Pets Are Part Of The Family: Poll Results

I was recently interviewed by Megan Scott of the Associated Press.  The AP partnered in a recent poll on people’s view toward pets and their role in the family.  Many of us know this intrinsically, but about half of those polled believe animals are a full and essential part of the family.  Below is a link to the article from my former hometown newspaper in Minneapolis.  You will find some great statistics in this article from the STARTRIBUNE.   


Buddy – A German Shepherd Mix

The morning began like any other.  I placed a collar on Susie and headed out for a walk.  As I locked the front door, Susie began to growl.  There on the driveway, a coyote stood staring at us.  Scratches covered his scrawny body.  The three of us stood looking at each other for a minute before I realized the pathetic creature was a dog, not a coyote.  Susie and I retreated into the house.  I grabbed a cup of dog food and raced back to the driveway.  To my relief, the stray was still there.  He stood at the end of the driveway, not knowing if he should trust me or not.  I poured the food onto the concrete.  When I backed away, he cautiously approached.  He gulped down the food while keeping a wary eye on me.  Clearly, he had not had a good meal in a long time.  His ribs are visible on the photo below as is a look of fear. 

“How am I going to catch him?” I thought to myself.  He stayed more than ten feet away from me at all times.  I got another cup of food and walked towards the back yard, dropping a kibble here and there.  The German shepherd mix followed behind me.  At the back gate, he paused.  His instinct told him to stay out of the confined area but hunger drove him forward.  Reluctantly, he followed me in.  I closed the gate while he gulped down another cup of food!  


For the next three days, I fed him small amounts of food several times a day.  It is vital not to overfeed malnourished animals.  This prevents re-feeding syndrome.  The skittish dog ate well but refused to let me or my husband touch him.  He spent most of the day sleeping on a quilt I left by the back door.  The poor guy was exhausted. 

On the fourth day, I decided to try bribery in the form of a cookie.  I sat on a lawn chair and offered the dog a biscuit.  While he munched, I ran my hand down his back.  A silly grin spread over his face.  He stood like a statue while I gave him a back scratch.  Cactus spines protruded from his fur.  The pads of his feet looked like hamburger.  Obviously, he had been on his own awhile.  I searched all the dog rescue organizations for one who fit his description but alas, no match was found.  He didn’t even have a microchip.  It seemed no one wanted this dog.

As is typical, my heart broke for the German shepherd mix.  So, I decided we would keep him.  The problem was, my husband had not yet attained a like mind.  Granted, he had logical reasons why the stray had to go – but you know how this story ended!  So, he joined our family.  Buddy was obviously abused by a man.  It took many months for him to warm up to my husband Steve particularly when Steve was dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase.  We have now had him over a year and he has become a wonderful pet.  The picture below shows his dramatic improvement.  Happiness has replaced wariness.  As always happens, when we open our hearts and homes to the animals, we receive so much more than we give.  I grew up with German shepherds and it is part of the reason I became a veterinarian.  It is great to have a shepherd mix back in my life again.   


Socializing Orphan Kittens

Raising an orphan kitten is rewarding and also a huge responsibility.  Between late night feedings, stimulating the little ones to void and keeping them warm, it’s a full time commitment.  While most surrogate parents learn to handle the kitten’s physical needs, some may unintentionally ignore their emotional needs.  Out of love, people spoil them.  The indulged little tyke grows into a naughty adult who never learns how to inhibit their bite.  They go off without warning, leaving deep wounds on the people around them.  The once treasured family member becomes a nightmare.  

Fortunately, this scenario can be prevented with proper socialization.  Here are the steps I followed with my own orphan, Genevieve.  Actually, I should have listed her as Genevieve the Magnificent, Queen of all the world . . . (you get the idea).      
1)  Whenever possible, raise orphans together.  The kittens provide companionship and comfort to one another.  They will also teach each other when a bite is too hard and hurts too much.  
2)  The critical window for socialization is between 2 and 9 weeks of age.  If possible, leave kittens with their mother and litter mates during this period.  The queen will teach them a lot about proper behavior those last three weeks. 
3)  Do not let orphans bite your fingers.  While it is cute when they are young, it becomes painful as they age.  Whenever they bite, blow in their face, rattle coins in a can or give them a quick squirt of water to startle them and then remove your finger.  Give them a toy for a substitute.  
4)  When the kitten get a little older, 12 to 20 weeks, this might not be enough to deter them.  With teenagers I hold them by the scruff of the neck and pin them to the ground, like a queen would do with a misbehaving kitten.  Although they are mad at first, they quickly learn to give up.  This technique worked well with my orphan, Genny.
5)  Be very careful not to over stimulate orphans into biting.  When their tails start twitching, break off the interaction.  Give them alone time to calm down.  
6)  Expose them to a variety of humans, cats and other animals.  Do so slowly, in short sessions.  If the kitten appears anxious, stop immediately and return them to their safe spot.  If they are still nursing, give them a bottle.  The act of nursing calms them down right away.

Watching an orphan kitten grow into a healthy adult is a wonderful experience.  The rewards are definitely worth the lack of sleep.  My little orphan will celebrate her 17th birthday next month.  She grew into a wonderful cat who still calls me with a baby mew!        


Excitement Urination In Dogs

Over my career, I observed many people who confuse excitement urination with submissive urination.  The poor guardians stop petting their dog’s head, speak in a quiet voice and ignore the dog when they return home, yet the problem still persists.  Every time the dog gets excited, urine puddles on the floor because the underlying cause is not addressed.  In excitement urination, the sphincter pressure drops and urine flows out of the bladder when the animal is overstimulated.  Successful treatment involves teaching the dog and their people to interact in a calm manner.  Here is how I counsel clients whose pet suffers from this condition.

1)  Always run the appropriate tests, blood work and urinalysis, to rule out medical causes.  If the test results are “within normal limits,” then focus on behavioral causes.
2)  Chronicle the dog’s behavior in a journal.  Document the situation and what occurred right before the dog urinated.  Also record who was present, both human and animal and what they were doing before the “accident” occurred.  Finish with the amount of exercise the dog received.
3)  Study your dog’s behavior closely.  Most display signs that tell you they are getting excited.  Learn to recognize the signs and help the pet calm down before the stimulation is too much.
4)  In my experience, drug therapy to increase sphincter tone does little to help this problem.  The best treatment is to teach the people in the household to avoid overstimulating the dog.   
5)  With the history from the journal in hand, your veterinarian will be able to work with you to identify triggers of the behavior as well as a treatment plan.  In general, I recommend lots of exercise, obedience training and slow deconditioning to the stimuli that caused the behavior.  Let’s look at each more closely. 

Most of the dogs I see with this problem get very little exercise.  The excitement builds all day as they wait for their people to return home.  Schedule 15 to 30 minutes of hard play twice a day, in the morning and evening.  This will burn off some of their nervous energy. 

Teach the dog to relax and settle on command.  Start with basic obedience commands such as sit, stay and heal.  Once your dog understands these commands, work on the ‘settle’ command.  I put them on a down stay, rub their back and say ‘settle’.  Most dogs will roll onto their side and relax.  Keep the interaction short at first.  The goal is to set the dog up for success.  Stop before an accident occurs.

Slowly decondition the dog to whatever caused it to become overly excited in the first place.  Expose them to small doses of the stimulus without taking it any further.  For example, let’s say the dog drips urine every time you pick up their leash.  Put the leash in a conspicuous location, where it is visible to the dog.  Let it sit there without going for a walk.  When the dog is comfortable with that, move the leash around but do not pick it up.  If the dog stays dry, pick up the leash, run it through you hands and then replace it.  Slowly do more and more with the leash, all the while ignoring the dog.  Eventually, they will be deconditioned to the leash.  Remember, to proceed slowly with deconditioning.  Some animals may learn in a few days while others might take several months.     

What Did This Dog Swallow?

The last several posts to ‘You Make The Diagnosis’ have been pretty difficult, so I decided to give you an easy one.  The following is a picture of a dog’s mouth.  It focuses on the base of the tongue (upper right corner) at the back of the mouth.  The questions are;  What did this dog swallow?  How did I get it out?


Diagnosis:  Fish Hook

This dog swallowed a fish hook that was left on a counter.  The hook lodged in the back of the dog’s throat in the soft pallet.  See the point surrounded by blood.  If you look closely, you may visualize the eye just above it surrounded by white, foamy saliva.  The first step in removing the hook involved anesthesia.  This dog would not even let me look at her without it.  Once she was asleep, I cut the hook in half to remove it.  The barb on the tip of the hook and the eye on the other end damage the tissue if you try to just pull it out.  If she had swallowed a treble hook, the same principle applies.  Cut each of the three hooks in half prior to removal.  When she woke up, I sent her home on antibiotics and pain medicine.  As you can tell, a well-equipped veterinary hospital has to hold a variety of surgical equipment.  Many people would not have guessed if queried but standard protocol includes having a wire or bolt cutter or both on hand!     

Submissive Urination In Dogs

Inappropriate urination is a common problem we treat in veterinary medicine.  People have little tolerance for a dog who leaves a puddle on the floor every time they enter the room.  I have to admit, I also find it annoying when dogs flood the exam table and then try to place their wet paws on my face . . . yuck!  My first step in dealing with these patients is to rule out medical causes for the behavior.  If the blood work and urine sample are within normal limits, then I focus my attention on psychological causes.  From a thorough history, I can usually tell if it is a marking behavior, a surface preference, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a break in house training or some form of anxiety-induced behavior such as submissive urination.  Each requires a unique treatment plan so it is vital to make the correct diagnosis. 

For me, the most difficult cause of inappropriate urination to address is submissive behavior.  Not because of the dog, but because of the people.  It is very hard to train some people!  The following are my tips for controlling this problem:

1)  Make sure it is submissive urination, not excitement urination.  Dogs who suffer from submissive urination may tuck their tails between their legs, cower, flatten their ears against their head, roll on to their side or back, avoid eye contact or grin.  Dogs with excitement urination display none of these signs.  These animals love to interact with people.  They get so excited that they lose their sphincter control. 
2)  Avoid threatening or aggressive gestures to the dog.  These include petting the top of the dog’s head, speaking in a loud or deep voice, staring into their eyes or yelling at the dog. 
3)  Be extremely careful with punishment.  Many owners unknowingly cause their dog’s problem  through stern punishment.  The dog does not understand why you are putting their nose in the urine.  Instead of learning not to have an accident, they learn to be anxious around the person who punishes them. 
4)  I advise people to ignore dogs with this problem when they return home.  Take five minutes to put your stuff away or change clothes before acknowledging the dog.  Take them outside to empty their bladder before you interact with them.  Sit or lie on the floor to look less threatening.  Let the dog come to you when they are ready.  Do not force them.  When they approach, speak in a soft voice, pet them on their rump or under their chin.  Some will choose to reward the dog with a treat.  Once they are comfortable, slowly desensitize them to the gestures that used to threaten them. 
5)  Place a DAP diffuser in the area where the submissive urination takes place to help calm down the dog.
6)  Work on obedience with the dog.  Dogs are less anxious when they know what to do.  When my dog gets anxious I order him to sit and stay.  He focuses on the command instead of his fear. 
7)  The really tough cases might need an anxiolytic drug to break the cycle.  Talk to your veterinarian before giving any medication to your pet.

Remember, sometimes we humans exacerbate the problem through our behavior!  Try and think from the dog’s perspective.  Change the verbal and non-verbal clues you exhibit to succeed with the difficult challenge of submissive urination.

Name This Rare Cat Breed

It is my pleasure to introduce Rudy Purrs-alot!  Rudy is large cat with a powerful muscular body.  His long hind legs make him an exceptionally agile cat.  He has an impressive vertical leap.  As his name suggests, Rudy is an affectionate guy who enjoys spending time with people.  I am told he never stops purring around his family.  Study the pictures and answer the following questions:  1) Name the breed.  2) List the three color variations observed with these cats.  (Hint:  This breed has small tufts of hair on their ears that do not show up well in these pictures.)  


Diagnosis:  Chausie – The three color variations are:  brown ticked tabby, solid black and sliver tipped

This breed was created by mating Jungle Cats, Felis chaus with domestic cats.  Hence the name, Chausie.  The wild Jungle cat lives along the Nile River.  Mummified Jungle cats have been found in Egyptian tombs.  Thus Chausies are sometimes referred to as “Nile Cats”.  Chausies have short thick coats that require little grooming.  Males are a little larger than females.  They often tip the scale at more than twenty pounds!  Because of their appearance, some people mistake them for a wild feline.  

Chausies are high energy cats with a never-ending sense of curiosity.  Their antics will amaze and delight you as they explore the environment.  Their inquisitive personality may also cause problems in the home.  It is just a matter of time before a bored Chausie gets into trouble.  For that reason, I recommend a lot of exercise and behavioral enrichment for these cats.  As I have said before, “A tired animal does not get into trouble.”  Fortunately, I have it on good medical authority that Rudy Purrs-alot is exceptional in every way.