to jumpstart the immune system, which can then better kick into action to ward off illnesses with a health boost that could extend into adulthood. Some individuals are allergic to pet dander; for these people, the problems probably would outweigh the benefits, but the majority of people are not allergic to dogs.

Dogs May Help Prevent Cancer
Marion Vittecoq and Frederic Thomas of the Tour du Valat research center, who have investigated the possible connections between human health and pets, mention a National Institutes of Health Study by G.J. Tranah and team. It found that dog and cat owners have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The longer the duration of pet ownership, the lower the risk that the individual will suffer from this type of cancer.

Could dogs help prevent other types of cancer? Hopefully future studies can help answer that intriguing question.

Dogs Promote Good Mental Health
So far, we’ve been addressing how dogs can benefit our physical health. Studies also show that canines are good for our mental health too. For example, psychologists at Miami University in Ohio and Saint Louis University conducted multiple experiments to see how pet ownership affects people. Almost to 400 individuals -- with pets and without -- participated.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell of Miami University in Ohio. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

With a dog, we have the added bonus of gaining a new best friend. You probably even consider your dog to be a treasured family member, and for good reason. “Dogs are among our closest social companions because we have bred them for tameness and,

over generations of selection, they have become even more socially compatible with humans,” says Jon Day, a former researcher at Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. “Such social relationships may be characterized by generally harmonious collaboration under

conditions of balanced interests where social partners provide support for each other.”

Day therefore touches on the other positive aspects of pet ownership, such as comfort, companionship and a pleasant, vibrant life force to share one’s days with. The fact that canines may also improve our mental and physical health only adds to the reasons why you should pet your pup frequently with joy and gratitude … and maybe even consider adopting another dog.

Credit: Kasana88    

Doggy 911

Knowing what to do if your dog has a medical emergency can mean the difference between your pal’s life or death. In fact, one out of every four dogs may be saved if a pet first-aid technique is used before the injured animal arrives at a clinic, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Less than 1 percent of pet owners, however, have a pet first-aid kit or have been trained in first aid, estimates Thom Somes, owner of Pet Tech, a company that trains instructors and teaches pet first-aid classes across the country.

How are your own first-aid skills? Aside from calling your local pet emergency hospital or contacting your veterinarian, would you know what to do if your dog faced a sudden medical emergency? If you think your first-aid know-how could use some brushing up, you’re not alone.

Classes Available
Increasingly, dog owners are taking classes to educate themselves about medical first aid for their treasured pals. The American Red Cross, for example, offers dog first-aid classes at a number of its chapters across the country. At many chapters, you’ll find dog first-aid kits and a pooch first-aid book for purchase.

Dogs are so cherished in Carmel, Calif., that the local Red Cross there keeps a stash of dog biscuits in the cookie jar on the front counter. The chapter’s dog first-aid classes are wildly popular, says Sharon Crino, executive director. “We live in an area where pets are like family,” says Crino. “It has been quite a success.”

The American Red Cross provides a directory for such classes on its Web site, as does Pet Tech. Classes include management of emergencies involving bleeding, choking, poisoning and more. Students even practice mouth-to-snout resuscitation on dog mannequins.

Practical Advice
While experts caution that it’s best to receive training in a class, there are basic first-aid practices you can put to use until you complete the training:

  1. Assemble or purchase a first-aid kit You’ll find inexpensive dog first-aid kits online or in pet stores, but Somes recommends assembling your own so that you’ll be familiar with its contents. (The Humane Society of the United States Web site offers a list of items.) Keep a kit at home and in your car. Make sure your kit includes some way to stably transport your dog, such as a blanket you can use as a stretcher. Include vital information in the kit. You’ll want to have your veterinarian’s phone number, poison control numbers and the number and address for an emergency veterinary service in your area. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals maintains a poison control hot line at 888-426-4435. (The ASPCA may charge you a $60 consultation fee if you receive assistance through the hot line.)
  1. Assess the situation Too often, dog owners react without thinking. “Make sure you have ‘scene safety’,” advises Somes, who calls himself “The Pet Safety Guy.” Don’t rush into the street to check on a dog that has been hit by a car, even if it is your own. Somes tells the story of a dog owner who was almost hit by a car herself as she raced to help her furry friend. “If it’s dangerous or appears dangerous to you, you don’t want to become a victim as well,” says Kevin Cole, who teaches the pet first-aid classes for the Carmel American Red Cross chapter.
  1. Anticipate your dog’s behavioral changes If your dog is sick or injured, it may snap at you. Read its body language first and approach cautiously. Look for ears laid flat, hair standing up on the haunches or even a glare. Don’t place your face close to your dog’s face to give comfort. Dog first-aid classes teach muzzling techniques using soft fabric, such as a tie or a length of gauze.
  1. Secure your dog Restraint accompanies muzzling, says Somes. “The dog can actually make the situation worse by moving,” he says. “A dog will run with a broken limb.” It may take two adults to gently restrain a dog using a towel or blanket.
  1. Stay calm Dogs note when your heart rate and breathing accelerate or if your voice escalates in pitch, Somes says. If you can’t be calm, have another adult step in.
  1. Don’t call 911 It’s often our first reaction in an emergency, but it won’t help with your dog. Unless an animal is endangering people, you’ll get no response.

The best way to prepare for an emergency is to know your healthy dog, says Cole. “Recognize what’s normal in your animal. Then, know how to respond when things aren’t normal.” Finally, understand that first aid doesn’t substitute for veterinary care. First aid is only meant to stabilize your pal or to alleviate a life-threatening situation before your dog can receive expert medical attention.