Saturday, June 25, 2016

Just in time for the Fourth, a new drug for noise aversion

We're getting close to many pet owners' least favorite time of the year:  fireworks and thunderstorm season. Around the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and during inclement weather with violent thunderstorms, we veterinarians know to expect an exponential increase in phone calls about noise anxiety1.    

Last year, I wrote a post on this subject in which I discussed methods of masking the noise and soothing your dog. I provided some techniques to desensitize your buddy to noise and use counter-conditioning to distract him.

I also mentioned drugs, something pet owners with seriously noise-averse dogs are usually willing to try. But many of our canine friends suffer without the benefit of anti-anxiety drugs because their people don’t like the side effects. When their pooch can hardly get up from the floor, staggers around the house as if he’s tipsy, or sleeps for an uncharacteristically long time, guilt ensues: Yikes, I’ve intoxicated my dog! In fact, excess sedation often merely calls for a dose adjustment, but pet owners usually don’t give the drug a second chance. 

What if there were a drug that calmed the jitters without causing drowsiness?

I seldom promote a new drug that I have little experience using, but the recent launch of Sileo (from Zoetis) is worth a mention. Norepinephrine is a chemical in the brain that is involved with the development of fear and anxiety. Sileo (dexmedetomidine) is highly selective in blocking the release of norepinephrine, thus mitigating dogs’ (specifically noise-induced) angst.

It’s actually not a new drug; we’ve been using the injectable form of dexmedetomidine for years as a sedative, and it has a good history of safety. What makes Sileo unique is the new delivery system: Applied to the gums, the drug calms without sedating ─ a real boon.  

Sileo is an oral gel dispensed in an easy-to-use multiple-dose syringe. (Don’t worry; there is no needle!) Because it’s efficiently absorbed through our skin, gloves should be worn while administering Sileo. Dosing is easy: The syringe is placed between the dog’s gums and cheek, and the plunger is pressed to dispense the product. It works by absorption via the mucous membrane in your dog’s mouth and shouldn’t be swallowed, which renders it ineffective. Therefore, neither food nor water should be offered for 15 minutes after treatment.

If you anticipate an anxiety-producing noise event, apply the Sileo 30 to 60 minutes beforehand. When an unexpected event occurs, just give the drug as soon as possible. It could take up to an hour to be effective, but that’s true of all the drugs used for this purpose (and some take even longer). You can administer up to five doses in one day, as long as the doses are at least two hours apart.

Sileo isn’t 100% effective in all dogs, but in clinical trials, 75% got good to excellent results. As with all drugs, there are contraindications. Sileo shouldn’t be used in dogs with severe liver, kidney, heart, or lung disease, or if a dog is seriously ill or pregnant. Some dogs may be sensitive to it and will exhibit sedation, a drop in body temperature, and a slowing heart rate. I recommend that dog owners be home to observe their pet’s response the first time they give Sileo.

The cost of Sileo depends on the size of your dog, and ranges from $2.50/dose for a toy dog (4.5 lbs. – 12 lbs.) up to $25/dose for a giant breed (196 lbs. – 220 lbs.). Treating dogs in the weight range we see the most (12 lbs. – 86 lbs.) will cost between $5 and $12.50/dose.

I’m not convinced that dogs with frequent noise-induced fear should be given this drug. I see patients that are afraid of just about every noise, and for them, there are better options, such as behavior modification and an SSRI (Prozac). But for the pooch with an isolated phobia (just fireworks, for example), time and experience will see whether this new drug can mean a more laid-back Fourth for Fido. 

1. Here are some signs that your dog is afraid of loud noises: Pacing, panting, escape behavior, hiding, cowering, sticking to you like glue, loss of appetite, salivation, inappropriate urination or defecation, whining or barking, yawning, and excessive vigilance. 



Thursday, June 2, 2016

Chasing a plastic bag is fun!

Bonnie, a muscular golden retriever, limped into the exam room, her head bobbing when her lame foreleg hit the floor. Bonnie’s owner, Sue, explained that the injury was the result of a vigorous session of lure coursing. My quizzical expression brought a crash course on the subject of lure coursing from Sue, an avid dog enthusiast. I was intrigued; I had to observe this madness for myself!

I finally got the chance to do that a couple of weekends ago. It was the grand opening of a series of monthly events named AIM (Auss-In-Motion), sponsored by ASRM, the Australian Shepherd Rescue Midwest. It was a beautiful day in Libertyville, where the event was held on five picturesque acres of fenced-in private property. The $5 fee bought your tail-wagging friend two sprints around the course and supported the rescue. 

A lure course consists of a series of pulleys that are staked to the ground and arranged in a zigzag pattern to simulate the unpredictability of chasing a live animal. A motor-driven cord pulls the “prey,” typically a plastic grocery bag or small pelt of fur, along the course, which is usually 600 to 1,000 yards long.  The operator at the AIM event manipulated the lure to make it more enticing for newbies, while veterans needed no persuasion. He gave the handler a cue to release the dog, who then chased the bag around the course. The operator controlled the speed of the lure, so even short-legged dogs could participate.  

Sighthounds, such as greyhounds, have an innate drive to chase prey, and lure coursing was developed so they could satisfy that urge in a safe environment. In the United States, it started out as a competitive event. Two organizations, the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC), sanction the competitions. The list of qualifying breeds is restricted to sighthounds.

But why limit the fun to sighthounds? Could the drive that incites your terrier to chase squirrels and kids on bicycles be diverted to dashing after a plastic bag on a pulley? The answer, it turns out, is yes! At some point, dog lovers realized that many breeds cherish the chase. In 2011, the AKC launched the Coursing Ability Test, a less-intense event open to all dogs registered with the AKC or with AKC Canine Partners. And many similar recreational events, such as Auss-In-Motion, have been born across the country. 

The preponderance of dogs at the Libertyville event were Australian shepherds, but there were also border collies, golden retrievers, a boxer, a puggle, and other pure and mixed breeds. 

Some were veteran coursers, and “lure-wise” (savvy enough to cut corners):

Others had to be coaxed to give chase. Still others decided that it was just too much work!

A few were over the top with enthusiasm; this border collie really “killed” it!

This activity is not for the physically unfit; every dog was panting heavily after the exertion of the chase -- even a greyhound that ran gracefully and with apparent effortlessness. So if you’re interested in trying lure coursing, be aware of your dog’s athletic capability. Extra pounds should be lost, and your buddy should have some prior conditioning, such as daily ball chasing. Because the sharp turns can be tough on joints, waiting until your dog is over a year old is recommended.
On the day of the event, make sure you give your dog time to digest her food. That means feeding a smaller amount than normal at least four hours ahead of time, and not for an hour afterward. Take her for a cooling-down walk when she’s done. Offer water when her breathing is back to normal. The AIM event had water available, and there was even a baby pool for a post-run dip. 
As Sue found out with Bonnie, even fit, athletic dogs can sustain injury from the high speeds and sharp turns of lure coursing. But the minor risk of injury is outweighed by the fun your pooch -- whether a Chihuahua or a borzoi -- will have. If she delights in chasing things, she will love the lure!