Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Bombs Bursting in Air: Fireworks anxiety

This time every year, I dispense sedatives in such quantities that I sometimes feel like a veterinary version of Elvis’s Dr. Nick.  Why the glut of doggie downers flying off our pharmacy shelves?  The Fourth of July, of course!

Pyrotechnics are procured with gusto in the USA, and Independence Day is a misnomer: This celebration lasts about two weeks. And those can be the most anxiety-laden 14 days of the year for many of our canine friends. The flashing lights and booming reverberations of fireworks (and I’ll put thunderstorms in the same category) can be terrifying for them.  When the bottle rockets start hissing and blasting, and your four-legged friend starts pacing, panting, shaking, and trying to “escape,” intervention is in order.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can reduce your dog’s nervousness. Over the years I’ve had many of you pass along hints that you found to be helpful for both fireworks and thunderstorms:

  • You can condition your dog to tolerate storms and fireworks by desensitizing him to the sounds and flashing lights.  This takes time and work on your part and must be started well before the storm and fireworks season begins.
  • Make sure your dog has a microchip implanted and is wearing a collar with ID tags if there’s any possibility he could escape from your yard.  Many dogs run away during fireworks or storms, never to be recovered. Keep him inside in those situations.
  • On the day of the event, make sure the dog is well exercised. That’s not always possible in the case of thunderstorms, but keep a sharp eye on the weather report. If he’s exhausted from chasing his ball, he’ll have less energy to expend pacing and shivering. 
  • Put him in the quietest part of the house, such as a basement, closet, or interior room with no windows.  If there are windows, close the curtains or blinds, and keep the lights on to minimize the effect of flashing light coming from outdoors. 
  • Provide a safe place within the room for him to hide in, such as a crate or a fort made of blankets.  Some dogs actually like crawling into the bathtub!  Cover the crate with a blanket, but make sure the dog won’t get too hot. This hideaway should be accessible to him when you’re not home.
  • If possible, allow him to have human companionship.  Years ago, we were told that trying to comfort an anxious dog would just reinforce the anxiety. But now we know that the loving touch of a dog’s favorite person will go a long way toward alleviating his apprehension. 
  • Provide some white noise to mask the booming:  Turn on a fan, a radio, a TV, or some calming music.
  • To help keep the dog preoccupied, give him a Kong or other treat-dispensing toy filled with something he loves.
  • Buy him a Thundershirt or an Anxiety Wrap.  The constant gentle pressure of those wraps is equivalent to swaddling an infant and helps alleviate angst in some dogs.
  • Drugs!  Don’t be afraid to try them.  Many pet owners are reluctant to “drug their pets up,” but I consider it a kindness if they’re distressed.  Anxiety has a way of escalating into a phobia, at which point even drugs might not help.  As long as we’ve done an exam on your dog within the past year, there’s no need to bring him in.  Just give us a call and we’ll determine the most effective medication.  Some people even have luck with over-the-counter products such as Benadryl.

Now, what doesn’t work: Synthetic pheromones in the form of a collar, diffuser, or spray are touted as a harmless way to abate the jitters in dogs.  Unfortunately, a review of the published literature from 1998 through 2008 failed to support the effectiveness of those products.
The idea of completely eliminating your dog’s emotional suffering from fireworks or thunderstorms might not be realistic.  But by trying a variety of these techniques, along with medication from your vet, you stand a good chance of improving the situation.  It’s time to help your buddy cope with the storm and fireworks season ahead. Do him a big favor:  Be prepared!1

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Take Your Dog to Work Day

The last two dogs I’ve had the privilege to live with were resolutely bonded to me, probably because we spent so much time together. At work, I could always count on feeling their soft muzzles resting on my feet when I sat at my desk. Their daily presence there was comforting, a bridge between work and home.

Veterinarians and their staffs are used to having their own pets with them at work, and on June 26 you’ll have a chance to allow your best friend to accompany you to the office:  It’s Take Your Dog to Work Day.

The event was started in 1999 by Pet Sitters International (PSI) to celebrate the companionship of dogs and to encourage animal adoption. The idea is that when non-pet owners see the loving connection between dogs and their people, it will inspire them to adopt a friend of their own.

Unless you work in a place where dogs are allowed, you’ll need to do some organizing, and the PSI web site provides comprehensive materials to assist you.
First, you’ll need to convince your boss or HR department that this is a worthy cause. The PSI Action Pack will prepare you to address the concerns management might have. You’ll probably need to either volunteer to be the event coordinator or to assign one.

Then you’ll want to decide how to celebrate:  You could simply allow dogs to come to work or host a more elaborate event with contests, games, and prizes. You could even select a local shelter to derive benefit from your event. The PSI web site provides posters, press releases, and signup sheets for your convenience.

Although one of the goals of Take Your Dog to Work Day is to entice non-dog owners to adopt a shelter dog, a rude, unruly pooch could turn a dogless person into a dog hater. If you’re considering taking Fido to your office on June 26, here are a few guidelines to help you make sure he is a welcome guest and a good dog ambassador. 

  1. Have your dog clean and groomed. If she rolls in raccoon scat that morning, game over!
  2. Does the dog get car sick? Check that he’s feeling okay before you go inside. You don’t want him vomiting on the office carpet.
  3. Make sure the dog is reliably housebroken. (You know why.)
  4. At work, keep your dog on a leash or behind a doggie gate. Don’t let her run amok and disturb other employees.
  5. Make sure the dog has been treated with a flea and tick preventive. The last thing you want is an office infestation that will require bringing in a pest control company.
  6. If the dog defecates outside, pick it up and throw it out. (But not in the break room wastebasket.)  
  7. Some familiar toys can help your dog feel comfortable in an unfamiliar place, but don’t bring loud, squeaky ones.
  8. Bring along whatever food or water your dog will need throughout the day. You don’t want him drinking from the water fountain or stealing someone’s lunch!
  9. If your dog is fearful or aggressive, better to leave her at home. Ditto if she’s a barker or a chewer. 

For more advice and guidelines, print a Dogs at Work Policy to distribute to fellow dog lovers at the office who plan to participate.  If June 26 doesn’t work out for your place of business, pick another date; the entire week of June 22-26 is Take Your Pet To Work Week™.
Prepare for this special day, but don’t expect your friend to “work like a dog”; resting her head on your lap is all she needs to do.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

My favorite client

The essence of veterinary medicine is pet care, but there’s another living being holding the leash or hauling in the carrier.  Pet owners can evoke a range of emotions in veterinarians, so there are days we have our favorites.  Only a delusional vet will deny that, though perhaps we don’t like to admit it. 
The person who recently won the dubious honor of “my favorite client of the day” earned my respect because she did everything right:
1. She lost her beloved miniature poodle this year.  Ajax was everything one would want in a mini: He was happy, fun-loving, affectionate, and smart, as well as being a handsome little rascal.  Like any loving pet family, she and her husband took his loss hard.  At first, getting another dog wasn’t on their agenda.  But they weighed the pros and cons of dog ownership, and finally the “ayes” triumphed. 

Thinking it through was a smart move on their part.  If you’re thinking, “Duh! Who wouldn’t?” my reply is, “Lots of folks.”  Ajax’s owners are at the age where their children have flown the nest, and retirement looms.  Being in that stage of life prompts important considerations:  What happens to our dog when we travel?  Will this dog be too big for me to handle when he gets old and arthritic?  Could my dog outlive me?  In fact, every life stage gives rise to questions worthy of scrutiny.

2. The next thing she did that impressed me was to find a good breeder and call me.  She had a health question about a prospective pup, and those of us in the trenches are best equipped to deal with such concerns.  I wish more people would consult veterinarians before they plop the puppy with a loud congenital heart murmur on the exam table, or bring in the rescue cat with a chronic snotty nose.   A simple phone call can save you tons of aggravation (and money) later on. 

This client had to pick a special pup that would do well around kids — lots and lots of kids.  That’s because she owns a summer day camp, and the family’s pet also becomes the camp mascot.  She didn’t pick a new puppy because it looked like her last dog, a disturbingly common error.  Instead, she diligently consulted with the breeder and picked the best puppy for the job.
3. I offered this owner a flash drive loaded with puppy training information, and she actually picked it up.  If my surprise seems cynical, it’s because my experience has been that clients follow only about 20% of our advice.  She’s a busy woman with her own business to run, yet she not only found the time to peruse the material I gave her but also went to the library and took books home.  Sometimes that can be a pitfall; getting training tips from too many people can be confusing.  Both her daughter and I encouraged her to pick one she clicked with and stick with his or her advice.
The health problem this owner had called about was of minor concern, so I soon met the fruit of her labor: a pint-size black miniature poodle.  Lulu has a sweet personality, lively dark button eyes, and a great home.  Thanks to her new owner’s due diligence, Lulu has it all!