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Friday, 31 July 2009

Making Diesel and Devon mix

My daughter is about to move in with me she has two dogs, a Beardie Collie x lurcher called Gypsy she is 12 years and is spayed and a blue merle Border Collie called Diesel he is 4 years, and is entire, I have a black & white Border Collie called Devon he is 8 years, and is neutered. They all get on well together when we take them for walks, they have all been on holiday together without any problems, they all play well together with no fighting over toys. But Devon can be very jealous over me and if Gypsy comes near me he will push her away but if Diesel comes near me Devon will start a fight, Diesel is very hyper-active and doesn't settle till it gets dark so is constantly on the go, so my question is: How can we avoid any fights without keeping Devon and Diesel muzzled in our home, ideally I would like to take Devon and Diesel for walks on my own but feel at the moment it would be to much of a battle.
Ray Thrush

Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist, says...
Keeping two dogs of the same sex under the same roof can always be a bit of a lottery. Sometimes it works out fine, but in other cases it can be a recipe for ongoing conflict. It tends to depend greatly on the nature of the dogs concerned, and also how their behaviour is handled.
Either way, when owners tell me that their dogs are ‘possessive’ or ‘jealous’ about them, it does tend to ring warning bells, in terms of the true nature of the relationship between them; i.e the dog in question is seeing an owner less as a suitably superior leader figure in his life and more as some prized resource he has to guard from all comers. This in turn can also signify an owner’s perceived weakness in relation to their dog.
Countless dogs spend their time being ‘loved’ and indulged by their owners, but not enough get given the firm and consistent guidance necessary for them to master more acceptable behaviour.
A dog should not be afforded the right to decide who his owner can or can’t have an interaction with—be they human or canine. Only you, as an owner, have this right, and if your dog is not taught to accept this it can be a recipe for ongoing trouble.
My suspicions are also that Devon may pretty much have access to you, and all areas of your home, all the time, which can lead to intense emotional over-attachment in dogs and more extreme reactions whenever this attachment appears under threat (e.g. howling/barking/destructive behaviour when the dog is left alone or aggression towards any rivals for an owner’s attention).
So a first sensible step before your daughter moves in with her dogs is to begin putting a bit more emotional distance between yourself and Devon, to get him more used to not always having your undivided attention on demand. The best way to do this is to get a dog gate installed between the kitchen, say, and all other areas of the house. Put Devon’s bed in the kitchen, and encourage him to spend time on his own there, on the other side of the gate, while you are at home.
As he is used to being with you all the time, he is highly likely to protest at this point, with much frustrated whining and barking, which you must totally ignore, however long it goes on for. Only go back to Devon when he is quiet again.
Before your daughter’s dogs move in, also get her to give you items, like old T-shirts, with their scent on, and place these next to Devon’s bowl at every meal time, to build up more positive associations in his mind.
It may, in fact, be a good idea to set up separate ‘dog quarters’ in the kitchen for both Devon and your daughter’s dogs, once they move in, so that they are not able to constantly be in conflict over attention from you or her.
Once your daughter’s dogs have moved in, you can then decide which dogs are invited into the main part of the house with you, as and when you wish. If Devon ever becomes aggressive towards the other dogs when you enter these dog quarters, or he is in the main house with you, immediately banish him, on the other side of the dog gate from where you happen to be. Keep doing this each and every time he shows aggression or possessive behaviour when you are around, until he eventually learns to behave in a more civilised way around the other dogs, if he wants to stay with you.
This may take time but it will be worth it for the sake of far greater future harmony between the dogs. After all, no dog can continue to guard what he is consistently denied possession of. Another possibility, if conflict seems really serious or prolonged between Devon and Diesel, is to invest in a good-sized indoor kennel. Cover this on the top and surrounding sides with a blanket, and put cosy bedding inside to make it den like. You can use this kennel to segregate the boys, taking it in turn to have one dog out and one dog in the kennel. It is not ideal, but a lot better than keeping both dogs muzzled all the time.
Diesel appears to have his own issues, and definitely needs to be taught how to settle better, throughout the day, and get out of the habit of constantly self-stimulating himself into a frenzy—which is what most so called ‘hyper activity’ in collies really amounts to. An indoor kennel, where he has to wind down for regular periods, can also help on this front, as can eliminating any possible artificial colourings or additives that could be in his diet, including treats.
It is important to understand how much you can change and improve the behaviour of any dog through much better, and more authoritative, handling and guidance on your part. But not all owners find the shift from being overly indulgent to more convincingly hardline easy. So if you feel you still need more practical ‘hands on’ help to settle the dogs in together, get additional advice from a good local canine behaviourist. Your vet should be able to refer you to one.
As far as walking the dogs together goes, I am a bit puzzled, as earlier on in your letter you said that they got on together on walks, and never fight over toys? And also, that when you went on holiday together, the dogs got on fine. My instincts are that once you get the main conflict issue sorted, re rivalry over access to you on your home turf, walks with the two dogs should pose few problems.

Amy Hatcher, behaviourist and obedience trainer, says...
Inter dog (two dogs in the same household) is unusual in dogs, it's normally bitches that can't get along together. Castration changes the gender of a dog or neutralises the dog. If one dog is kept entire and the others are not it creates an inbalance in
the pack as the result is two neutrals and a dog. It sounds like naturally Devon would be top dog but Diesel being entire has confused things. I would recommend getting Diesel castrated - particularly if he isn't being used at stud. Castration stops so much testosterone reaching the brain and the hormone is taken over by serotonin which helps a dog to relax. This may also be part of the reason that Diesel can't relax.
In addition you need to ensure that you have some good strong house rules in place so that the dogs understand the humans are the leaders. This minimalises fights and jealousy as they look to you as leaders, rather than battling it out between themselves. Some suggestions for house rules:
Create a personal space around yourselves, the dogs aren't allowed in this unless invited
Don't let them upstairs
Only allow on sofa when invited.
House rules will help to reinforce your dominance. You don't say how much exercise they get but as I am sure you know Border Collies require several hours a day in order to keep them calm and relaxed. Often a good long walk of a few hours will iron out any tension.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A fitting companion

I have an eight-year-old Jack Russell Terrier called Taz who is epileptic. We have had him for two years now and he's a wonderful little dog. His fits are controlled by medication and they happen roughly once a month, mostly overnight.
We are thinking of getting another dog - a companion for Taz. I have put it off for a while now due to fears about how another dog would react to Taz having a fit. Is it safe to have another dog in the family? I have heard that dogs can attack other dogs when they are having a fit. Would it be wise to keep them separate overnight for example? It is a query that I've been unable to have answered so I would appreciate any help or advice you can give me.
Tracy Lopez, Northamptonshire

Alison Logan, vet, advises:
I am a great believer in natural instinct: if you feel you would like to find a canine companion for Taz, then go for it. The fact that you have e-mailed in this query, and you imply that you have asked other people as well, means that you are giving it careful thought. It does need careful consideration, but then doubling up the canine content of your family is always a big decision to make, whether or not the first dog is epileptic!
That Taz is fairly settled on medication is a great plus point. You will already have gone through more than the owner of a dog who does not have a long-term health problem such as epilepsy, so to be even thinking about taking on another dog means that you feel in control.
It would always be a good idea to separate the two dogs at night in the initial stages, irrespective of whether or not Taz was epileptic. It is always going to be unsettling to some extent for the resident dog when a new dog joins the household, and night-time should be when both dogs can relax and sleep, re-charging the batteries ready for a new day and different challenges. Likewise, you will be able to relax and have a good night’s sleep if you do not have to worry about what might be going on down stairs, providing the new dog does not howl and pine for his previous home and keep you awake in that way!
If you do decide to go ahead with finding a new companion for Taz, I hope that all goes well. Best of luck!

Jon Bowen, behaviourist, advises:
Epilepsy is a serious condition. If a fit is severe or prolonged it can lead to a fatally high temperature, and the risk of this happening in the future is probably greater if your dog has already had one severe seizure. The aim when treating epilepsy is to medicate the dog to the point that fits stop or hardly ever happen, but the dog is still active and happy.
Initially most dogs are treated with phenobarbitone, because this is a reliable and effective treatment for epilepsy. However, it sometimes needs to be combined with other treatments such as potassium bromide (KBr). There is no standard dose of phenobarbitone that works for all dogs, so your vet will need to take regular blood samples to check what level your dog is getting. If a dog continues to have regular fits and has adequate blood levels of phenobarbitone then it is time to consider adding another drug.
Although one seizure per month sounds pretty manageable, if Taz were my dog I would hope to get a better level of control than this. On top of the fits you know about he may well be having others when he sleeping, while you are out, and he may be having a number of milder seizures that you don't notice. Your vet may have tried everything that he or she can think of, in which case Taz may be as good as he is going to get. However, despite being a common condition, epilepsy is a complex problem to treat and it often helps to have the involvement of a specialist neurologist. I suggest that you discuss the various options for improving control of this condition with your vet.
Epileptic dogs can happily share a home with other dogs, but there is always a risk of a problem. In Taz's case his fits are still quite common and the risk of there being a problem is therefore quite high. Due to the fundamentally competitive relationship between dogs, there will almost always be a need for one dog to compromise on something. This can cause stress, and stress aggravates epilepsy. You are right that some dogs may react aggressively to another dog while it is having a fit, but it is also possible that Taz may show signs of aggression if the other dog sleeps nearby and disturbs him when he is coming out of a fit. During the time immediately before and after a seizure the dog's perception may be altered; they may hallucinate or feel fearful. This can make them irritable or aggressive if another dog pesters them. To avoid this you would have to keep Taz separate from the other dog at night and when you are not in the home. My suggestion is that you don't get another dog until Taz's epilepsy is really well controlled.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Harnessing the persistant cough

A few years ago my dog got kennel cough, ever since whenever he pulls on his lead he coughs like he still has kennel cough. This can be embarrassing if we're out and about as it appears like I'm walking an infectious dog. Has the cough weakened him?
Should I consider using a harness so I don't irritate his throat. He normally walks to heel nicely it's just that sometimes there can be something he particularly want to sniff that causes him to pull against the collar.
What's the gentlest collar and will they work on a very hairy dog? He's a Beardie in full coat. How do you know what size to buy?
Geraldine Stevens, Dewsbury

Kennel cough is often called infectious tracheitis, meaning an infection causing inflammation of the windpipe or trachea. There may well be residual scarring or damage in your dog’s windpipe causing him to cough when he pulls on his lead against his collar.
Alternatively, if a dog has been pulling against his collar for much of his life when walked on collar and lead, it is not unusual for the windpipe to become very sensitive, resulting in a cough when the slightest pressure is applied to it.
If a dog will not walk nicely on collar and lead, or slip lead, then it is far more preferable to use a body harness or head halter. I know that there are members of the public who take one look at a head halter and shy away, mistaking it for a muzzle. I could only walk our Labbie on a head halter when I was recovering from a whiplash injury to my neck, and gave up explaining to people that it was not a muzzle because the main thing was that I could walk her in comfort. We have to walk half a mile down a country lane at either end of our walk, so it is important for both of us to enjoy that part of the walk as much as the major part when Pippin is running free. Using a head halter or body harness does give the handler far more control, and your dog will be far more inclined to walk without pulling, whilst sparing the neck area because there will be no pressure applied there at all.
Ponder this: you would not think of walking a horse with a rope around his or her neck, would you? We expect to see some form of head halter on a horse, so why not on a dog? I would certainly try walking your dog on a head halter and a body harness (separately, not at the same time!) and see which he seems to prefer, and which you find easier to fit. With a head halter in particular, you may want to still have a lead attached to his collar the first few times that you use it so that there is no pressure on the halter. It will be a strange and different feeling from being walked on collar and lead, which may take your dog a little time to accept. Pippin still intermittently rubs at her head with her paws, or against my legs, but it is ideal when walking in crowds, for example, for the greater degree of control one has, as well as avoiding pressure being applied to the windpipe.
Alison Logan, Vet

Sadly this is more common than you think - when a collar is attached to a lead it causes painful pressure to the sensitive areas around a dog's neck and throat causing symptoms such as those you describe. A collar and lead can also result in collapsed trachea and certain eye disorders (see web link and our web page which has other links as terms of reference).
It is very important to have a well fitted harness that does not have a bar across the front of the dog, at the base of the neck, as this can also aggravate dog's damaged throats as well.
Soft padding is also a factor to bear in mind, as narrow webbing made of nylon or polypropylene will rub against the dog's soft coat causing friction, soreness and breaking of the delicate coat. Many dogs find these styles of harness just as uncomfortable as a collar and pull to get away from the pain that they experience, not realising that their pulling causes
the pain in the first place. Pulling seems to be the only answer for the dog because the quicker it can get to its destination the sooner the painful collar or harness will be removed.
As the original inventor of the Fleece Lined Harness (which includes padding on the girth strap as well as the arm pit area which is also a very sensitive area for a dog) and also the Perfect Fit Harness I recognised the drawbacks of collars and webbing harnesses and designed these two styles of walking harnesses to overcome all these problems. Both have soft fleece
padding which sits snugly against the dog's body, preventing movement and friction burns. We sell both styles of harness not only on our web shop but also wholesale to veterinary surgeries, rescue centres, groomers, pet shops etc all over the world - all of which have seen first hand the amazing difference to a dog's quality of life when taken for a walk on their fleece lined harness and lead.
With regards to sizing - our web shop has breed charts for both styles of harness and if you are still unsure as to what size to order just contact our sales team on or 01684 569553 (Mon - Fri 10 - 4) with your dog's breed (or description if a cross breed), age,sex, and the dog's girth measurement (that is measure your dog's body just behind
the front legs, making sure it is a nice snug fit against the dog).
Sally Hopkins -

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Can dogs catch Swine Flu?

Hello fellow dog lovers!
I feel a bit daft for asking this BUT Does anyone know if dogs are at risk from swine flu? I'm Mum to a English Springer spaniel and as a first time dog owner as fussy as I was as a new Mum many years ago.
Fiona James

From the NHS website:
There is currently no evidence that pets are susceptible to this new strain of flu. The swine flu virus appears to be passing only from person to person or from human to swine. In general, flu viruses commonly infect just one species; for example, dogs and cats do not get seasonal flu from their owners.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

In deep water

My three-year-old Labrador, Daisy, is obsessed with swimming. I know it is a natural trait of her breed, but it has got so extreme that I can't walk her anywhere off-lead. Daisy can smell water wherever we are and will run until she finds it - nothing will distract her attention. She has even charged across a busy road to get to a pond on the other side, which has now made me afraid to let her run free.
Can anyone suggest a solution? I don't want to rid her of her natural instincts, but I need to have more control over my water baby.
Jo Richards, by email

Amy Hatcher, behaviourist and obedience trainer, says...
All breeds have their natural traits and with Labradors the number one thing seems to be swimming (and eating of course). My Border Collies are trained sheepdogs but I can still walk through a field of sheep and they won't go near unless I say so. You can achieve this by training your Labrador to go in the water on command to fetch something and then when she comes out with the article walk on and do some other training with her such as sit stays, down stays etc. Return to the pond and send her back in for a retrieve again. Don't just approach the pond and let her go in, actually encourage her by throwing something. This makes swimming 'work' rather than just a free for all. The next time she needs to be on the lead. Tell her to stay and throw the retrieve article - keep hold of the lead as she is likely to break her stay to rush in. When she relaxes and stops trying to pull you in give her the retrieve command and send her in. You need to repeat this step a few times in quick succession and then each day in various locations.

June Williams, COAPE Association of Behaviourists and Trainers, says…
Instead of scenting and chasing deer, rabbits or squirrels, your Labrador is scenting and chasing water. It is therefore, essentially a recall problem together with finding something that she will find more rewarding to do out on a walk with you. The difficulty is that, the finding and enjoying of the water is so irresistibly and intrinsically rewarding. I would work on an emergency recall and/or whistle train her. Get some professional help from an APDT member. Put her on a long line, the end of which always stays within reach. It will get you fit! Try and get her more interested in playing with a special toy that only goes out on walks. It will take time and hard work.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Go to work with a dog!

I'm sure I've heard about a special day when you can take your dog to work with you, is it something that only happens in America? I'd love to persuade my boss that we could have dogs in our office without any disruption and this would be the perfect opportunity to give the idea a practical trial.
Is there anything I can show my boss to help convince him it's a good idea? Any good case histories to show him how other people make it work? Any tips to make our trial day go as smoothly as possible?
Georgia Hood, Sheffield

The day you are talking about is Take Your Dog To Work Day and it is a fundraising campaign by pet charity, The Blue Cross. It is a great opportunity for dog lovers to spend more time with their pet and extol the physical and health benefits this brings.
The date for the 2009 event has been confirmed as Wednesday 16 September.
Visit the website to register your participation and for more details on the campaign, its celebrity supporters and fundraising hints and tips.
Flora Neeson, Blue Cross

Oscar and Tess come to work most days at the Dogs Today office, and they love it although I suspect there are some days where wet feet and bits of hedge may make them slightly less of a delight for the rest of the workforce. There have been times in the magazine history where dogs have outnumbered humans, but as Tess is a bit territorial and this is her home these two are ruling the roost at the moment. Sally the Beardie was the longest-serving canine employee and she enjoyed work until she was 16. Quite near the beginning of her working career Sally carved out a reputation in credit control, famously spraying a bad debtor with liquid poo. The current workforce have obviously had less time to shine, but Tess is already on her first written warning for barking at the evening postman who collects our post. The morning postie is welcomed every day, but he does always have biscuits in his pockets and obviously loves dogs.
If you are not the boss, chances are dogs that are not fragrant and welcoming to all callers will not be allowed back after Take Your Dog to Work Day.
Therefore if you are taking part only take well behaved dogs into the workplace and take a towel!
Beverley Cuddy, Editor Dogs Today

Monday, 13 July 2009

Dead matter

My five-year-old Labrador found a dead bird in the garden full of maggots and ate some of it before I could get it off her. She thought it would be a great game if I chased her round the garden with it dangling from her mouth!
However, I am now concerned that comsuming some of the maggots may cause her harm. Should I take her to the vet?
Vicky Harris, by email

Richard Allport, alternative vet, advises:
Yes, this has happened to me too. One of my Bedlingtons once found a decaying blackbird corpse dripping with juicy maggots and insisted on swallowing the entire carcass, maggots and all. She was fine, it’s the natural instinct of a scavenging species like canines, and it was a free meal after all! No reason why dead birds, or maggots, are particularly likely to cause any problems apart from a mildly upset stomach at the worst. This sort of behaviour might upset our human sensibilities but is no cause for alarm as far as our dogs are concerned.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Scratching the surface

I have two Border Collie bitches, both spayed, one is five and the other 13. The oldest bitch has always had a problem with loud noises, fireworks, thunderstorms, rain on the conservatory roof and the like.
At night she has started to scratch at the kitchen lino in one corner so we put a rubber mat there to prevent damage to the floor. When we go out for a couple of hours she has been going upstairs and doing the same thing in the bedroom.
She also does the same in the conservatory. I am concerned at her behaviour but at a loss as to why she has started to do this. She is walked twice a day and is very fit and healthy for her age. Can you please throw any light on this matter? I would be grateful for your help.
Josephine Soraka, Farnborough, Hampshire

Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist, says...
There are several reasons why dogs scratch the ground in the way you describe. In entire bitches this can be classic 'nesting' behaviour, prior to having pups, but all dogs can go through nesting rituals like this, prior to settling down to rest or sleep.
In your bitch's case, however, I think the behaviour is an anxiety-releasing device, as it seems to occur only when you leave her. Your dog may always have been highly attached to you, emotionally, as well as having issues about noise, but as dogs get older they can become even more fearful and clingy. And this is what can lead to more anxiety-related problems when you leave them.
The thing I would suggest doing, as a priority, is making your older bitch her own special and safe 'den' in the kitchen. Get her an indoor kennel, large enough for her to easily stand up in and move around in, and cover the top and three surrounding sides of this with a blanket. Then install some really cosy bedding inside. Get your bitch used to going into this and sleeping in it gradually, and start feeding her in there. Do not just stick her inside and shut the kennel door or she will be highly distressed.
Start practising leaving your dog to rest in her 'den' with its door open for an hour or two, while you are still at home. If she then tries to follow you from room to room, keep putting her back there until she finally stays put and settles. Each time you leave your bitch in her den, also put some specific item in front of it that she can later associate with settling and resting there. This can be anything from a chair to a kitchen bin or ornament. Each time you come back to your dog, or invite her out of her den, take this symbolic item away again. Only when your bitch is really happy about resting in her kennel 'den' for an hour or more with the kennel door open can you then try shutting it.
All this retraining can take a bit of patience, but if done properly should do a lot to reduce your dog's anxiety about being left, and thus the behaviour that goes with this. Of course, as an older dog, there could be some age-related changes going on in her brain that are contributing to her anxious state and behaviour, or exacerbating it. There are certain medications or supplements that can be of benefit to older dogs in this regard, and which you might want to consult your vet about.

June Williams, COAPE Association of Behaviourists and Trainers, says…
Have her health checked by a vet. Emma Milne wrote an article in the July 2006 issue of Dogs Today about senility with a list of behavioural changes to look for (including restlessness at night, aimless wandering) and how Hills b/d, rich in antioxidants, has good results. What you describe, my younger German Shepherd will do when over-stimulated and she seems to be trying to make a nest to lie in.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Missing links

I recently looked at the pedigree on a website for some pedigree puppies for sale. Only the good hip scores of ancestors had been listed; the breeder left out the recent ancestors with scores of 42 etc. Is this just 'naughty' or is it some form of misrepresentation/misinformation? The breeder knows full well about the high scoring maternal grandsire as he belongs to her!
Angela Boyd, by email

Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist, advises:
Oh dear—welcome to the world of pedigree dog breeding, where so many potential pitfalls await the more naive or ill-informed! You do not say what breed of dog you are talking about, which tends to be relevant, in terms of what represents an exceptionally high hip score for a particular breed—see below. But I sense you must either know this particular breeder fairly well to be acquainted with the history of her dogs, or have been admirably zealous in rooting out any of her ‘unmentioned’ hip scores via Kennel Club records.
On the face of it, if you have a dog with a high hip score you should not breed from it, due to the risk of this fault afflicting later generations with hip dysplasia—which, at its worst, can be an appalling condition to both suffer and manage. However, what can cloud the issue for so many breeders is that the dog with the higher hip score may either have, or carry, other genetic attributes they highly cherish or desire—particularly in terms of show or working potential. And this is what prompts them to take the risk of breeding from them, hoping that in the process the hip fault will somehow be magically eradicated or not passed on. It is much like genetic Russian roulette.
Sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose, but when they lose it can have dire consequences for the dogs they produce and their owners alike. Alternatively, of course, the breeder you mention may have used her own dog with the higher hip score simply to save herself the expense of a stud fee, or the hassle of researching/visiting a more preferable sire elsewhere.
At the end of the day it is not yet—sadly!—compulsory for breeders to hip score any dog they breed from, in order to register their progeny with the KC. And at least the breeder you refer to took the trouble to both test and register the scores of her ‘less good’ dogs. Other breeders, once they see how bad their dogs’ hips look on a vet’s initial X-ray, won’t even send them up to the British Veterinary Association to be officially scored, with the result thereafter kept on record by the Kennel Club. In so doing they leave nobody any the wiser about this fault.
Essentially—as I totally agree with you—the issue here is about honesty. It is simply not honest to have potentially pretty serious faults in a dog, or its breeding line, that you know about but do not openly declare. Breeders may often think they are doing the best thing in keeping such problems quiet but, as you prove yourself, it can too often lead to mistrust instead, on behalf of people who might otherwise buy your dogs.
There are an awful lot of would-be puppy owners out there who may still know nothing about hip scoring, or how vital this health screening process is, particularly in bigger breeds or breeds known to suffer from hip dysplasia. So I urge them to read below.

All you need to know about hip scoring
- Hip scoring is a scheme set up jointly by the Kennel Club and British Veterinary Association to test, and record, the quality of hip construction in pedigree dogs and minimize the chance of any breeding stock passing on hip dysplasia (HD); a progressively more painful/arthritic condition caused by poor basic hip structure.
- In healthy dogs the head of the thigh bone (or femur) fits snuggly into a sufficiently deep/smooth socket (or acetabulum) in the pelvis, allowing for optimum ease and fluidity of movement. Dogs with HD, on the other hand, have very poor hip construction—e.g. a distorted femoral head moves unstably with a very shallow hip socket, causing pain and disability. Some dogs can be so badly affected that by just five months of age they can hardly walk or rise from a sitting position.
- Dogs can be hip scored from a year old onwards. A vet takes a high quality X-ray of a dog’s hips, and then submits this to a special British Veterinary Association scoring panel. Each hip is graded, in terms of quality, from 0 to 54, with 0 being absolutely perfect construction, and 54 being extremely poor. The scores are then put together, with 0 (0 : 0) being the best possible score and 108 (54 : 54) being the worst. Thus, the lower the score, the better the dog’s hips.
- Bigger dogs—e.g. Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Labradors, Golden retrievers—tend to be more prone to HD, though it can now affect many other breeds, such as Clumber spaniels. The most important thing to do, when looking for a pup, is to find out whether it is from a breed known to suffer from HD, plus what the ‘average’ hip score is for its breed. You should be able to get this information from the KC or other breed reference books/websites. The parents of any pup you consider should then not only have been hip scored, but also have a score around this breed average or, even better, somewhat below it.
- Be aware, however, that HD is not always considered to be a purely inherited condition and that other factors—e.g. inappropriate diet and overweight/over-exercise as a puppy, or a traumatic birth—are thought to play their part in its development.
- ‘Average’ scores among breeds can also be misleading, as these only derive from dogs who have actually been submitted for testing, as opposed to the breed as a whole. HD can also sometimes appear to have a less than straightforward mode of inheritance, with high scoring parents producing low scoring offspring, and vice versa. All in all, however, getting puppies from parents with excellent hip scores, however, still remains the best bet. And if the parents aren’t hip scored at all—particularly in a seriously affected breed—steer clear!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Crying out for a solution to tear stains!

Dear Dogs Today,
I have a 12 year old female Westie who has had tear staining around the eyes for about two years now. Our vet has told us that this is just age, she is healthy and I know that some breeds are prone to this. We are clearing the 'gunk' from her eyes almost twice a day now and I wash the stains away with warm water at least once a week. The hair around her eyes is trimmed inbetween grooms as well. This is not a chore to us, we do it because we don't want her to have any infections etc but I think she'd prefer it if we didn't keep pestering her!
There are many products on the market specifically for this but I don't like the idea of applying cream to the area (especially not the kind you leave on over night) and ideally I'd like to give her a natural supplement that will also keep her joints healthy as she is getting on. My question is can Omega 3 eg flax seed oil be used to treat the tear stains from internally? I have read that Omega 3 can be good for this as well as for joint care - where can I buy it from and how can it be given? I have found a few things online but would like the opinions of professionals and owners with this problem. I have also read that food can be a cause of this but she is on a good brand of food. It seems like a very common problem that is not discussed enough and when it is, 'old age' is never a listed cause. I feel that a lot of issues facing older dogs - that are not life threatening - are not discussed enough, such as 'crusty' noses.

Emma, Manchester

(p.s. Please pass on my delight and best wishes to Manda Scott & new pup Abigail! I have really enjoyed following Manda's journey and found the information she has shared invaluable.)

Nick Thompson, holistic vet, advises:
You're absolutely right. I find that if there is not a specific drug, procedure or food to help a problem, it is often not talked about enough. Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine and natural nutrition can help broaden the range of conditions we vets are able to treat. Many vets are now sympathetic to these forms of medicine, so it's always worth asking your vet to refer you to a specialist.
Tear staining, or ephiphora, as we vets call it, can be due to a number of causes. Conditions causing increased tear production can give rise to it, as can problems that affect drainage of normal tears (that keep the eye ball moist) from the eye.
In a 12-year-old Westie who has had both eyes affected for two years, my first thought goes to blocked drainage of the eye. The naso-lachrymal ducts are small holes on the lower eyelid closest to the nose. They connect to a really fine tube, as fine as cotton, that drains into the nasal passage. This is why you have to blow your nose when you cry - excess tears land up in the nose and need to be cleared.
Vets can easily check if this duct is blocked or not by putting a simple dye, called fluoresceine, into the eye. You may have seen this before - they are the orange drops that they put into the eye that immediately turn green. They're used to find small scratches on the surface, the cornea, of the eye, too. Dye placed in the eyes should drain to the nose in about a minute and be seen as a green dribble from the nostril. If it takes more than two minutes it suggests there is a bit of a blockage or narrowing of the duct. If it doesn't appear at all, then it shows a complete block.
Nasolachrymal ducts can become blocked with matter from the eyes, can be squeezed by tissue growth nearby or can narrow if they've been inflamed in the past. If they just have a bit of matter in them, they can be flushed gently while the patient is anaesthetised. While they are under, your vet can investigate other causes of blockage if they are don't flush through, too.
Dogs who frequently get blocked ducts can benefit from a combination of homeopathic Pulsatilla and Silica 30c in combination. Weekly dosing can reduce the need for flushing. This can also be increased when they look like they are blocking.
You mention Omega 3 fatty acids and crusty noses. Omega 3 is very useful to promote the body's anti-inflammatory capability. This then can help with inflammation in the skin or the joints. I put most of my patients on these supplements. Even conventional vets use these supplements, so it's worth talking to your vet for the best fatty acid supplement for your Westie.
Crusty noses can be a real problem. Fatty acid supplements can help, as can human, edible Brewer's Yeast. I dose about a teaspoon per 10 kg bodyweight per day. It's full of B vitamins and this helps liver function, energy levels as well as sorting some crusty noses and boosting older dogs. Give it a go!
I could talk all day about niggly problems we see in older dogs, but we'll have to leave this to another question. Good luck!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Calcinosis conundrum

My nine-month-old English Setter, Shaymus, has a terrible problem. He was a poorly puppy when I got him at eight weeks, probably the runt of the litter, with runny eyes, ear infection, fleas and campylobacter virus in his stomach. I knew the breeder would put him down if I refused to take him and he looked so much like my old dog.
Shaymus has his vaccinations at three months. We did wait until he seemed strong enough to have them, but I was still very worried.
Soon after he started enjoying his walks, but when he was about five months old I noticed his foot was swollen one day after running in the fields. He was treated with a long course of antibiotics, but after the infection had gone a large, hard lump remained under the pad. He had a fine needle aspiration, then a biopsy under anaesthetic, which only showed calcium. His lymph gland which was swollen behind the knee was removed and again calcium was found. He then had another operation to remove tissue - the result being Calcinosis!
Shaymus stayed in hospital for a week because the wounds wouldn't heal and was very painful. Before the operations the lump in his foot didn't seem to bother him at all. He's had a dreadful time with all the dressing changes and having the wounds washed out - we were never away from the vets.
I was told that if they did attempt to remove all the Calcinosis out of the foot (an operation they've never done before) that it could go badly wrong and he'd lose his leg. In the end the vet decided not to go ahead, so there is nothing more they can do for Shaymus. Noone knows what will happen now.
He has developed bad behavioural problems because he wasn't getting enough exercise, but I have now started to take him for short walks again and I hope that his foot will not swell up again.
I found a retired vet who is a qualified homeopath and when he saw Shaymus' foot he was very confident he could cure it. At the moment he's been taking heklab for about four weeks, but the lump isn't any smaller, although it does seemed to have moved and is now just under half his pad on the outside of the foot.
I'm so stressed and worried as I don't know what the future holds for my beautiful boy. He's grown into a very big, lively dog who loves everyone. I cover his foot when we go for a walk and try not to walk him too much on hard pavements.
The homeopathic vet who is treating him feels that the vaccination caused the Calcinosis because his immune system wasn't strong enough to cope with it. I don't want him to have any boosters so he'll be treated with homeopathic nosodes, but I could have a problem with my insurance. When I took it out I struggled to understand the lady on the phone and ended up with a pet share policy where I have to pay 25 per cent. I didn't even realise until I was asked at the vets about how much excess I need to pay. I've had to find hundreds, and even took a loan out to pay the 25 per cent of his last operation. I'm nearly 66 and live on pension credit.
My dogs are my life and I just hope someone, somewhere can help my beautiful boy. If this homeopathy doesn't work what will happen. Does anyone know anything about this terrible condition?
Maureen Roberts, Buxton, Derbyshire

Richard Allport, alternative vet, advises:
There are several different forms of Calcinosis, with various names, such as Calcinosis cutis, Calcinosis circumscripta and so on. Underlying problems that can cause calcium deposits include Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, but also tissue trauma which seems the most likely trigger here. The body’s healing mechanism can go a little awry and instead of ordinary scar tissue, Calcium is laid down. As your homoeopathic vet mentioned, this can be immune related, which could involve the vaccination. With such a bad start in life the vaccine may have been too much for the immune system to cope with. However, the problem may equally have a genetic or some other cause.
Homoeopathic treatment can often work slowly but surely, and the fact the lump has moved is a good sign - homoeopathy often stimulates a movement of lesions, quite commonly backwards and downwards. At the moment I would continue to have faith in your homoeopathic vet and see how the condition progresses.
As far as the insurance is concerned, most insurance companies will cover unvaccinated dogs, just not for the diseases they are not vaccinated against.
Good luck with the treatment for Shaymus, I really hope things go well

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Joint aid

I have a seven-year-old Rottie named Leo who we got about six weeks ago. He was quite unhealthy and overweight when we got him as he had not been walked for a long time. He has improved a lot and lost weight as he now gets walked two or three times a day. We try not to overdo it though, as we want to build it up gradually. However, he still limps some of the time, and sometimes struggles when he goes for a walk. He is fed on a dry food specifically for larger dogs with joint problems, and has cod liver oil supplements.
We also have a seven-year-old Labrador who has had arthritis from being young, but cod liver oil and a bioflow magnetic collar mean that he can live a normal and healthy life. We considered getting a magnetic collar for Leo, but couldn't seem to find one to fit! Other than this he is a happy and healthy dog, and is very energetic when he is not having trouble with his joints.
Does anyone have any other suggestions of how we can help him, or know where we could find an extra large magnetic collar?
Alice Charlesworth, by email

Alison Logan, vet, advises:
I have had some quite spectacular results with Bioflow magnetic collars. The benefit is purely in the module which is carried on the nylon collar, so you should be able to thread it onto any nylon collar if you are finding the collar supplied is too short. Do remember to ensure that the module is against the coat in the throat area or ventral neck.
I am glad you have gradually introduced an exercise regime because it is important for your rottie to tone up, just like it is for us when starting to exercise. A few short walks is always better than one long route march! Weight loss will have also been a huge contributory factor to your rottie’s improvement.
You mention that you are feeding a dry food for large dogs with joint problems. Again, I have certainly had great success with prescription diet for joint support. My own Labbie is a walking testament to that!
I would always prefer to supplement with fish oil rather than cod liver oil. Do bear in mind that additional supplements should not be necessary if it is the prescription diet that you are feeding.
Keep up the good work!

Richard Allport, alternative vet, advises:
I stock Magnopulse magnetic collars at my own practice and haven’t yet found a dog that we couldn’t fit a collar for, but the magnet can always be removed and stitched into a larger collar anyway. I have seen good but not 100 per cent success with magnetic collars, most dogs do really well once wearing a collar, a few are just a little better and occasionally a dog will seem to get no benefit at all. Cod liver oil is certainly helpful, but I’d get Leo off the dried food and on to a ‘real food’ diet – proper meat and veg, some offal, the odd egg or two and so on. Keep up the gradually increasing exercise and think about adding some or all of the following:
• A good Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM and Hyaluronic acid supplement, such as Cortavet – this will help to lubricate the joints and support healthy cartilage development.
• Acupuncture – if you have a vet in the area with experience of needling – excellent for pain relief and for slowing down deterioration of joints.
• Yarrow complex – a terrific herbal combination that has an effective anti inflammatory effect in joints
• Homoeopathic medicines – if you have access to a qualified homoeopathic vet you will be able to obtain useful anti arthritic medicines which can be prescribed after referral from your own vet.
These are just a few of the many natural medicines and therapies that would help keep Leo happy and mobile. Good luck!

Dr John Howie, Co-founder Lintbells Ltd, advises:
There are a number of everyday things you can do to keep your dog's joints in good health.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can help alleviate the joint problems. Daily low-impact exercise is very important. Inactivity can lead to joint stiffness and decreased flexibility whilst too much exercise is not a good idea either, as it puts too much strain on the dog's joints, so moderation is the key. One excellent form of exercise is swimming as it enables the dog to exercise whilst supporting their weight. If you have a hydrotherapy centre in the area, it would be worth giving them a call. They can design a program tailored to your dog's needs so that it provides good exercise without over doing it.
Nutrition can also play an important role. It sounds like you are already doing a good job here, but you might want to consider a supplement specifically designed to help stiff dogs.
From a joint structure point of view, glucosamine provides the building blocks for the production of new cartilage, but look for products containing Glucosamine HCl rather than Glucosamine sulphate as these contain a purer form. Chondroitin is also important as it inhibits the break down of the cartilage, helping keep the joint in good health.
For your dog's comfort, the key is to provide omega 3 oils that help reduce inflammation making your dog feel more comfortable. Whilst cod liver oil capsules provide some omega 3, the best source is green lipped mussel. As well as the standard omega 3, EPA, found in fish oils, it also contains a unique omega 3 called ETA. This combination is very powerful and will provide much faster and more effective relief. Green lipped mussel has been proven to improve joint comfort in many trials.
Another relatively new ingredient that is great for mobility is hyaluronic acid. It's the compound that forms the cushioning fluid in your dog's joints (the synovial fluid) and is very important for shock absorption lubrication in the joint itself.
We have just launched a new supplement, YUMOVE, that contains all of these key ingredients at the right level and purity in a single supplement. If you wanted to try a sample, you would be very welcome to. Simply visit to register and we can send it out to you. If you'd like to learn more about YUMOVE, please visit

Pennie Clayton, Canine Bowen Therapist, says...
It sounds like you are already making a real improvement to Leo's life during the six weeks that he has been with you.
As a Bowen therapist I would first and foremost recommend that you cut down on Leo's walks especially as he is limping at times. If his weight is beginning to improve then you may be overdoing the walks even though you say you are building them gradually. If a dog limps on walks I would suggest that there is pain somewhere, which would indicate cutting down on exercise instead of continuing to build it up.
Bowen therapy could be very useful for Leo for several reasons. Firstly it can help address the problems of his previous ill health, and secondly it can be very beneficial with gait problems and discomfort, by boosting circulation and energy, and be helping remove toxins from his system. Bowen can also help rebalance the dog's body by relieving stiffness and soreness in limbs. Lastly the very best thing about Bowen is that it is a very gentle and relaxing therapy which will benefit Leo if he is experiencing pain or tenderness in any areas of his body.
If you visit you will find a list of fully trained and insured Canine Bowen therapists, and there you can select a practitioner close to you who will be very pleased to help you with Leo's ongoing health and fitness regime, and will be happy to answer any further questions you may have regarding Canine Bowen Technique.

Emma Phillips, from Molar Ltd, says…
Syno-Vital Pet is a liquid food supplement containing Hyaluronan, a natural product already found in highest concentrations within the joints of animals and humans.
As the animal ages, its body produces less Hyaluronan. The joints become stiff and the movement painful.
Syno-Vital Pet is an oral solution made from medical grade hyaluronic acid with 1.2 million Daltons molecular weight. Liquid solutions by nature are absorbed by the body easier and quicker than tablets and capsules. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a polymer and comes in varying molecular weights. Studies have shown more benefits with the higher molecular weight HA, such as more cushioning for the joints.
The Hyaluronan in Syno-Vital Pet is derived from an extracellular protein of a bacteria in a laboratory. It does not contain any animal derivatives. Since it is naturally present in the body and is not derived from animal tissue, hypersensitivity to Syno-Vital Pet is not a problem. There are no side-effects and again, studies show that Hyaluronan has been reported to be within the joints in 20 minutes.
Syno-Vital Pet comes as 30 x 5ml sachets to be given once a day with an RSP of £29.99 and is available from all good vet surgeries and pet stores.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Making the diagnosis

My vet has tried without success to find out what is wrong with one of my dogs, so I am hoping that someone reading this blog has come across a similar case.
My dog is an 11-year-old mongrel (a collie-terrier cross type) weighing about 10kg. She was first blood-sampled about a year ago and this has since been repeated twice. Each time the results have suggested either a liver problem or Cushing's Disease (i.e high cortisol and alk./phos. levels). She has had an ultrasound scan of her liver and been tested for Cushing's three times (2 x ACTH and a dexamethasone test). The scan did not identify an obvious problem and she tested negative for Cushings each time. However, I am very worried about the long-term effects of her having a high cortisol level. She was initially blood-sampled because I noticed a significant change in her coat, and because she started drinking more than normal. Her coat is now shorter, finer and softer than previously, and she moults more - although she does not have any bald patches. She was drinking a large quantity in the evening and then was incontinent through the night - usually not emptying her bladder completely. The blood results showed normal kidney function, and therefore I now remove her water bowl at 8pm to prevent 'accidents' overnight. She doesn't appear to feel off-colour and can comfortably complete a 45 minute walk, provided it is not hot. Please, please can anyone help?
Claire Murison, by email

It can be notoriously hard to make a definitive diagnosis of hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s syndrome. Veterinary medicine is not an exact science! One reason is that we vets are much more aware of the possibility of Cushing’s syndrome than was the situation twenty years ago, so we are trying to diagnose it at an earlier stage.
It is not often that one encounters a dog showing all the classical signs of Cushing’s syndrome which include the three p’s (polyphagia or ravenous appetite, polyuria/polydipsia or increased urination and thirst), pot-belly, blackheads, bilaterally symmetrical hair loss on the flanks, and panting. There may be only a few of the signs present. One of my patients was investigated for a voracious appetite – that was the only sign of a problem that he showed. I am a little concerned, though, when you say that blood tests have shown a high cortisol level, as well as raised liver enzyme levels. I wonder whether you mean high cholesterol levels, which are a common finding on a basic blood screen for a patient with suspected Cushing’s syndrome, and would have led on to your vet advising the more specific stimulation and depression tests for Cushing’s syndrome.
If your dog does have raised cortisol levels, then it would be worth repeating the specific tests, and I think it would be worth doing that anyhow. I can think of at least two of my patients who have looked cushingoid to me but yielded negative or non-conclusive results on at least two occasions, but have eventually given positive results. It does happen!
If your dog has raised cholesterol levels, rather than cortisol levels, then a different endocrinological or hormonal problem might be present. Changes in hair coat occur with an underactive thyroid, for example.
Do go back to your vet because, as you rightly say, your dog does have a health problem which needs diagnosing.
Alison Logan, vet