Friday, February 8, 2008

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most stressful behavior problems I deal with as a veterinarian for 2 reasons: 1) Since it's one of the most common reasons people give their pets over to the shelter, treatment failure often ends in euthanasia and 2) most people wait too long to bring the dog in to the office to alter the behavior patterns. Once the patterns have been imprinted, they can still be changed it just takes more time and effort to make the change. Many people give up because it can take a while for the changes to occur, or because the damage to the pet (or the house) just overwhelms them. It can be very trying on the whole family. As with most diseases, prevention is always better than treatment. My blog on punishment has a great behavior website and there are many books out there that can help with puppy training.

Some examples include:

How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Clarice Rutherford and David H. Neil

The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete

Good Dog, Bad Dog, New and Revised: Dog Training Made Easy by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis

Treatment is a whole other ballgame. As with any treatment, I recommend that you have your pet examined by your veterinarian. She can make sure there is not a medical problem that is causing the bad behaviors (for example, urinary tract infections that cause accidents in the house, dementia is old dogs, and behavior problems other than separation anxiety just to name a few).

Some of my favorite tricks include:
Giving the dog something to focus on just after you leave. Most of the destructive behavior occurs in the first 5-10 minutes after you leave. Giving the dog a toy (like a Kong toy, can occupy the dog for the initial period after to leave and redirect the destructive behavior.

Training the dog to sit-stay before he gets anything. This is also known as the nothing is free method. The dog has to sit, stay and focus on you before he gets anything: food, treats, let outside, played with, etc. This teaches the dog how to act when he wants your attention.

Be low-key on departure and return. If the dog associates "play time" with your arrival or departure, it may increase the excite that causes some destructive behavior.

Drop the dog off at day care. Ok, this does not alter the behavior. However,it does save the curtains and keeps your dog safe while you work on the other problems.

None of these methods will cure every dog. You should have a plan that is individual to your dog's specific type of behavior problem. For that you need to talk to your veterinarian.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Loss of a pet

I came across this today: It's a great site for people who are grieving the loss of a pet, or for those who would like to help those who have lost a pet.

Disaster Relief

I've been a little behind on post this week because of the storms that have swept through Tennessee. I know this is little off topic, but I work for Nashville Humane ( ) Right now people from there are out in the field helping people without homes care for their loved ones while they put their lives back together. It's heart-wrenching work. And it brings me to my point: if you're going to donate money to a relief organization, you should do it to a local one. National organizations like HSUS take some of your money and use it to hire big name people to run big name projects. I know no one at Nashville Humane has a car that costs as much as some of the jewelry worn by the people at the top of HSUS. (I have worked for HSUS. You won't see my picture on their website. Most of the people you see in those pictures were on-site for less than 10 minutes. That's all it takes to get your picture taken.)

Need an example? Here's Tennessee's animal friendly plate. It costs an extra $35 to support community spay/neuter. ( A whopping $15.38 goes to the spay/neuter program. That's right, less than half. The rest goes to various state agencies, as a form of voluntary tax, if you will.

Wouldn't it be better if you gave the whole $35 to your local shelter? (It would for you, you could take the whole amount off your taxes in most cases!) In addition to spay/neuter, you would promote disaster preparedness, education and a better community. Isn't that a better use of your money?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pet Food Recall Indictments

Looks like they found enough evidence to arrest those who poisoned all those dogs and cats.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Punishment as a learning tool

I love when people come into my office and tell me, "This is my Alpha-Female dog so you better watch it". Or, "This dog is an Alpha-Male. If I don't put him on his back every so often he'll think he's in charge." Bad trainers, especially with TV shows, and ignorant lazy people on the internet only make things worse. Punishing your dog, especially after the fact usually only makes things worse.

Consider these statements culled from the American Veterinary Behavior Society website ( as summarized in the January 2008 Compendium for Small Animal Practice:

It is difficult to correctly time punishment.

Punishment can make the undesirable behavior worse.

To be effective punishment must be sufficiently intense, but when administered at high intensity, it can lead to physical harm (to both the pet and the owner).

Any punishment may make the dog fearful, which may lead to fear behavior at other times.

Punishment may intensify or even initiate aggressive behavior.

Punishment may cause unwanted behavior changes, some of which may mask early signs of aggression.

Punishment may associate the wrong trigger (such as the owner, an environment or other animals)with the unpleasant experience.

Punishment often does not address the actual problem, or show the animal the correct behavior. (Rubbing the dog's nose in poop just makes him run when you come home. It does nothing about the fact that you were to lazy to house train him properly.)

The AVBSA website is a great source of information. As with any program though, you should talk to your veterinarian before you start a program. You would be surprised at how many dogs that just started peeing in the house had urinary tract infections, or how many new biters had arthritis.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pet Insurance

I was reading a magazine the other day and came across an advertisement for HomeAgain microchipping ( They now offer up to $3,000 of pet medical insurance if your pet gets injured while he is lost. They are not the only company to make such an offer: VPI ( gives you a collar tag when you sign up for insurance. If your pet comes into my hospital without you, I can call VPI, verify that the coverage is current and begin to treat your pet while they attempt to contact you. The ASPCA also has pet insurance ( ). Even the Kroger grocery store when I shop has a pet insurance plan! Most of the basic plans are very affordable, carry only a modest deductable($50-100) and have a fairly generous benefit schedule (the ASPCA plan for example covers each accident up to $2500, $8000 yearly benefit for about $100 for a dog). Many of these plans exclude diseases the dog was born with, but you can get plans that cover vaccinations, spay/neuter, teeth cleanings, and yearly blood work. Some even offer rebates on heartworm prevention and flea control.

Now, I don’t get anything for selling you insurance. You may say that I do benefit from the insurance because I can run up the bill. This begs the question, if you think I am doing that, why are you bringing your pet to me? If you truly feel that your veterinarian is running up the bill you should change doctors. Do you think he only lies to them? Too many of us put animals down because the owners can’t pay to have them treated. Too many pets suffer needlessly because the owners can’t/won’t pay for the proper tests to achieve a diagnosis. Too many veterinarians don’t offer the full diagnostics because they fear the clients will get angry with them.

Let me give you a scenario I see over and over (and over and over!). Person brings a dog into the hospital with a “lump”. The veterinarian says, “It’s just a lipoma, we can take that off and the dog will be good a new.” The veterinarian takes the dog to surgery, removes the mass and throws the tissue into the garbage! How would feel if this was you on the table? You underwent anesthesia, someone cut you open and then instead of finding out what was wrong with you, the doctor just through the tumor into the trash. And yes, lipomas are tumors. About 1 in 100,000 is malignant. Now with insurance, it’s the same price to you if throw the tumor n the trash or I send the mass to a pathologist and she tells me if further treatment is necessary, or if your dog is now cancer free. Where’s the down side to this for the dog? And what do I make on the deal? An extra $30. But more importantly, I get to sleep at night knowing I did the best I could for my patient. That’s why I want you to have insurance.

One last thing: my practice takes Care Credit ( as well. This allows people to pay over time when a sudden emergency occurs (up to 18 months with no interest in some cases). Many dentists take this medical credit card also. When you combine the Care Credit card with the insurance, you can pay with the Care Credit card and pay no interest until the insurance check comes in. Then, you just pay off the Care Credit bill. Top-notch treatment for your pet without worrying about your financial health, that’s really what most veterinarian want.