Archive for November, 2010

A little while ago, the little girl from next door knocked on my door to ask if I knew where “this dog” lived. “This dog” is a cute little beagle cross, clean, well-kept, neutered, and very friendly. But no collar.

So as the neighbors and I were standing in their front yard debating what to do with “this dog”, their daughter said she thought she might know which house the little guy lives in. So Mom, daughter, and “this dog” hopped into her truck to go see.

They hadn’t been gone 30 seconds when a vehicle came down the road, with the driver hanging out the window hollering for “Atticus”. Atticus? The little guy could be an Atticus. And she described him as a little brown dog…sounded like our visitor.

It wasn’t. So now that’s two little brown dogs with no collars roaming our neighborhood. Wonderful.

About that time, the little boy playing with my neighbors’ son came outside and observed that it looked like his best friend’s dog. Where does your best friend live? Over there somewhere. Does your mom know where your best friend lives? Yeah, sure. Can we call her? Well, you could, but I don’t know her number. (REALLY? Way to go, mom. Let your kid roam the neighborhood alone on a bike without knowing his own phone number.)

Astonishingly, though, he did know his house number, so now my neighbor is on her way to his house to see if his mom knows his best friend’s mom’s number on the off chance that the visiting dog might be his.

In the meanwhile, “this dog” is safely confined to a crate at my neighbors’ house. If it turns out that he doesn’t belong to the little boy’s best friend’s mom, they’ll take pictures of him, make “Found” posters, and do their best to find his people. At least the one visiting my neighbors is safe, while Atticus’ distraught mom is still driving around calling for him.

I know accidents happen, but two lost dogs in five minutes begs the question. WHY do people not supervise and protect their pets better? Not to mention WHY do people not put identification on their pets?!

Not every escaped pet has a happy ending, but identification sure does improve the odds.

Taking your pet into someone else’s home on a holiday presents all sorts of extra potential challenges, especially if lots of people are coming.

First, check out the environment. What other pets are there? Are they friendly? Is yours? No one needs a dog fight in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner because the visiting dog decides to play with the host dog’s toys. Is the environment safe? Is the yard fenced appropriately? Are the floors clean enough? (I know, tacky. But let’s be honest. People drop all kinds of things, and we don’t want our pets to be the ones to find them.)

Second, check out the guest list. Is your pet okay with adults but not with kids? Then you definitely need to know whether Cousin Mary is bringing her 5 small children. Does your pet do well with individuals, but get overwhelmed in a crowd? Come prepared. Bring a crate or play yard you can set up in a back room to keep your pet safely away from the commotion. Is one of the guests definitely not a pet person? Then don’t invite him, because there is something seriously wrong. Or if that’s not avoidable, keep your pet as far from the weirdo as possible to avoid any potential incidents.

Third, make sure people understand the rules. Don’t allow anyone to feed your pet but you or someone you trust to feed him correctly. No table scraps, no plate licking. Watch your pet closely when small children or non-pet-people are present; keep him on leash if necessary to maintain control of the situation. Make sure your pet isn’t underfoot while people are cooking; hot grease and boiling water are dangerous to both people and pets. And don’t allow anyone to just let him dash in and out of the house at will unless you are totally certain that the yard is escape-proof and the gates are closed.

If you’re going to bring your pet to someone else’s home, do everything you can to protect your pet from new people and unknown surroundings, while also making sure your pet does not get put into a stressful situation that could cause him to behave badly. With a few precautions and some common sense, everyone including the dog can have a Happy Thanksgiving!

As the holidays approach, and the traffic quadruples, it occurs to me that many of us will be travelling with pets. Taking our pets along for the holidays can be lots of fun, but it can also expose our pets to a lot of stress and potential hazards.

Car Travel

First, when travelling by car with your pets, please restrain them in pet seatbelts, car seats, or crates. If you have a small dog who is prone to carsickness, an elevated carseat is a good choice; being able to see out seems to help with the motion sickness. Car seats can be easily purchased from online specialty retailers; seatbelts and crates are available at pretty much any pet retail store in your neighborhood.

Confining your pet in the car keeps him safe; every year both pets and people are injured in vehicular accidents. For example, if the driver has to slam on the brakes, a small dog loose in the back seat can easily become a high velocity airborne projectile; if the dog hits someone in the car, both the dog and the person can be seriously hurt.

Public Places

At rest stops, if you get your dog out to walk him, make sure that he is firmly restrained on a leash, with a collar or harness that fits properly. Many a dog has been lost at rest stops because owners assume that their pets will obey as well in a strange environment as they do at home. And just in case, make sure your pet is microchipped and wears identification with current contact information; I like Boomerang Tags, because they fit flat to the collar or harness and won’t catch on things or make that annoying jingling noise. Bumble’s tag has his name, my number, the vet’s name and number, and also states that he is epileptic.

Hotels

Once you and your pet arrive at your destination, please check out the environment for potential hazards. If you’re in a hotel, check the floors, including behind and under the bed, for anything the housekeeping staff might have missed; all it takes is one blood pressure pill dropped by a previous guest to turn a happy holiday into a frantic and potentially tragic visit to the emergency veterinary clinic.

Before you leave your pet in a hotel room, make sure that you put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign so the housekeepers don’t walk in and accidentally let your pet out. It would be best to crate your pet, too, just to be on the safe side. An anxious pet alone in a strange place may bark or engage in destructive behavior; in a familiar crate with a toy and blanket from home, he’ll feel safer and be much less able to get into trouble while you’re gone.

Next week, we’ll talk about visiting other people’s homes with your pet.

I know I’ve written about this topic before. And I know that most of my readers do spay and neuter. My irresponsible aunt, however, apparently does not. (I won’t name names, but most of you know of whom I speak.)

My aunt is currently on Facebook pushing a litter of accidental puppies that now need homes. Okay, I admit it. They are cute. All puppies are cute. And I’m no better than anyone else – I want to hug them and squeeze them and take them home.

But puppies grow up. And these particular puppies are going to grow up to be quite large. In a world where several million dogs and cats die every year because there are more animals than homes, another litter of accidental puppies should have been avoided. All it would have taken was to spay the female and/or neuter the male.

Last year, a sometime rescuer I know almost lost a dog to pyometritis – a horrible and potentially fatal uterine infection. Had the dog been spayed, this life-threatening illness would have been avoided. Her explanation: she thought we only spay dogs to avoid puppies, so she thought it was better for the dog to just keep her away from males when she was in heat.

Someone else I know lost a much loved family pet to testicular cancer. Again, this condition could have been completely avoided had the dog just been neutered.

There are a number of reproductive diseases and cancers that spaying and neutering avoid completely. Not to mention that spaying and neutering prevent accidental puppies to add to the pet overpopulation problem.

Granted, some animals – those being shown in conformation, or dogs that are being bred to perpetuate good bloodlines – should reproduce for the good of the canine gene pool. But we all know that such is usually not the case.

Advocate for the pet population. Spay or neuter, and encourage your friends and family to do likewise.

My friends in animal rescue have been posting an amazing variety of needy pets to their respective facebook pages over the last couple of days. As I read the back story on each animal, I realize how many of them are in rescues and shelters because their original owners chose a dog whose basic needs and behavioral traits they didn’t understand.

For example: I love Anatolian Shepherds. Every giant pound of them. I didn’t know anything about them before I found Harry abandoned and deathly ill on the side of the road near my parents’ farm. At the time, I thought that this bald, scabby, mangy puppy must have been four or five months old, by the size of his paws. It turned out that he was all of eight weeks old. Well, his hair grew back and he recovered completely; as an adult Anatolian, he is one of the most perfect examples of the breed you could ever hope to find, both in appearance and in temperament. Harry is a very happy boy out there on the farm, with other animals to guard, room to roam, and plenty of good food and attention.

I would have loved to bring baby Harry home with me. But since I currently live in a small house on a small lot in a subdivision, it would not be fair to have an Anatolian in my current circumstances. Why? Well, an adult Anatolian usually weighs well over 100 pounds (Harry weighs at least 150), and requires a considerable amount of space to roam in. Anatolians are livestock guard dogs, and consequently are driven to protect other animals within their purview. They love to sit where they can see over a long distance, they prefer to sleep in the day and guard at night, and at night they tend to bark at potential threats. Harry, for instance, totally ignores the deer who come to drink at the pond, but no coyote in the county would dare cross Harry’s fence lines.

In a subdivision where the houses are close together, over a hundred pounds of nocturnal barking with a big bass voice that rattles the windows five houses away would not be popular. A recent article about Anatolians in Dog World tells us that the majority of Anatolians in rescue are there simply because their original owners had no idea what they were getting into. They didn’t realize how big they get, or expect the snowdrifts of hair when their Anatolians began shedding their undercoats in the spring. There’s one in rescue in Texas (in Killeen, to be precise) right now who was turned in because his owners couldn’t afford to feed him. So these animals are suffering and in some cases are in mortal danger simply because people didn’t do a little research.

Here’s the bottom line: different breeds have different traits and needs that may or may not be appropriate for your particular situation. Do your homework, and make sure the animal you want to bring home is suitable for your circumstances before you commit to the animal.

I mentioned in the last column that my mom’s dachshunds have serious allergies to just about everything. Most pet owners have never experienced their dog having a serious allergic reaction; it can be pretty frightening, if you don’t know what to do.

First, what are the symptoms of a serious allergic reaction? Just like people, dogs can break out in hives, get nausea or acute diarrhea, or develop rapid swelling at the site of an insect or snake bite. Also like people, dogs can go into anaphylaxis, a condition in which the heart races, breathing become obstructed by swelling of the nasal tissue, the larynx swells, the blood pressure drops, and if untreated, the body can go into acute cardiopulmonary failure.

Insect bites, in most cases, produce visible localized reactions – a swollen lesion, itching, redness, possibly even fever or a digestive reaction. Because of the visible reaction to the bite site, insect bites are generally pretty easy to identify. Where they are most dangerous is to the face, because of the possibility of the swelling obstructing breathing.

Vaccine reactions can be particularly ugly. Mild reactions are typically slight swelling at the injection site or a temporary loss of appetite. Severe reactions, however, can jump straight to anaphylaxis. Onset symptoms can include panting, obvious discomfort and anxiety, and accelerated heart rate. Don’t waste time. Grab the Benadryl and call your vet on your cell phone on the way to the clinic.

If you have a pet that is known to react, you have a couple of options. First, you can choose not to vaccinate. Talk to your vet about the dangers of vaccinating a reactive pet versus the dangers of having an unvaccinated pet that might be exposed to a disease. If your pet is extremely reactive, your vet can provide documentation to deal with the legal aspect of not vaccinating.

Second, you can pre-medicate the pet before you vaccinate, so that the preventive is in his system before the allergen hits. Typically, vets will have you administer Benadryl or something similar in advance so that the antihistamine has time to take effect before they vaccinate. How well this works is determined by how reactive your pet is to the vaccine. Realize that vaccine reactions can worsen over time; a pet that didn’t react as a puppy, then began to react mildly, may well develop more serious reactions over time.

In some cases, you can change the way the vaccine is administered. My own dog can take Bordetella injections, but reacts adversely to the nasal form of the vaccine.

The most important piece of information I can share is this: take allergic reactions seriously. Treat them immediately. If it’s a serious reaction, go straight to the vet. Fast. How fast your pet gets treatment can be truly critical.

My mother’s two dachshunds have serious allergies…they’ve been to Texas A&M for testing, they have to eat hypoallergenic food, they can’t even be vaccinated because they react so severely to the vaccines.

Fortunately, most dogs with allergies don’t have this big a problem.

But how do you know if your dog has allergies?

First, many dogs react to environmental allergens and irritants just as people do: sneezing, sniffling, itchy watery eyes, coughing and congestion. Do you smoke? Your dog can suffer respiratory irritation as a result, as well as irritated eyes and even skin problems. Do you use a lot of perfume, or scented candles, or air freshener? The chemicals can irritate your dog’s nose, eyes, and lungs.

Other symptoms of allergies in dogs include scratching, rubbing the face on the carpet to alleviate itchy eyes, licking or chewing on paws, and even hair loss. These are standard canine physiological responses to run-of-the-mill allergies that are more uncomfortable than dangerous. The good news is that these “regular” allergies are generally easily treated by antihistamines; vets often prescribe the same over-the-counter Benadryl that we take for itchy watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose.

Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride is the generic name for Benadryl, and for most dogs, the dosage is one milligram per pound of body weight. NEVER give Benadryl in the form of a combination pill, meaning one that contains other medications as well. The ONLY active ingredient has to be Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride.

Check with your vet before giving Benadryl or any other antihistamine; Benadryl is very safe, but the occasional rare dog may react badly to it. My own dog takes a half dose, because his system does not metabolize medication well. My personal recommendation is to check with your vet and then to try out a half dose to see how your pet responds to it. If Benadryl doesn’t work well for your dog, or makes him really sleepy, your vet can prescribe any one of several other antihistamines.

One reminder: no matter how congested your dog seems, NEVER give a dog any form of decongestant without a specific prescription from your vet. For my own dog, my vet prescribes dexamethazone drops in each nostril; the steroid action reduces the inflammation in the nasal passages and makes it easier for him to breathe. Many people decongestants can make a dog seriously ill or even be fatal. Please read the labels, check with your vet, and make sure you give the right dosage based on your dog’s weight and age.

*Originally run in September 2009

Recently, the topic of breed profiling has featured prominently in local and national news. Unfortunately, there have been several dog attacks, some very serious indeed. Equally unfortunately, media outlets have specifically named pit bulls as the attackers in these cases. The inevitable result is public outcry demanding that local, state, and federal governments ban these “killer dogs”: Breed Specific Legislation.

I’d like to think that the American public is too smart for this.

First, reported statistics show that pit bulls are responsible for approximately 30% of fatal dog attacks in the United States. That’s bad, no getting around it. But here’s what most people don’t know.

First, many of those dogs are only anecdotally pit bulls; the reporting authorities have to write down what they’re told the dog is. The witnesses see a big, scary, aggressive dog, and thanks to the media, they tend to immediately assume it must be a pit bull. Evidence of this phenomenon can be found by playing the pit bull game; players look at a series of pictures, only one of which is a pit bull. Most people, even most professional dog people, can’t pick out the one and only pit bull in the photo array. So the statistics are often skewed by misreporting of the attacking dog’s breed.
(You can try it for yourself:

http://www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html)

Second, did you know that Rottweilers are actually responsible for 50% of fatal dog attacks? Isn’t it interesting how we never see those in the papers? How the anti-vicious-dog people don’t seem interested in banning Rottweilers?

The American Temperament Testing Society (http://www.atts.org/) says that about 85% of the pits they have tested have passed; passing means that they have been exposed to some pretty challenging situations and kept their cool. It confirms that these dogs are suitable family pets and safe to handle in a wide variety of stressful situations. To put this percentage in context, 83% of Rottweilers pass, as do about 84% of Golden Retrievers and 92% of Labrador Retrievers.

Usually, when people hear me quote these statistics, they accuse me of being a pit bull apologist, of lying about the numbers, of not caring about public safety, and in one memorable case, of “feeding my dogs on buckets of baby blood.”

Well, hyperbole aside, here’s the truth. Pits are not my favorite dog. However, as a lifelong dog handler, I have handled pit bulls I would trust with a toddler, and cute, fluffy Pekes, Pomeranians, and Poodles that I would not. As an example, a number of Michael Vick’s hideously mistreated pit bulls – all known to have been fought – have been so thoroughly rehabilitated that they are now used as therapy dogs for the elderly and for sick children. If they were the born killers their critics call them, that would not be possible.

No breed should be banned because a small percentage are dangerous. I do NOT believe in the concept of Breed Specific Legislation, or the government legislating what kind of dog I can own, without regard to the animal as an individual.

I DO believe that breeds may have “tendencies” and breed-related traits about which wise pet owners educate themselves. Not every breed is a wise choice for every situation. I, for example, work long hours and have a small yard; it would unwise of me to have a high energy dog like a Jack Russell, as they require more exercise and stimulation than I can offer.

But most importantly, I also believe that every animal is an individual and should be evaluated as such, not subject to blanket legislation written and passed by panic-stricken city attorneys or prejudiced anti-breed activists. Even trained service dogs would have to be moved or put to sleep under this kind of legislation, without regard for an animal’s documented record of good behavior and service. Ask yourself: could you be the one to put a needle in a dog who had done nothing wrong except be born with a certain bloodline? I would hope the answer is a resounding NO.

Or you could look at it this way: if they ban one dog, there’s nothing to prevent them from coming after mine next. Or yours.