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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tea break

I have just read the article in the May issue regarding grapes and tannins. Are dogs allowed to drink tea because I'm pretty sure it has tannins in it? My dog (a Lab) goes to my parents house and they say she always looks for a cup of tea when they have theirs. My mum does her a dish of a little milk, some tea from the teapot and then some cold water so she can drink it straight away. Mind you it would hurt their feelings if I said it was not allowed, so I hope it's okay. My parents' dogs always drank tea and it did them no harm.
Mandy Rivers, by email

Alex Campbell, from the Veterinary Poisons Information Service, advises:
The main risk associated with tea consumption in dogs is probably not the tannins but the caffeine content. In the literature it is reported that a 150ml cup of tea can contain something between 20-60 milligrams of caffeine. On that basis occasional very small volumes of diluted tea are probably okay for dogs to have - but common sense must prevail!
The Veterinary Poisons Information Service has had many cases reported where dogs have eaten teabags (used or otherwise) or tea-leaves and subsequently developed signs of severe caffeine intoxication. Many of these required some intensive veterinary care but all survived.
NOTE: The VPIS is not a public access service and any queries should be referred to your vet in the first instance.

Nick Thomson, holistic vet, says...
Grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, but we don’t know why and it's definitely not the tannins. Macadamia nuts, chocolate and onions aren’t a great idea either, while we’re at it. Avocado is said to be toxic, but as far as I can find out, and in my experience, it's the risk of the dog swallowing the big pip (or pit) inside them that’s the actual threat; the flesh is non-toxic in practice.
There’s more tannins in the average barky stick that your Lab, inevitably chews/carries than there is in a small quantity of milky tea, so panic not. If tannins killed dogs, the country would be littered with dogs lying next to roughly chewed sticks. It's not, when I first looked. A little cup of tea here and there will do no harm. It's the milk that most dogs go for, actually.
We vet herbalists use a lot of herbs with tannins in, too. They’re called ‘astringents’, because of their drying, healing and protein coagulating properties. Other common veterinary astringents include: Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Agrimonia eupatorium (agrimony) and Rheum palmatum (rhubarb root). To find a trained veterinary herbalist in the uk, go to
I use cold tea at my practice ( a lot; for eyes. It's a really good solution for cleaning eyes generally, but also if they have very mild conjunctivitis. The tannins in the tea are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and help to calm sore eyes. Clients always ask me what’s the best sort, thinking I’m going to say ‘best China or Ceylon’ or something.
I love watching their expression when I just say ‘oh, builder’s will do’.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Cool beds for hot dogs

Is there a dog bed which keeps dogs cool in hot weather? My German Shepherd really suffers in the heat and will lie on the stone floor to get cool, which looks really uncomfortable. If anyone can suggest a more comfortable solution I would be very grateful.
Ian Damiral, by email

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Bloated bill?

My Greyhound has just had surgery for bloat, at the moment the bill stands at £2,500. Is this the normal price for bloat surgery?, he did not need his stomach un-twisting and no organs were removed as I had caught it in the early stages.
I am querying the bill with the head office of my vets (medivets), also my Greyhound is not insured (I know in hindsight he should have been). Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Kirsten Ciddelapaz

Monday, 22 June 2009

Mind games

I have a lovely 15-month-old GSD-collie cross called Kye. I have only had him for four months but he has come on in leaps and bounds. When I first got him he was not lead-trained but now he walks beautifully to heel. He lived with three other dogs so any dog he saw in the street he would bounce and bark at them, but now he can walk past with just a sniff and a hello. He loves people and children so I couldn't ask for a better dog.
Kye is a very active dog. He is taken for a two hour walk in the morning and a two hour walk in the afternoon, but still wants to play - definitely the collie in him. So to keep his mind active he has a Dog Pyramid, which he now throws against a wall to get the treats out, and two different Kongs, from which he can remove the treats in seconds. I have also enrolled him in an agility course which we attend every Monday.
However, whenever he is left alone he will destroy everything he can get his teeth on. We learnt the hard way with paper so now all objects are kept out of the way. But he has now started on the furniture, even when we are in the house and he's not getting enough attention. How can we stop this? I also wondered if there is anything that can keep his mind active without using food as I worry about him putting on weight now that he has been castrated.
Jess Ottaway, by email

Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist, advises:
There are probably several issues going on with Kye, given that, as a rescued/rehomed dog you won’t know everything about his past life or problems. Do you think, for instance, that his tendency towards destructive behaviour is the reason why his previous owners got rid of him?
Kye may come across as ‘high maintenance’, but an alternative possibility that immediately strikes me is that he is actually being consistently over-stimulated. The amount of exercise you give Kye is to be commended, but in your quest to constantly ‘keep his mind active’ you could just be over-doing it!
The more you stimulate—physically and mentally—breeds like collies or GSDs, the more of an adrenalin buzz they get, and the more stimulation they will then seek and desire in order to sustain this aroused state of mind. It becomes, in short, a highly addictive behaviour pattern for them. When your dog is constantly over-aroused in this way, his body is also coursing with stress hormones, which shut down the calmer ‘thinking’ part of his brain. This in turn makes it ever harder for him to settle down again, or concentrate on and respond to any commands you may give him.
So many collies, in particular, that I see are condemned as ‘manic’ or ‘hyper’ simply because their owners do not understand this psychological quirk in such an energetic working breed. They either over-stimulate their dogs with constant ball and chase games, or allow their dogs to endlessly self-stimulate through eyeing/chasing other things.
It’s also important to understand that the more attention and stimulation you give to a dog when he is over-aroused, the more you are perpetually exacerbating this behaviour and rewarding him for being in the ‘wrong’ frame of mind.
Thus a priority for you, right now, is to stop looking for even further ways to stimulate Kye, and concentrate instead on training him to be a calmer dog, who will settle down more readily on command. By using destructiveness to get your attention, Kye is also showing very controlling behaviour. This in turn is because you have not, yourself, set any better limits on the way he behaves.
The first thing you should do is get an indoor kennel that you will make into a special ‘den’ for Kye. Make sure this kennel is sizeable enough for him to easily stand up in and move around in, and that it is placed somewhere quiet, with fewest possible sources of stimulation or human coming and goings.
Cover the top and surrounding three sides of this kennel with a blanket, and put some less destructible fleece bedding inside, plus a chew item such as a Nylabone to keep him occupied. This special ‘den’ is where you are going to ask Kye to go whenever you want him to settle down, especially after a walk—when he may still otherwise keep buzzing—plus at night, when you go out or whenever he indulges in more manic or destructive behaviour.
Get Kye used to this kennel gradually, by initially feeding him his meals in it, with the door left open. Then move on to getting Kye to lie down in the kennel and stay down—again with the door left open. As he is lying down and staying down, say the words ‘settle’, then really praise him well and give him a tasty treat for complying. Then try to get him to ‘settle’ in this way for ever longer periods of time in the kennel—still with the door left open—always remembering to praise him fulsomely each time he co-operates and give him a treat.
Next, try shutting the kennel door while Kye is lying down. If he makes a fuss and immediately tries to get out, totally ignore this—however long it takes. Only as soon as Kye is quiet again, say the word ‘settle’ again while he is lying down, then immediately open the kennel door, praise him and give him a treat.
If dogs are not used to indoor kennels, you have to progress in this painstaking way to avoid them freaking out. Once you do get dogs used to being in an indoor kennel, however, they can often then get to love them as their own special and secure refuge areas. Kye has to be taught not only that he cannot have access to you all the time, but also that when you ask him to go into his kennel and say ‘settle’, there will never be any more stimulation, or attention from you, again unless he does settle and remains quiet.
I would also ask Kye to go to his kennel overnight. Everytime he remains settled in his kennel always remember to praise him. To date all you have been doing is reward Kye, with attention and other goodies, for being manic. Now you have to turn all these rewards on to him being settled instead.
Please also get rid of all the treat dispensing devices. Use food/treats only ever as a reward for Kye in return for him complying with some command from you that keeps his behaviour calmer—e.g.’ sit and wait’, ‘down and wait’, or ‘settle’(as outlined above). And keep drawing out the amount of time Kye has to ‘sit/wait’, ‘down/wait’ or ‘settle’ before being rewarded with praise and/or a treat.
At home, also put any toys away. Use these only when you are out with Kye. Once you have allowed a dog to expect, and demand, endless play at home, through persistently pestering you, you have not only made a rod for your own back but also have the makings of a dog who will find it ever harder to settle down again.
One more thing; do please ensure that none of the food or treats you give Kye contain any artificial colourings or additives whatsoever, as these can make some dogs far more hyped up in their behaviour. The same can be said of a canine diet that is too high in protein.
I do hope this advice gives you a better idea of what may be going wrong with Kye and that you can now work towards having a dog who is a lot easier to live with!

Hi Jess,
Well I have got to say it is lovely to hear a dog owner be so dedicated to their dog. You seem to be giving Kye plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, which is so good to see. In my job I see plenty of dogs chewing because of boredom and frustration and its so sad, especially when owners say they don't have time. Well normally I like to meet the dog and get a full picture on the problem, but being a fan of the Dogs Today Think Tank here are some training tips that may help..

First things first, remove all toys from the floor and garden. If toys are left lying around for picking up and chewing when Kye likes then he may not learn to respect other objects. Provide a toy box with a lid and he can have his toys when he is training or working with you i.e. Agility or going on your walks and Kongs and Nylabones for his 'being left routine' which I will go into shortly when talking about crate training.

Have you considered crate training? If you get a suitably sized crate for Kye and train him to go into it happily, this will help prevent chewing with you out of the house and help break that habit. He is still a young, adolescent dog and needs to simply learn the rules of your home. You can then go out and leave Kye in his crate with a nylabone to chew and a kong. This will be his treat times, so you going is actually positive. Try being adventurous with the Kong and fill with some biscuits and smooth peanut butter. You can then freeze it, and it will take him longer to get it out.

If are going to crate train for the first time, begin by setting it up in a quiet position and cover it with a blanket on the top to make it cosy. Encourage him to go in and explore it - place his bed in there for him. Toss in some treats, make it a pleasant experience. You can also feed him in there and give him a Kong in there. Gradually do this and shut the door and let him out after he has eaten. Build up the pleasant experience by leaving him a bit longer. You basically want him to see this as his safe place and not a punishment area. Crate training is an excellent tool for training and does not have to be a permanent fixture but sometimes dogs end up loving their new bedroom! Remember that a crate should not be abused in any way by leaving a dog in their all day long without a toilet break and stretch of the legs, so a lunchtime home visit is always recommended if you go out to work during the day. If you cannot get home, maybe a neighbour or local dog walker can assist.

Let me just go back to your exercise routine - he is certainly getting plenty of exercise and because he is there is no reason for him to learn to 'chill out' at home. It has been known that people keep their dogs so active and in the home with playing games that the dog doesn't know how to relax, they begin to attention seek even more. This could be your case. Are you playing lots of games at home as well? His chewing with you in the home could actually be attention seeking or frustration for the need to do something. What I recommend is you teach him the home is a place to come and relax. Try teaching a settle command -

So what is the settle command? Whenever we stop to talk to someone in the street, sit down in the vet's waiting room or just when we sit down in the evening to watch a favourite TV programme we want our dogs to be well behaved and sit or lay down quietly beside us. If we give him a specific command such as "sit", it is likely that after a few minutes he will either get up or lay down thus desensitising him to the command. We could of course insist that our dog stays in that exact position for the duration of our period of rest but in fairness this is unreasonable in most cases and virtually impossible in some! The average dog will find it uncomfortable to stay in one position for any length of time and with larger breeds it could even be damaging to force them to stay in a sit for long periods.

With the "settle" we are only insisting the dog is quiet, calm and relaxed. He is allowed to shift positions to make him-self comfortable. As long as the dog remains on the floor sitting, laying down or shifting from one position to the other are all acceptable.

To best practice the settle your dog needs to have a lead or house line attached. To start with it is easiest if the handler sits comfortably in a chair. The lead should be passed under the soles of the handler's feet and the end then kept in the hand. The lead should be comfortably long enough to allow the dog to stand, sit or lie down but not long enough for the dog to move away from the handler nor to jump up. You will need a good supply of small tasty treats or even better use his dinner allowance for this and have it in a pot next to you. Now we can simply ignore our dog until he offers us a calm "settled" behaviour, this may happen straight away or may take several minutes. As soon as the behaviour is offered, immediately reward the dog with a treat and the verbal reinforcement of "settle". If the dog instantly gets up then simply ignore again until another "settled" behaviour occurs, once it does then reward again. If the dog remains "settled" then we need to keep the rewards coming, don't be mean we want to teach the dog that staying in this position is indeed a very rewarding thing to do. As the dog starts to get the idea, we can start to leave gradually increasing gaps between rewards.

It is best to give food rewards on the floor, we want being on the floor to be the rewarding place to be, not clamoring for the owners hands.

If practiced regularly we should soon have a dog that can remain "settled" for 20 to 30 minutes easily. Remember not to nag the dog, we simply ignore him if he gets up, we are teaching him the best way to get our attention is to "settle".

Another thought what is Kye like being left - have you actually monitored his behaviour? Is he showing signs of stress before you leave? Does he bark, whine or cry? I am wondering if he is actually anxious about you leaving the house. Sometimes this is where chewing behaviour can begin. To be sure, it is a good idea to try and set up a video camera of him when you leave the house and observe his behaviour. If you are in doubt a good reputable trainer that uses kind and positive methods would be able to help you or and of course you are welcome to contact me.

Finally, because you are concerned with the amount of food that you are giving him, you can monitor this by reducing the amount of dinner he gets to compensate the treats he is being given or of course use his daily dinner allowance for training. Good training treats are; boiled chicken, ham, cheese (not too much), hot dog sausages or home made tuna cake.

I hope this helps and you get to see some improvement in Kye very soon, he sounds like a fantastic dog. Best of luck. Emma Collings (School For Paws Dog Training)

June Williams, COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers, says…
The more exercise you give collies and collie types, the more they want. You need to teach him to settle down and enjoy a chill out time. I would find a clicker trainer to help and clicker training will stimulate the brain. Be careful that you are not rewarding any attention seeking behaviour; eye contact, telling off. Use time-out instead. You can stuff a Kong so that it takes a dog 40 minutes plus to eat, especially if you freeze it. Push something very yummy in the end and then jam in large biscuit type items that need work to dislodge, interspersed with tantalizing yummies. Give him something to rip apart when you leave him; wine cardboard boxes that do not have metal staples, dog food bags. You can put small treats inside that he has to find. All you have to do is clear up when you come home. You will not be teaching him to destroy human items, but you will be giving him something to do. Nina Ottosson makes fantastic dog puzzles.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Road runner

I have recently rescued a very energetic two-year-old collie-cross and I'm looking for a fun sporting activity we can do together. We have already tried agility and flyball, but I feel she needs something a little more strenuous. I have heard mention of a canine sport involving running, which sounds ideal as I am a keen long-distance runner. Can anyone tell me more about this sport?
Martha Johnson, by email

Canicross – the sport of running off-road attached to your dog - is an ideal activity for high energy dogs and outdoor owners. The physical activity will keep you and your dog fit and trim and will prevent illnesses associated with being overweight or obese. Canicross also requires some mental agility as it is necessary to teach your dogs directional commands so your route running is smooth and your dog needs to pay attention to you rather than go off chasing bunnies!
Running cross-country with your dog is a truly joint enterprise that gets you and your pet out in the fresh air and is a great sport for forming the strong bond that you can achieve when you work closely with your dog, companionship when the running gets tough, and a different sort of training opportunity. As such it is an ideal sport for collies who need to use their brains as well as their bodies, but done right can benefit most breeds, shapes and sizes of dog. However, it is always best to get both of you checked out by your doctors and your vets before embarking on this new healthy hobby!
Cross-country generally means not on the road so you have parks, fields, woodland tracks, farm tracks, footpaths, moors and plains to choose from. Running offroad means that the terrain will be less punishing on your dog’s feet as concrete, tarmac and gravel/rocky ground is hard on joints and rough on pads. Having a dog with you on these routes can give you the confidence to get out into the countryside and take you to places you might not have previously considered.

Get kitted out properly so you and your dog can run together safely. Ideally get a padded walking belt for you with an
elasticated/bungee line of around two metres which attaches to your dog via a comfortable padded tracking/shoulder-style harness. These types of harness have been found to be less restrictive to your dog’s abdominal muscles and the attachment is near your dog’s centre of gravity so may work better with your dog’s balance and movement. Most bespoke suppliers can advise you on correct fitting (see end of this article for suggested retailers).

So you are ready to roll! Well-behaved dogs may find the concept of running ahead of their owners a little alien so you will need to encourage this behaviour. Allowing your dog to pull when in harness as opposed to when wearing a collar can assist you when training the outfront commands. Canicross is great for dogs that pull like trains as you can harness that energy in a useful way but you will also need to get some control so that you can slow your dog in an emergency or when a crazy squirrel crosses your path on a steep downhill!
Running together with your dog is also a good idea if you have a new rescue dog whose recall may be unproven or indeed if you already have a dog that ignores you off-lead but who still needs the exercise that simple on-lead walking cannot always deliver. Keeping your dog’s line tight with the right amount of tension is the key to success in the sport. It is acceptable for the line to be loose and indeed if you do find it too difficult, dogs are allowed to run to heel if that is more comfortable
(although be careful that your dog does not trip you up). A line with a little bit of tension will help you, especially on uphill stretches but it is certainly not desirable for your dog to drag your deadweight around the countryside.
If you dog is very unkeen on running ahead choose a narrow, definite path for your dog to follow and get a friend to jog ahead so your dog has something to chase. As he is running ahead to catch up give the command ‘hike’ and he will begin to associate the activity with the command. Start with very short stretches and build up to longer distances. Food treats may also motivate your dog in the early stages and always reward generously with praise and encouragement.

Directional commands ask your dog to turn right (gee) or left (haw) or go straight on. You can practise this at home and in the garden by getting your dog to negotiate a simple obstacle course. As you approach a turn give the correct command and a big wide helpful arm signal in the direction you wish to go. If your dog is unsure to start off with you can GENTLY guide your dog with the line onto the right path. On the trail try to include lots of turns so you can practise and make sure you do not
always go the same way so that your dog is not simply learning a set route. Once you have taught gee and haw you can get your dog to ignore turns and go ‘straight on’. There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching your dog approach a junction with his ears twitching back and forth wondering where you will send him and then smoothly negotiating a
turn without stopping and interrupting your flow. Whoa! and steady are self-explanatory commands which should be taught before you need them so that you can get control and are not in a panic.
Once the initial excitement of the run has died down you can practise slowing down giving the steady command in a slow, calm voice. If your dog knows the heel command then you can certainly use this too. ‘Straight on’ or ‘on by’ asks your dog to carry on running and ignore any distractions (that crazy squirrel again, another dog, a herd of wildebeest or whatever...). I try to keep running and give encouragement in a lively voice to keep them going. As your dog learns these commands his confidence (and yours) will grow immensely and you will get so much out of the sport.
When in training always stop before you are both ‘dog-tired’. If you leave your dog with wanting more he will be less likely to hide in his bed at the sight of you putting on your trainers if you have not run him into the ground. Get a pedometer so that you can start to measure your times and distance. Once you have got the bug you will not want to stop and hopefully your dog will be getting the physical outlet he needs and the mental stimulation necessary for a balanced canine lifestyle.
Always ensure you are not asking too much of your dog, give lots of breaks and praise and of course let him have days off and days when he can mooch around and please himself.

If you are both beginners aim to build up to about 5km, but do it gradually to avoid aches, strains and injury. Always warm up before starting and cool down when finishing a run. Veterinary advice suggests that walking 250m before and after your 5km
run on the terrain you are training on is sufficient for warming up and cooling down.
Weeks 1 and 2
Powerwalk (canimarche) for a brisk 10-15 minutes on alternate days. Before beginning the session try to encourage your dog to toilet so you will have less chance of a ‘nature break’. In the beginning, if your dog is easily distracted by other dogs, minimise the possibility of such distractions by going somewhere a bit quieter but if you do get a distraction practise your ‘on by’ command.
Weeks 3 and 4
Introduce a small amount of jogging into your caniwalking, say one minute walking and then one minute jogging to start off with and extend your outings by 5-10 minutes during these weeks whilst gradually decreasing the amount of walking you do.
Weeks 5 and 6
You should now be able to jog a 5km route within a 30-45 minute time period. Remember to vary your route and do lots of different trails to keep you and your dog fresh and to experience varied terrain – do not forget to practise on hills! Walk any time you need to. Once you have got to this level you can start to build up your speed by running faster for some sections of your run until you can do the whole route at a faster speed.
There are many beginners training programmes on the market which you can try but remember to keep it fun and fresh and if your dog finds a session particularly heavy going, back off and take it more gently. Most dogs however usually beg for more and it is the human canicrosser who has trouble keeping up!

Wait until your dog is a year old before embarking on canicross and check with your vet before you go ahead.
Wherever you go always take a supply of water and foldable water bowl for your dog.
Get a basic doggie first aid kit.
Take along some doggie booties in case of paw injuries.
Take a mobile phone with your vet’s number on in case of emergency.
Ensure you have a supply of poo bags for ‘accidents’ on the trail.
Check your dog’s feet after each run.
Have fun and encourage your dog all the way.

Do not use flexi-leads or check collars – a sudden jerk at speed can cause injury.
Do not use spiked/studded running boots in case you tread on your dog.
Do not run for long distances on hard surfaces.
Do not shout at or abuse your dog in any situation.

For enquiries or information on canicross races, activities and events
for Canicross Trail Runners
For canicross equipment
For canicross equipment
Specialised veterinary surgeon for doggie athletes and canine
Nicky Hutchison and Cushla Lamen, Canicross Trail Runners

Friday, 12 June 2009

Do dogs suffer from hayfever?

During the glorious weather we were lucky enough to enjoy last week, my one-year-old Samoyed was sneezing constantly on walks and her skin seemed to be irritated causing her to scratch. When indoors she was fine, but I noticed on the weather report that the pollen count was high. Could Angel be suffering from hayfever? If so, how can I ease her symptoms?
Kate Jeffries, by email

Dogs are just as susceptible to hay fever as humans. Dogs can inhale pollen granules in exactly the same way as people, but the resulting responses are different. While we tend to react with a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing, a dog will show his reaction on his skin. This is because the histamines released by the body in response to pollen in animals are mostly released in the skin rather than in the nose and eyes. It’s not just by inhaling pollen that a dog can suffer hay fever either. Direct contact with the skin can also trigger these responses.
If your dog’s suffering from hayfever, he’s likely to start to scratch and bite his body, lick his paws, shake his head, and rub his face along the carpet for relief from the itch when pollen grains are swirling in the air. Skin irritability and the prolonged scratching caused by hay fever can also cause hair loss and coat damage, as well as making a dog feel very uncomfortable and miserable.

Top tips for reducing dog hayfever
1. One simple way to guard against the irritating symptoms of hay fever is to make sure your pet’s natural skin defences are in tip-top condition. By adding Yumega to your pet’s diet, pollen and other allergens will find it more difficult to get into the skin, so it no longer requires scratching. The omega 6 and 3 oils contained in Yumega improve animals’ skin health by increasing essential fatty acids that are lacking in their diet.
2. Consider bathing your dog with a shampoo designed to sooth irritated skin, but not too frequently as you don’t want to dry out their skin. If bathing more regularly becomes necessary, include an omega 3 and 6 supplementation in the diet to make up for lost oils from the skin and coat.
3. Keep up to date on flea control. Flea allergies can cause skin eruptions and should be treated immediately.
4. Brush the coat daily and carefully comb or cut out matted hair which can hold dirt and debris and from which bacteria can enter the skin causing bacterial dermatitis.
Dr John Howie, Co-founder Lintbells Ltd

I quite agree with Dr John Howie’s comments, that dogs do suffer from inhaled pollen allergy or hayfever just like us. In addition to his suggestions, it would be worth asking your vet about giving antihistamines. Again, just like the situation in humans, one antihistamine may provide one particular individual with relief from the annoying clinical signs but be ineffective in another person or dog. There are, however, at present no antihistamines specifically licensed for use in dogs.
Do bear in mind that a dog showing signs of atopy or an inhalant allergy is likely to be allergic to other substances. It is therefore worthwhile trying to minimise exposure to them as well, so that your dog stays below the so-called ‘itch threshold’. This is why Dr Howie has emphasised the need to keep on top of flea control – an allergy to flea saliva is very common, and easily avoided with strict attention to flea control on all pets and the environment.
Dietary hypersensitivity is also worth addressing. You may well find that your dog is less itchy on foods which do not contain certain proteins. An actual food trial is best undertaken under veterinary supervision, in order to avoid creating dietary imbalances.
An allergy to forage mites is another common allergy. Although there is the economy of bulk-buying food in large sacks, there is an increasing risk of forage mites the longer the food is exposed to the environment after opening the bag. I have had patients who have shown increasing itchiness as the bottom of a food sack is approached. Switching to smaller bags of food has been a simple answer.
Itching in response to inhaled pollens will show a seasonal pattern, depending on the allergen to which your dog is allergic. Over the years, I have noticed that my daughter’s hayfever starts in early March, a month before my son’s. It is worth remembering that there can also be a later peak in September or October.
Alison Logan, vet

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Going green

We've just come back from a week's holiday in Wales with Chelsea, our three-year-old Dalmatian. The journey was three hours each way and Chelsea was sick a couple of times. She is used to travelling in the car, but this is the longest journey she has been on, so I think it must be travel sickness. She was absolutely fine as soon as we reached our destination. How can we combat this as we would like to take another holiday later in the year and wouldn't want Chelsea to feel poorly again?
Marci Lane, by email

Alison Logan, vet, advises:
There are two common types of travel sickness seen in the dog: stress-related, and the motion sickness we as humans experience. For dogs, the commonest trigger for vomiting during a car journey is stress.
Was the weather hot when you were travelling to and from Wales? Did you stop during the journey for comfort breaks? Where did Chelsea travel within the car? In her usual place or was she somewhere different because of luggage and other passengers? When had she been fed prior to leaving on the journey? Was it your usual vehicle? Was the driver someone different from Chelsea’s usual chauffeur? – we all drive differently!
I wonder how Chelsea is now that she is back in her home territory? You may find that she is sick on shorter journeys, having been sick on those three hour trips, in which case I would go right back to basics with a programme of gradually increasing exposure to build up her confidence with car travel once more.
The classic approach is to initially sit your dog in the car when it is stationery on the drive, perhaps for just five minutes initially. Provide a bed so that she can settle down and relax, in the position where you will be wanting her to travel, and ensure good ventilation. Reward her with a positive activity afterwards such as a ball game or walk. Then, when she is happy with being in the car for half an hour or so, introduce very short journeys, once a day at first and then more often. If she shows signs of travel sickness then go back a step.
Travel sickness is such a restrictive affliction in humans and dogs. When I see a puppy for its first vaccination, I always advise taking the puppy out in the car every day, even if it is just five minutes around the block. Travelling in the car needs to be a pleasurable experience, with a treat at the end. Once the initial puppy vaccinations are protective, there can be the prospect of a walk as a reward after a car journey. Until then, the school run is invaluable in this respect, because the puppy can be carried in your arms at the school and experience all manner of sights, sounds and smells, so helping with socialisation.
My heart sinks when, at the second puppy vaccination, the puppy is dribbling as it sits on my consulting room table. The owner tells me that the puppy has been sick in the car and that this is only the third time that the puppy has travelled in the car:
- the first trip from the security of his or her birth place to the new home with all manner of new experiences;
- from new home to veterinary practice for first vaccination;
- again, from new home to veterinary practice for second vaccination.
It is commonly said that only a tiny proportion of advice is taken in when we go to the GP or vet, and I think that this bears that observation out!
I am not saying that travel sickness can be avoided in all cases by early car journeys, but there are breeders who will take a litter of puppies for short car journeys, with the reassurance of being with their mother still and ending up back at their birthplace. Our dog was sick as a puppy, yet I took her out regularly in the car from the first day that she came to live with us. She was only bred a mile from our home and was not sick on her first trip in the car. I found that she was not sick if she had not been fed within two hours of a journey, which took some planning!
There are drugs available to help with travel sickness. The classic ‘yellow tablet’ is a sedative which we tend to avoid prescribing nowadays. There is a new drug available now which is anti-emetic, ie it prevents vomiting. As well as being indicated for stomach upsets, it is also recommended for motion sickness and may well be the answer for Chelsea on long car journeys, so I would suggest you ask your veterinary surgeon’s advice.
Dog-appeasing pheromone is another possibility, either sprayed in the car and/or worn as a DAP collar when travelling longer distances.
I certainly think that you need to build up the confidence of both yourself and Chelsea by gradually increasing the length of her journeys in the car. Try not to pass on any anxiety you may have about a repeat of her travel sickness - easier said than done!

Nick Thompson, holistic vet, advises:
Car sickness in older dogs isn't that common, so Chelsea's unlucky. On the positive side, there are herbal, homeopathic and 'energetic' options that we can try.
Herbs - good old fashioned ginger can be very useful. The easiest way is to feed ginger nut biscuits before and during the journey. If she's mild, this may do the trick. A stronger approach is to give her a small, bland meal with grated root ginger in it before you travel. If she'll take grated ginger from your fingers, this is ideal, but I've yet to meet a dog who's keen!
The homeopathic mix I use here contains Borax, Petroleum and Cocculus all at a 12x potency. Any homeopathic pharmacy can make this up for you as soft tablets or, as I use at Holisticvet, liquids dripped onto the 'moustache' area of the nose (between nostrils and upper lip - they just lick the drops off, saving you having to push pills into their mouths). Dosing is one tablet or drop of remedy hourly on the day of the journey and during the journey. As she improves from journey to journey, you can use less and less dosing.
A very mysterious and interesting treatment I've come across recently is called a Travel Aid Clip. It's a small glassy bead, the size of a baked bean containing what looks like a minute electrical circuit board of about one millimetre squared. The manufacturers, a Swiss company called The Institute of Bio-Information, claim it helps to 'balance energies' and directly help with travel sickness.
Now, I'm a fairly open minded kind of vet, but this sounded a little much for me. However, I was given one by Higher Nature ( and gave it a go. I've used it on four dogs, and three of them are now improved, if not cured. They have to keep the clip on when they travel but as it only weighs 10 grams, or so, it's no hardship.
Travel sickness is a trial. I do sympathise. When I was a kid, we couldn't travel for more than thirty minutes in any direction without one of me or my three brothers and sisters being sick! We always seemed to have family holidays close to home; funny that...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

No happy returns

I hope somebody out there can help as I’m rapidly running out of ideas of ways to try and cure this problem. I have a 20 month old Staffordshire Terrier bitch who is a gentle little soul, but is extremely wilful and very intelligent. For the past few months she has got it into her head that she does not want to come back to us either during or at the end of walks. Generally this seems to be linked to the fact that she does not want her lead on, a behaviour which she also exhibits at home when she will often run off and / or hide behind the bamboo when it comes time to put her lead on to go for a walk. But we have tried taking her back to the car without a lead on where it is safe, and although she will come to the car, she won’t get in it and then walks off again.
A little bit of history might help here. She was a rescue but we have had her since she was 13 weeks old. She doesn’t really like being handled and I have always put this down to a lack of handling when she was very young. However, she is very dog focused and wants to go up to every dog she meets. When she was young we actively encouraged this since she was a Staffy and we wanted to make sure she was well socialised. But because she wouldn’t come back if she saw another dog we kept her on the lead until around 10 months old. From that time up until 12 months we let her walk off lead and her recall became reasonably good (although not perfect). It was, however improving. At 12 months she was diagnosed with luxating patella and spent the next 5 months either having no walks or limited lead walks as a result of 3 operations. At the end of this time we let her off again. This was exactly the same time that we acquired a 7 month old Springer as a companion for her. For the first week or so she would come back to us and was very good. But then she started avoiding us at the end of a walk, or worse, running off to explore on her own. Throughout a walk she will come up to us looking for treats, and although she doesn’t walk alongside us, will go where we tell her to and will come when called. But if she thinks the walk is ending or we want to put a lead on her, she hangs back around 5-10 yards away. It can take us up to 45 minutes to catch her, and often we can only do it with some other dog walker’s help (as she goes to play with their dog). Needless to say she is spending more and more time on the lead.
We’ve tried a whistle, different commands, favourite toys, and favourite treats reserved only for recall. We’ve practiced recall in the garden and on an 8m lead. We’ve tried taking her towards to the car and then continuing the walk. We’ve tried playing with her at the end of the walk. We’ve also tried giving her a favourite treat for getting back in the car. We’ve even got crafty and given her peanut butter as she always stops and licks her right leg when she has this, giving us time to get the lead on. But she gets wise to everything after 2-3 days (including the peanut butter trick) and so we’re back to square one.
I really don’t want to have to walk her on the lead all the time as she is generally very well behaved (we actually get a lot of positive comments about her), but it’s getting to the stage where that seems to be our only option. I would be grateful for any suggestions as to what we can try to overcome this problem.
Julia Livesey

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Pulling power

I own a 13-month-old Border Collie who gets on well with other dogs and people. However, I have been at training school since last November and now he constantly pulls towards other dogs.
The problem mainly occurs when the whole class works together. I find it very difficult to control him and it is hard to even get his attention. One of the trainers told me to buy a Halti, which I did. This improved the problem with pulling, but I still find it hard to keep his attention. I have now been told to buy a half-check chain and to check him if he pulls or if he is not listening to me. I have also been told to shout as loud as I can to show him I am in charge. I wanted training to be an enjoyable activity for my dog and me. Do you have any suggestions that could help with this problem?
Miss Fox, Fareham, Hampshire

Wow! Not sure I'd want to be at your training class! Dogs charging into others, owners yanking and pulling and shouting as loud as they can to 'show they are in charge'. Sounds like mayhem - and you are wondering why your dog is having trouble paying attention to you?
The scenario you describe is alas all too common at group training classes, and also a leading reason why so many people give up on them, believing that they and their dog are not getting anywhere, or getting anything really useful or constructive out of them. I am sure many other readers will have some sympathy with your predicament.
Here is basically what goes wrong. The first factor is bad energy. The level of canine/human noise, excitement and stress hormones circling the confines of your average village hall training class is just too much for many dogs to cope with. You may know your dogs are there to learn all sorts of helpful stuff, but they don't. They can just react to what they are experiencing at that moment.
Second, you cannot teach dogs something 'new' while they are in a distracted or stressed state. So in this respect, how much time in your dog's life, and out of the group training environment, have you actually spent teaching him to focus on you on command? Teaching a dog to focus on you, and pay attention to you, on command, is a vital early training exercise in itself. And if you do not teach a dog, from as early an age as possible, to pay attetion to you on command then you are hardly in a position to teach it anything else.
With such an exercise, moreover, you have to begin your training with as few surrounding distractions as possible - ie at home. Then, once your dog has reliably mastered 'watch me' commands there, you gradually up the level of distraction/pressure situations you expose your dog to while he still has to concentrate on you on command. So from hom, say, you will then move on to doing this exercise with your dog in the street, or park, or any walk you are on, regardless of what is going on around you.
It is always crucial to relentlessly teach your dog or puppy to focus on you on command, before exposing it to pressure situations like training classes, rather than expect any dog to first master this exercise in a highly distracting environment.
Collies as a breed have an extremely strong level of natural focus, but where many owners go wrong is in not training this focus primarily on to themselves, when their dogs are young, through use of toys, play and other bonding methods, and letting it escape off instead on to other targets. As an adolescent male, your dog's focus is now clearly getting tuned on to other dogs, which can be quite typical at his age.
All dogs have to be taught how to focus on an owner on command, and through a multitude of different distractions - it is never something they just learn by themselves. You can begin the following training in any dog from aged around six weeks onwards:
- Initially start your focus training at home. Hold a toy or tasty treat in your hand and ask your dog to sit. As it looks at you, even for a second, say the words 'watch me' while it is doing so, then reward it with the treat or toy and praise it well.
- Next, try getting your dog to watch you in the same way for five seconds. Remember not to say the words 'watch me' unless your dog is actually watching you. Then move up to getting your dog to watch you for ten seconds or more.
- If your dog refuses to pay any attention to you, when you are trying to get it to watch you, and keeps wandering off, keep it on a lead initially for all focus training exercises.
- Every time your dog looks away from you, or the toy/treat, say 'whoops!' or 'uh-huh' in a loud voice. Every time it looks back at you, say 'watch me' in a quiet, calm voice and then praise/reward it really well for doing so.
- Next, try getting your dog to watch you or the toy/treat while it lies down and you walk all around it.
- Then try getting your dog to sit or lie down and watch you for ten seconds before any of the following: Just prior to it going for a walk; just prior to it having a meal or treat; just prior to you having a game with it.
- Finally, so the same 'watch me' exercises before letting it off the lead on a walk, then throughout the walk, when other people or dogs are passing by, or before giving it a toy to play with. The more you do this training in a variety of distracting or exciting situations, the more bombproof your dog's concentration on you will become,
In my experience, dogs respond best to the application of quiet and calm authority, and the consistent reinforcement of 'correct' behaviour with appropriate rewards. They do not, by contrast, gain any greater level of respect and responsiveness for an owner as a result of being shouted at louder, or being yanked about by this or that restraining device. Such measures only raise their stress levels and, within an already distracting environment like a training class, simply make dogs more agitated, reactive, aggressive or unable to concentrate.
It may well be that you and your dog, at least for the present, are not best suited to the whole group training experience, and that you would get far more out of some intensive help from a good one-to-one trainer. Such a person could take you right back to basics, in terms of the whole way you relate to your dog, and show you how to better motivate him to focus on you and respond to your commands. As your dog is still so young it would be well worth making this kind of investment in his future.
If you cannot find a suitable one-to-one trainer locally, you could try the following: The UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists 01535 635290,; The Association of Pet Dog Trainers 01285 810811
Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist

Monday, 1 June 2009

Tummy trouble

I adopted Ruby, a Cavalier-Corgi cross from the RSPCA in 1999. She was about four years old and had lived all her life in a travellers' compound. She was very anxious, and still is somewhat, but generally has adapted to life with me.
She was perfectly fit and eating a varied diet of normal dog food, but three years ago she developed classic symptoms of acute pancreatitis. She was slightly overweight and a middle-aged bitch, but I also felt that the rats that were getting into my flat had something to do with it. Ruby became obsessed with them - scratching at skirting boards, not sleeping, stalking them etc. The day she became ill she was barking hysterically whilst I was at work and had a huge rat at bay on the bookcase.
Obviously it took some tests to ascertain that she did have panreatitis and she was treated with ampicillin, 'buscapan' to help with the pain and put on Hills i/d food. She currently has half a tin of this twice daily with half a cup of the dried Hills i/d at lunchtime. She has lost weight and is generally very fit and healthy looking.
Unfortunately, twice-yearly she seems to have a bout of pancreatitis, but I have learnt to diagnose it. Last time she had a morphine-based injection which helped with the terrible pain and helped her recover quickly. However, there are other symptoms which I am not sure how to deal with. They only appeared after the pancreatitis was diagnosed.
1. Gurgly tummy, as I call it. This always starts at about 3am and disappears by about 10am. She is in a lot of pain, is very frightened and clingy, and there is an incredible noise coming from her stomach. She usually has one bout of loose stools, but rarely sickness.
She will occasionally eat a scrap of bread that's been left in the park, though this does not mean she will be ill. Also in the controlled environment of my parents' house she has no access to scraps, yet she can be ill. One Christmas the hours slumped in front of the oven paid off and she managed to grab and swallow a red hot roast potato, dripping in fat and she was fine. I used to mix a little Hills i/d dried food in with the tinned, but since reading never to mix cereal with meat for this type of dog, she has been a lot better. I can avoid gurgly tummy if I keep her on ampicillin permanently (250mg daily). Why does this happen so early in the morning? I feed her at 7am, 1pm and 5pm. The food that seems particularly bad for her are normal dog treats and biscuit mixed with meat. I give her three low fat 'milky' biscuits a day, which seems to be fine.
2. Discomfort in her tummy. She seems to be always uncomfortable and can never lie on her stomach. Sometimes it looks bloated, but she does not seem to have any gas coming out. Sometimes she looks sickish, gulps a lot and has more saliva and her breath smells. Sometimes her poos are fatty looking, soft and light coloured. Sometimes she strains, but quite often they are perfectly normal in the same day. She is very lively on walks.
I give her tree bark powder (and I have noticed that if I stop this she develops a little skin irritation near her tail) and mix this with Keeper's Mix which contains kelp, celery seeds, alfalfa, nettle, rosemary, psyllium husks, clivers and wild yarn. I also give her acidophilus powder and aloe vera. She enjoys fresh vegetables, especially celery and carrots. She also eats tomatoes very occasionally and fresh fruit, but I noticed oranges now give her a bad tummy. All these things are in tiny quantities and about once a week.
I suppose I have to learn to cope with all this, so I am not necessarily looking for a cure, but I would love to know what is wrong with her and why. Should I be feeding her something else?
Incidentally, gurgly tummy does not necessarily mean she is going to get pancreatitis. My own vet cannot give me a clear answer about the other tummy complaints. I could not manage her at all if it was not for the ampicillin, but I do not know how long they are willing to prescribe this for me.
She was referred to a vet at Cambridge University who was doing a study on pancreatitis and who gave me much insight and support, but could not give any explanation for gurgly tummy. In fact Ruby had it when we were there but nothing showed up on the scans. Has the pancreatitis affected her intestines/bowels in some way? Being on antibiotics seems to avoid the pancreatis episodes too.
Obviously leaving her when I am away is difficult as not many people realise how important it is that she does not eat their pet's food and I worry that they are not anticipating her episodes and treating them. Luckily I have found a lovely little kennels who do not seem fazed by boarding her - they themselves had a dog with pancreatic insufficency.
I would be very grateful if you could shed any light on her condition and give me some advice.
Suzanne Churchill, Liverpool

Reading your detailed letter has led me to the conclusion that Ruby has been very lucky to find herself with such a dedicated owner. The owner of a dog is usually the best informed when it comes to everyday care of that particular dog, and you certainly seem to know just what makes Ruby tick and in particular what is likely to upset her digestive system.
Access to a researcher into pancreatitis at Cambridge Vet School will have been very useful to both Ruby and yourself. I do come across dogs who experience bouts of 'gurgly tummy', who are usually small breeds such as West Highland White Terriers and, just as with Ruby, the owners can usually pinpoint some dietary indiscretion or environmental trigger. Firework phobia is one such factor, fear of thunderstorms another.
The role of ampicillin in this is not clear cut. It may reflect the need to keep the gut bacteria under control, for example. Provided it is keeping Ruby's digestive system healthy, then I see no reason for her not to stay on it. By the same token, I would imagine that your veterinary surgeon will continue to prescribe it for her whilst it is of benefit to her.
The only factor to spring out at me from your letter was that you are still feeding her a fairly varied diet, not just the i/d. Have you tried her solely on i/d? Is it the tomatoes and other fresh fruit and vegetables which are just keeping the gut bacteria on edge, so that the ampicillin is needed? Celery, for example, is notoriously hard to digest!
Alison Logan, vet

It’s always difficult to try and suggest reasons and causes for problems in a dog I haven’t been able to meet or see full medical records of, but I’ll tell you what my best guess is. I feel it’s very likely Ruby has developed colitis as a consequence of the pancreatic condition. Colitis is typified by sudden onset gurgly tummy, loose stools and abdominal pain. Although sometimes triggered by eating inappropriate food, more often than not diet doesn’t seem to be the trigger factor and the symptoms recur cyclically, whatever diet is fed. There is no doubt in my mind that she will never be clear of this if she is kept on Ampicillin long term. There are some excellent herbal and homoeopathic medicines and supplements that should help to remove the reliance on antibiotics.
One is Slippery Elm (this is a tree bark preparation) which you are already using, but you may need to give much more of it. Other medication, such as homoeopathic Colocynth, Colchicum or Carbo veg amongst many others, could only be prescribed at a consultation. While I don’t think any homoeopathic vet would offer you a guarantee of a cure, it is very likely that natural medicines and supplements together with a review of diet would give a much better control of the problem; almost certainly without the necessity for the Ampicillin
Richard Allport, alternative vet