Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why does my dog chew? Because he has teeth!

Chewing in dogs is a common problem that causes many people to give their dogs to shelters and shy away from the wonderful experience of owning a pet. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of the time it’s the owners fault and with a bit of education, the owners can be fixed. One of the best ways to avoid the puppy chewing phase is to adopt an adult for the shelter. But sometimes even they chew, so let’s get to the causes….

The first thing we always do here is to find the cause of the problem that was we can fix the actual problem and not just treat the symptoms. Young dogs will chew as play behavior. Dogs that chew the garbage might be food seeking. Food seeking could be play behavior (who doesn’t like a good carrot?), normal food acquiring, or hunger from an incomplete or calorie restricted diet. Chewing on windows or doors may be due to separation anxiety or attempts to make contact with something outside, such as another dog for breeding or fighting, the mailperson, or passing cars. Random objects may be chewed for attention. Lack of exercise or mental stimulation can lead to chewing problems as well. (Don’t laugh; I’ve met families where the Border Collie was WAY smarter than the children….) And lastly, some dogs will have true compulsive disease which may require medication. So the first thing to do is figure out why the dog is chewing. Take some time to assess the situation. It may help to talk it out with your veterinarian or a licensed technician with a behavioral focus to help you identify the underlying cause of your dogs chewing. I know this sounds like a lot of work to just hear, “Give the dog a chew toy”, but if this blog gets one point across it’s this: You can’t fix the problem until you know what it is!

So now you ask, “How do I fix this?” Well, the solution depends on the problem. I can tell you one thing that will never work: punishment. Hitting, scolding, or yelling after the fact will only make the dog afraid of you and unwilling to respond to your attempts to modify the underlying behavior. Dogs ruled by intimidation will act one of two ways: fight or flight. How is you getting bit going to help anything?

While your situation will require a specific solution there are some things that will help in most cases. First, if you don’t want your dog to chew your new shoes, put them in the closet. He can’t chew what he can’t get at. (I know, people actually pay me for this type of advice!) And more importantly, teach the dog which chew toys are acceptable. Your dog doesn’t know the difference between your $10 slippers and your $400 “get to know me” pumps. They just know they both smell like feet and taste good. If you see the dog chewing on something inappropriate change the object out with something appropriate and praise the dog when they take the new toy. You should also make sure toys are always available for play. Provide the dog more exercise. Just like your kids, dog do much less damage after a day at the park playing soccer. Get the dog spayed or neutered. They are less likely to want to get out to breed if they don’t have that equipment. Feed the correct amount of an appropriate diet and put the garbage in a place the dog can’t get it. Also, you should see my earlier post on crate training. Lastly, if all the easy stuff fails, you should have your dog checked out by your veterinarian. Although rare, true compulsive disorder does occur in the dogs and may take some specific training methods combined with medication.

Chewing in Dogs by Debra Horwitz, Clinician’s Brief November 2007 (5:11, 15-16)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Eye Exams

Eyes are the hardest organ system to treat for the regular veterinarian. For starters, we are terrible at running the necessary test. And since most people don't even notice a problem until it's advanced, the treatment is usually out of our reach even if we can identify the problem correctly. Therefor, I'm not even going to attempt to explain how we go about doing an exam. I'll let these guys:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How $5 can save your child's eyesite

Every year 800-1000 child become blind from parasites that are common to every dog or cat. Most of the time they DON'T get the infection from their family pet, but why take the chance?

A new study put out by the CDC demonstrated that 14% of the population is infected with Roundworms (toxocara).

That means if you are talking to a group of 7 people, one of them has worm. (Well, if none of them have worms, that means it's YOU)

I'm going to go wash my hands......

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Dog Food

I was at PetSmart this weekend and I ran into a sales representative selling dog food. Now, normally I just smile and nod and don’t tell them what I do for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in dog food. I understand the whole reasoning behind the raw food diets, but I just can’t picture a toy poodle out on the range chasing down an antelope. I’m a big dog food fan: it’s easy to feed, the dog’s like it, and the pet food companies have spent millions and years researching the diets.

The main problem I have is with the advertising. Many of the dog foods that say, “Lamb and Rice” on the label actually have some other form of protein in them. Who knows what “meat meal”, “protein broth” or “animal fat” means? I’m not saying these are bad ingredients; I just want to know what I’m recommending to my clients. Needless to say, I’m a little picky about the dog food I put my name behind.

This brings me to a new diet on the market: WholeMeals. The ingredients are not new, but the concept is. Instead of kibble form the food is in the shape of a treat, with a hard outer shell and a chewy center. The shape of the bone, along with the hard out shell, has some distinct advantages. First, the dog can take the bone to the place where he wants to eat. I think this will be a great advantage to multiple dog households where there are food aggression issues.

The other places I really like this product is in large-breed, deep-chested dogs or dogs that gulp their food. While not proven, it’s suspected that dogs that eat their food to fast may be at higher risk of bloating. Giving them a food that needs to be worked on should decrease that risk.

The last use I can see for this food is in dogs that have separation anxiety. Since most of the damage done by dogs with this behavioral problem is done in the first few minutes, giving them this food may keep them occupied while they get over the fact that you are not home.

This food does have some drawback. For starters, it’s made with beef and chicken, so it may not be suitable for dogs with food allergy. The hard outer shell may make this food a problem for dogs with few or no teeth. And lastly, the food looks like it’s not a full meal. Some people may not feel good about giving their dog such a small amount of food. However, if the company is right and all that extra stuff is just fuller, not only will the dog get a complete diet, but you may have less to clean up after.

Dr. Lembo does not receive any compensation from the makers of this dog food and does not sell it at his clinic.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

New Kitten in the House!

It’s that time of year: time for new puppies and kittens to be born. Here’s a list of things you might consider getting before you head to the shelter to pick up your new kitten:

Collar, I.D. Tag
Litter Box, Litter
Carrier (for those trips to the vet!)
Kitten Food
Toys, Scratching Post or Mat (helps save the couch)

Food and Water Bowls
Flea and Tick prevention
Nail Clippers (get them started early and you have a better chance of saving your furniture without a declaw procedure)
Brush for the long hair cats

Before you go, you might want:
Book on kitten care
Advice from your veterinarian about what to look for
A family discussion to make sure everyone wants a cat!