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Friday, 9 March 2012

Paws off my food

Tye, my five-year-old male, neutered GSD, has suffered hyperactivity and nervous tension since the age of seven months, though what actually triggered it we do not know. Such is his sensitivity to any preservatives, colours or additives that he will react within 24 hours of having them and symptoms will prevail for up to seven days afterwards.

Unfortunately we did not realise that this behaviour was related to his diet until 12 months ago and so Tye has endured almost four years of these symptoms. Initially we were told that he was just a hyperactive dominant dog who needed strong handling to sort him out. In effect this was exactly the opposite of what he needed and has caused many more problems than it has helped. Consequently we have taken into account the modern approach to “dominance” and feel that us being the “Alpha” figure does not come into the equation any more.

A typical reaction to something will begin with either one or both of Tye’s ears becoming itchy and inflamed and extremely sensitive, followed by him being very vocal, with high pitched uncontrollable barking and frantic pacing or running around whenever someone arrives at the house or walks past the car he is in. He will have a horrible stare in his eyes and will stalk around with his hackles raised, often accompanied by a low growl. He will exhibit “guarding” behaviour towards me, placing himself between my husband and I and warning him away. When taken out for a walk in this state he will “bounce” along the ground as if the floor is hot beneath his feet and seems to be hyper sensitive to anything and everything often lunging at other people, dogs and livestock. These symptoms will typically last for five to seven days before he comes “down” again and during this time he needs to be handled with extreme care as he is prone to mouthing and will also adopt the “bite first” approach if taken unawares or surprised by something. The inflammation in his ears is also the last thing to clear up.

Tye has improved greatly since going onto a raw diet consisting of chicken wings, brown rice and fresh vegetables plus a natural source of vitamins and he looks fit and well. However, he recently had his booster vaccinations and has experienced exactly the same reaction as he did when on proprietary dog foods and treats. When in this agitated state he will not respond normally, appears to suffer anxiety and exhibits stressed behaviour. Obviously we are concerned that because we do not know what triggers this reaction it is impossible to know when such bouts are going to occur if he requires medication etc.

If anyone has had experience of similar problems/behaviour and can throw any light on the subject it would be much appreciated.

Ruth Downing, by email

Karen Wild, behaviourist (, advises...

Hi Ruth

I am sure Alison our vet will add enormously to this, but just to say that it would be well worth getting a behaviourist from the APBC in to help you with Tye's problem behaviour as and when it flares up. Even though this is motivated by the health issues that he has, you still need to have safety management procedures in place that will help.

It sounds like you already deal with this brilliantly and know what to look out for but this is the kind of case where the vet and behaviourist work together on a solution and this is one of the reasons that an accredited behaviourist always works on vet referral. Only a vet can truly identify and diagnose symptoms of an underlying health problem, as you have found! 

Unfortunately as you have said, old-fashioned theories of dominance do nothing to help a dog in Tye's situation and could make the whole thing a lot worse. It would be worth making sure that you are safe at these times and to make sure he is as happy and relaxed as possible when his ears start to flare up. Well done on what you have done so far!

Alison Logan, vet, advises...

The signs you describe do sound like a behavioural response to an extreme allergic state.  So-called atopy tends to appear in the young dog, and for Tye this began at seven months of age. Inflammation of the ears is a commonly described sign.
The immune system of the atopic dog is generally reacting to inhaled factors such as pollens, house dust mites, forage mites and human dander, for example, and there may also be an element of food hypersensitivity. It is therefore interesting that Tye has improved with the raw diet which may suggest that the major part of his problem is a food hypersensitivity.
That the behavioural signs returned after his vaccination is not altogether surprising since a vaccination is designed to stimulate the production by the immune system of protection against specific diseases. It may well be that medications such as antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, for example, will not trigger Tye’s behavioural response.
Tye would be a good candidate to work with a behaviourist so that you and he can learn managing strategies when something triggers his extreme agitation. It would also however be useful if one could identify the triggers with allergen testing, either with blood and/or skin tests, and then, taking it a step further, having a tailored hyposensitising vaccine formulated.
Do not despair. Through working with a behaviourist,  your vet and/or a veterinary  dermatologist will hopefully ease Tye’s problems and make life easier for all of you.



  1. Hi Ruth,
    I had a growly, over-reactive spaniel (who bit several people) and like you I switched to raw feeding, including chicken wings. It might not be just the diet, though, that is affecting your dog but the fact that he feels uneasy, which means he needs to be more confident.
    Forget all that Alpha stuff and do a bit of positive training on your walks. I would make sure he has lots of off lead exercise and I would reward good recalls and other good behaviour with a treat. I would also play with him on walks, making it more fun, which means he will relax.
    Exercise has such a wonderfully calming effect.
    At home, the thing to do with the guarding behaviour (which I've had as well) is for you, the person guarded, to back off
    in your relationship with him and let your partner step in with things like feeding, playing, cuddling, brushing, etc, and become his friend as well.
    You have to remain always very calm and a bit more distant with your dog for the time being.
    Being calm but in control helps enormously with the reactivity and try not to react to any growling because that makes it escalate, I found.
    On walks I would ignore the bouncing around and just walk on but if there is a danger he might lunge at livestock or people, I would put him on a lead, but keep it loose while passing them, because this makes him relax. You can then stop him actually making a lunge.
    If he sees you making no big deal out of these things, he will eventually too.
    I'm not a behaviourist but I did have quite a problem with my dog, who ended up really wonderful. It takes a bit of time, but you will succeed.
    It's really important to take him out every day where he can come across other dogs and people.
    Maybe someone else will come forward with other ideas.
    J Lewis

    1. Hi,

      Thank you so much for taking time to reply to the post about our dog. We are practicing many of the things suggested and look forward to making progress.