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Parenting Emotionally Challenged Pooches

In the last few months, we’ve been besieged with images and stories of destruction, the magnitude of which is difficult to comprehend: Australian floods, New Zealand earthquakes, and most recently the devastating earthquakes and tsunami in Japan. While the loss of human life and the impact on the human survivors makes up the majority of the coverage, we know that many of these people included pets in their families. What are the lasting impacts on behavior of the surviving companion animals? Is it true, as many people believe, that the emotional scars caused by trauma (whether it’s due to a natural event like an earthquake, or an unnatural act like physical or mental abuse) can lead to fearful or aggressive behavior? Just how common is emotional scarring in companion animals? The answers to these questions may surprise you.

The unfortunate companion animals affected by recent environmental catastrophes are likely experiencing what we call “post traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD). PTSD is a recognized anxiety disorder induced by exposure to life-threatening trauma. Widely recognized as a diagnosis for people, PTSD has actually been studied in non-human animals, too. Research has actually shown that the brains of traumatized animals exhibit chemistries that differ from non-traumatized animals! True PTSD, however, is relatively rare in companion animals, developing as a result of a significant life-threatening event or predatory trauma.

If your dog has undergone a traumatic event, there are warning signs of PTSD, which include hiding, loss of house training, barking, loss of appetite and diminished interest in interacting with his human companions. It can also include out-of-character aggression. If your dog ever does go through a life-threatening or catastrophic event, veterinarians recommend providing a safe, secure area such as a crate, bathroom or laundry room, where your dog can get away from noise, people and other pets. Put familiar, comforting objects in the space, such as their own bed, favorite toys and/or an article of your clothing. Try and maintain a consistent routine, especially with regards to feedings, walks and play times. Like the traumatized pets in Australia, any pet that undergoes life-threatening trauma needs safety, a dependable routine, behavioral (and perhaps medical) intervention as soon as possible.

What about fear and aggression in non-traumatized dogs? We already know that true PTSD in dogs is rare, but too many shelter animals have been rescued from abusive or neglectful situations, so it’s not unusual for them to have fear or aggression issues.

Believe it or not, some dogs are genetically predisposed to experience heightened fear. Just as people can be shy or outgoing, dogs show similar personality inclinations. Other dogs will experience fear due to a specific trauma, such a frightening thunderstorm. While some argue that abuse, especially for young dogs, leads to PTSD, what is more likely is that rescue animals are simply poorly socialized during the critical developmental period between 3-16 weeks of age. At this age, puppies undergo a rapid learning process, making it the ideal window of opportunity for socialization. When puppies fail to encounter appropriate socialization during this critical period, they can develop fear or aggression later in life.

Even though they present challenges, negative experiences or insufficient socialization don’t have to define your dog’s long-term personality. Fortunately, there are ways to work through emotional issues. In this episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah talks about how to recognize the symptoms of fear and aggression, and how to deal with some of these issues.

What challenges have you experienced in parenting a companion animal with emotional or social problems? What helped you work through these issues? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

All winter, our feet have been bundled and sequestered within dank socks, booties or other protective gear. But take heart … spring is in the air! Ladies, let’s celebrate by shedding our boots and letting the dogs out, giving our ten little puppies room to breathe. After months of hibernation, let’s give our toes some much needed attention with a long-overdue and well-deserved pedicure." />

It Is Toe-tally Springtime

Toes

All winter, our feet have been bundled and sequestered within dank socks, booties or other protective gear. But take heart … spring is in the air! Ladies, let’s celebrate by shedding our boots and letting the dogs out, giving our ten little puppies room to breathe. After months of hibernation, let’s give our toes some much needed attention with a long-overdue and well-deserved pedicure.

For some of us, just uttering the word “pedicure” can make our toes curl. Of the women who enter salons everyday for pedicures, a percentage exit with an unwanted visitor - fungus! Even the highest caliber salons can’t completely guarantee against fungal contamination. If you’re a victim, you’ll not realize it until your toes ache; by that time, it’s too late. More...

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Thanks to advances in health care and nutrition, our beloved family pets are living longer and longer. Senior pets are becoming the norm rather than the exception, and with the happy increase in the number of furry senior citizens, there has been a shift in health concerns for both veterinarians and pet parents alike.

One area of great concern for veterinarian and dog parent alike is the decline in a senior dog’s cognitive abilities or brain function. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, or CDS for short, is the term vets use to describe a degenerative brain disorder in senior dogs. Often, when pet parents are talking to their veterinarian, they will share that their senior citizen is uncharacteristically disobedient or soiling in the house. Other tell-tale signs of CDS include generalized anxiety (pacing or panting), confusion, decreased grooming habits, a changed appetite, acting depressed and forgetting regular habits. Signs of CDS are typically irreversible and progressive, but with effective treatment and management, the signs can be slowed and some can even be reversed. It is important to know that many of the signs of CDS can be confused with other diseases, such as hypothyroidism, arthritis or even dental disease, so if your senior dog is acting differently, schedule a full checkup with your local veterinarian.

One of the first questions pet parents usually ask when their veterinarian mentions the possibility of CDS is, “Is it like Alzheimer’s?” The answer is “Sorta.” CDS shares many similarities to symptoms of Alzheimer’s in humans, including similar microscopic changes and oxidative damage to brain cells that correspond to the severity of the disease. In fact, the two diseases are so similar that many of the treatments that are used in Alzheimer’s were first developed in dogs.

So if your dog has been diagnosed with CDS, what can you do? What about if you want to be proactive and take steps now to decrease the likelihood that CDS will mar your best friend’s golden years? In this video, Dr. Sarah goes over recent advances in treatment and prevention of canine cognitive syndrome.

References:

Cotman, C. W. et al. 2002. Brain Aging in the Canine: a Diet Enriched in Antioxidants Reduces Cognitive Dysfunction. Neurobiology of Aging 23: 809–818

Borra’s, D., Ferrer I., and Pumarola, M. 1999. Age-related Changes in the Brain of the Dog. Vet Pathol 36:202–211.

Dimakopoulos, A. C. and Mayer, R.J. 2001. Aspects of Neurodegeneration in the Canine Brain. Waltham International Symposium: Pet Nutrition Coming of Age.

Lansberg, G. 2005. Therapeutic Agents for the Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Senior Dogs. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 29: 471-479.

Milgram, N.W. et al. 2002 Landmark Discrimination Learning in the Dog: Effects of Age, and Antioxidant Fortified Food, and Cognitive Strategy. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 26: 679–695.

Fahnestock M, Marchese M, Head E, Pop V, Michalski B, Milgram WN, Cotman CW. BDNF increases with behavioral enrichment and an antioxidant diet in the aged dog. Neurobiol Aging. 2010 May 4.

Five Essential Nutrients for Skin and Coat Health

Dr Jane BicksKeeping your companion animal’s skin healthy and coat shiny can prove challenging. Even though you might already feed a quality food, and brush and shampoo regularly, there’s more to this area of pet care than you might think. Veterinarians will tell you that the condition of the skin can be a good indicator of a pet’s overall health and nutrition status. That’s why wise pet parents should monitor their companion animal for any of these tell-tale signs …

• Dry, flaky skin or a dull, brittle coat
• Oily, foul smelling skin or a matted coat
• Thin coat, excessive hair loss or red, blotchy skin
• Excessive scratching (especially, seasonally)

The skin is the largest organ in the body and requires proteins and other nutrients. It’s not surprising that subtle changes in the amount of nutrients supplied to the skin can have a noticeable affect on its overall condition.

Fortunately, many pets eat complete-and-balanced pet foods that meet the nutrient profiles specified by expert panels and regulatory bodies. However, there are other factors that can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Pet foods that are improperly stored in the home, or in warehouses for many months without climate control prior to entering your home, can have reduced nutrient availability. Deficiencies may also arise when an animal is unable to digest, absorb or utilize nutrients as a result of genetic, environmental or stress factors, or some diseases. Even if your companion animal eats a nutritious diet, her skin takes a backseat to the rest of her organs … in essence, only receiving the “leftovers”. Therefore, I believe it’s important to supplement with additional nutrients, to help your furry one achieve skin and coat health. More...

Show Your Heart Some Love with Omega-3

Heart With Stethoscope

February is not just for lovers anymore. The American Heart Association (AHA) has officially dubbed February “American Heart Month”. So, what better time to start showing your heart more love than in February? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims that heart disease is the leading cause of deaths in the United States. Both the Mayo Clinic and the AHA suggest that consuming 2-3 (3.5 ounce) servings of omega-3 rich foods a week can help support a healthy heart. More...

Six Ways to Whittle Your Pet’s Waistline

Dr Jane Bicks According to a 2009 study published by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 34 million dogs and 54 million cats are classified as overweight. Sadly, these staggering numbers continue to rise. Just like in humans, obesity is now the biggest health threat to pets in the U.S. Excess weight lowers metabolism, increases appetite and can worsen other medical conditions, such as arthritis and respiratory problems.

If your pet needs surgery, extra fat can make it more difficult for a surgeon to operate and increase the chances of complications with anesthesia. With nearly half the nation’s pet population afflicted with weight issues, chances are you or someone you know has a pet that is affected. Here are six tips to help your pet shed unwanted pounds and keep the weight off for good.

1. Increased Awareness

There are two main causes of obesity in pets: too many calories and too little exercise. Secondary factors can also come into play, such as genetic factors of a given breed or the sex of the animal. A quick online search will reveal whether or not your breed is prone to weight gain. And be aware that neutered, middle-aged and female pets are more likely to have weight issues. More...

Feline Hyperthyroidism

Since the late 1970’s, there has been a significant increase in the prevalence of feline hyperthyroidism, making it the most common feline endocrine disorder in the world. What causes hyperthyroidism, and why is it so common? Previous studies of cats in the U.S., Great Britain and New Zealand have identified a number of risk factors for the development of hyperthyroidism, including genetic predispositions, the feeding of some canned cat foods and cross-breeding. Furthermore, some veterinarians believe feline hyperthyroidism is simply an outcome of cats living longer. But, if thyroid dysfunction is symptomatic of old age, why is it not more common in dogs, or people for that matter?

Veterinarians first noticed a dramatic surge in feline hyperthyroidism in the 1980’s. This rise coincided with the prevalent use of PBDE’s as a flame retardant in many products. A chemical flame retardant used widely in carpet pads, furniture, and electronics, PBDE (or, polybrominated dephenyl ethers) were researched in a recent EPA study that suggested that these chemicals may partly explain the current epidemic. PBDE’s linger in the environment, and cats ingest the substance in both foods and by licking their fur which retains house dust laced with toxic PBDE particles. Furthermore, studies have also shown a link between hyperthyroidism and BPA in the lining of many canned cat foods. Life’s Abundance is proud to inform our consumers that the lining in our canned foods is BPA-free.

An Environmental Science & Technology study reported in 2007 looked at whether hyperthyroid cats had greater body burdens of PBDE’s, and found that all cats have high levels compared to humans, with some cats with incredibly high levels (Dye et. al, 2007). The potential link between feline hyperthyroidism and PBDE exposure may be the veritable “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to evaluating the human health impacts of PBDE’s. People in the United States have the highest PBDE levels reported worldwide, according to a 2004 study also published in Environmental Science & Technology. By gaining a more complete understanding of chronic indoor PBDE exposure and its effects on thyroid hormone levels in cats, medical researchers can better assess whether the same risk exists for people. Researchers believe that further studies need to be performed before concluding a direct link between PBDE’s and feline hyperthyroidism.

There is good news, however. It isn’t necessary to rip up your carpet and throw out your furniture as these chemicals have been or are in the process of being banned in many states. And cats still live longer, healthier lives if they live primarily indoors, and the risk of being attacked by other animals or hit by a car while roaming outside is still much greater than the risk of developing hyperthyroidism from PBDE exposure.

What can you do if your cat has already been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism? What are the symptoms? In this video, Dr. Sarah reviews the signs of hyperthyroidism and treatments available. If you suspect your kitty has hyperthyroidism, schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian.

Potera, C. Environews Forum. Chemical Exposure: Cats as Sentinel Species. Environ Health Perspect. 2007. Dec;115(12)A580.

Wakeling J, Everard A, Brodbelt D, Elliott J, Syme H. Risk factors for feline hyperthyroidism in the UK. J Small Anim Pract. 2009 Aug;50(8):406-14.

2011 - Out With the Old and in With the New

Cosmetics

Do you have a cosmetic “junk drawer” in your bathroom? You know, the one filled to the brim with enough makeup to beautify the entire Dallas Cowboy cheerleader squad! Somehow it’s difficult to bring ourselves to dispose of all the latest (or has been) styles that we have purchased over the years. They’re probably still good, right? However, in many cases, the answer is “wrong!”

Every time we use cosmetics, we expose our products to air, moisture and/or bacteria. Over time, the efficacy of the preservatives in cosmetics diminishes. As a result, cosmetics have the potential to become a breeding ground for bacteria. And when applied to the skin, cosmetics contaminated with bacteria could cause irritation, skin rashes or even worse – an infection! More...

How to Survive Holiday Stress

 

Untitled 1

Stressed Woman

For many people, the holidays are a stressful time of year. Unexpected guests dropping by, entertaining relatives, and finding the perfect gift on everyone’s list are all daunting tasks. To add even more to the holiday pressure, we must still deal with our day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Talk about unwanted stress!

Stress is the body’s normal form of defense. When faced with danger or discomfort, your body reacts in a ‘fight or flight’ mode as a form of protection. If your body is subjected to constant, repetitive and stressful situations, without time to restore itself, your health could suffer. More...

Canine Joint Disease 101

Unfortunately, arthritis is one of the most common conditions affecting dogs in America today. In 2008, arthritis was listed among the top ten disease conditions in dogs (source: VPI). According to recent data, there are as many as 10 million dogs currently suffering from the chronic pain of joint disease, and one in five dogs will develop arthritis or joint disease during their lifetimes.

Otherwise known as degenerative joint disease, arthritis is caused by the loss of cartilage that covers the tips of bones in movable joints, such as the elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, etc. Arthritis is generally a wear-and-tear disease seen more often in older dogs. As a result of continual rubbing, the cartilage wears away leaving bone ends exposed to each other. Since there are no nerve endings in the cartilage, no pain is felt until the cartilage is worn away; but when that happens, the edges of bones rub together causing pain and inflammation.

Arthritis can also occur in younger dogs as a result of genetic conditions, such as hip and elbow dysplasia. Canine arthritis is similar to human arthritis in that it cannot be cured, but the silver lining is that arthritis in dogs is not a hopeless condition. There are many effective treatments available to ease symptoms, slow progression of the disease and to help ensure your dog’s quality of life.

In this video, Dr. Sarah explains how to determine whether or not your dog might be suffering from this all-too-common disorder, as well as tips about how to manage pain and other symptoms should your dog be diagnosed with degenerative joint disease.