Has your pet been scratching? Already checked for fleas? Maybe that's not the problem. Many of us have, or know someone who has allergies. We exhibit symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and watery eyes. Our pets can suffer from similar seasonal or environmental allergies. However, their symptoms present differently than ours. If our pets inhale the allergen, or it contacts their skin, it can cause them to break out into a scratching fit. The allergens are typically airborne, which can make it incredibly difficult to avoid exposure. This is why veterinarians try and focus on treatment.
There are naturally occurring bacteria and yeast on your pet's skin. These organisms can enter into your pet's body when the skin is broken from scratching at irritated areas. This can then cause secondary skin infections that require treatment in addition to treating the inflammation and irritation caused by allergies.
Areas where dogs will frequently be affected by allergies are around their eyes, mouth, legs and paws, abdomen and anus. This may be scratching, licking, or chewing at these areas. Cats may over-groom themselves, scratch at their face and ears, or have small seed-like scabs over their body.
So next time your pet seems itchy and scratching, it may not be fleas, it may be allergies just like yours. Your veterinarian can help to alleviate these symptoms by developing the proper treatment plan for your pet.
The spooky fun of Halloween is fast approaching. But not all of our family members may see the festivities as we do. For our pets, Halloween can be truly scary night if they're not accustom to the unusual sights and sounds. Kids in costumes making strange noises as they traverse the neighborhood, continuous knocks and doorbell rings, or even costume parties full of strangers in odd attire could send a dog's anxiety into overdrive. As always, be sure your dog has plenty of exercise leading up to the events—extra energy will only complicate things. Some scenarios may become great training opportunities, and some things may be better avoided altogether. Below are some tips for keeping your canine companions safe and happy this season. With a little thinking ahead, Halloween will be a safe and fun event for all in your family.
- Our for Trick-Or-Treating—Obedience Practice
If your dog isn't used to the high energy of young kids, Halloween isn't the night to test it. It might be fun to bring your dog along with you and the kids, but only if you feel confident they can enjoy the experience while other kids run up and down the dark sidewalks, most certainly wanting to pet them while wearing their costumes and holding candy. However, if your dog is ready for this, it could be a great training experience! Heel and Sit-Stay from house to house—sounds a lot like our training sessions! Spend some time practicing this prior to the actual events, and your dog will do even better.
- Trick-Or-Treaters at Your House—The Ultimate Door Greeting Test
Only you know how well your dog is currently doing with their door greeting exercises. If they are in a good spot with their training and calmly greeting strangers by October 31, then all that practice should really pay off as trick-or-treater after trick-or-treater ring the doorbell, knock and shout for their candy. Talk about repetition! If however, your dog's door greeting still needs some work, it would be best to have your dog in their crate in the living room, with their own treats (peanut butter Kongs) as the night carries on. Further, if the knocks and rings themselves still send your dog into a tailspin, you'll want to avoid the stimulation altogether as you continue your own desensitization process with them. Avoid passing out candy, or keep the bucket of candy on the porch or further away from the house. Leave your dog in their crate inside, keep the doors and windows closed, and turn on some calming music to drown out the outside noises.
- Costume Parties—Stranger Danger
Much like the stimulation of trick-or-treaters, strange people showing up at your house in masks and costumes could potentially be too much for your dog. If you know your dog does well with crowds, then take the time to slowly and calmly introduce them to this new crowd of monsters and ghouls. Use their obedience on-leash to see how they feel about the new stimulation, first. You can test this prior to your shindig by dressing up yourself, or even bringing out old masks and props to get them comfortable before the party.
- Pet Costumes—Playing Dress-Up or a Real Drag?
Us humans may think it's fun and humorous to dress our pets in store bought costumes to help us celebrate. Your dog may not see it the same way. Like anything, make sure your dog is comfortable wearing this new gear, not frozen in fear. Stress is never amusing and will only cause your dog to distrust you. Also be careful of the many small parts on costumes that could become dangerous if ingested, or get caught on something. If your dog has no problem with a costume, still keep a very close watch to ensure they don't endanger themselves.
- The Candy—Not-So-Good Goodies
Obviously one of the big benefits of Halloween is the candy and other goodies! But as many dog owners know, chocolate is toxic for dogs and most human food is not good for their digestive track. When the kids unload their pillow cases on the carpet to count their stash, be sure your dog is kept safe and away from the temptation with a Sit-Stay, Down-Stay or in their crate.
- Boo-tiful Decorations
Many entertaining seasonal decorations can become a fright or danger, as well. The ingenuity of decorations seems to grow and grow as the years go on. But robotic goblins, noise making doormats, and anything meant to get a startle reaction might unintentionally scare your dog more than you. Standard decorations like fake spider webs, glow sticks, candles in a jack-o-lantern and more could be dangerous if your dog gets a little too curious. Keep the placement of these mood-setting items in mind and monitor your dog's initial reactions to them.
This year's overabundant tick population has already affected many of us. Ticks, commonly thought to reside in the woods, have invaded our suburban backyards. Warmer months encourage increased outdoor activities for pets and owners. This will, and for many of us already has, result in the terrifying discovery of ticks on our pets or ourselves.
Ticks can transmit diseases to our pets such as Erlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Rocky mountain spotted fever. Many of these diseases can infect humans as well. For your pet, these diseases can result in serious illness, and if left untreated, can lead to death. Your veterinarian can vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease.
You can't completely avoid ticks, but you can protect against them. For your pets you can purchase products from your veterinarian such as Frontline Plus to kill the ticks. Unlike other products, it is not designed to repel ticks because this leaves the tick alive and able to feed on you or other animals. Frontline Plus will kill the tick within 24-48 hours. This time frame is crucial because most disease transmission from tick to host occurs between 48-72 hours from attachment. Yards can be treated with a variety of products to help control insect populations, just make sure they are safe for your pets. Ticks thrive in tall grass and damp areas, so maintain your yard and avoid taking your pet in other overgrown areas.
If your pet was not on prevention and you find a tick on him/her, contact your veterinarian and they can properly remove the tick and start your dog on a course of antibiotics commonly used to combat the many tick-borne diseases. They can also provide you with the proper preventive for your pet.
The Fourth of July is just around the corner—a time for family fun and celebration. While we love to include our dogs in the summer festivities, it's important to remember that many things throughout the season can be unsafe or overwhelming for them:
- Alcoholic drinks and many people foods
- Matches and lighter fluid
- Glow jewelry
- Citronella candles, insect coils and other pesticides
But of course, the big concern is fireworks. Never use fireworks around your dogs. While us humans enjoy the vibrant displays, the bright flashes and explosive sounds often trigger a natural fear and flight response in our dogs. (Remember, fireworks are meant to represent "bombs bursting in air"). They can also cause sever burns, and the remnants of backyard fireworks can be toxic. Avoid causing your dog to develop unnecessary anxiety by keeping them safe and away from the displays. Since the legalization of larger fireworks in Michigan, this has become more difficult for pet owners and it's not always easy to predict when the neighbors will be celebrating. If your dog already has anxiety about fireworks and other loud noises, be sure to desensitize them as often as possible. Here are some important tips for keeping your dogs safe through the fireworks season:
- Be sure your dog plenty of exercise through the day. Draining their excess energy will help keep them calm when necessary.
Keep your dog indoors during fireworks, and in their crate if indoors isn't quite safe enough for them. It's important to avoid triggering a fear response unless you are able to guide your dog through a desensitization process.
- During fireworks (or storms), block the sights and sounds by closing windows and curtains and playing soft, soothing music loud enough to drown out most of the outside noise. This is also important whenever you leave your pet at home, since you can't predict when the stimulus will happen.
If you need to take your dog out for bathroom break, do so on leash. It will help you maintain control should an unexpected "boom" happen. This season is one of the worst for dogs becoming lost for that very reason.
- Some dogs' anxiety is severe enough that the above steps aren't enough at first. If you feel your dog may benefit from pharmaceutical help, discuss a temporary treatment plan with your vet.
- It's also important to desensitize your dog to these fear triggers whenever possible. Desensitizing means keeping your dog's mind occupied and off the stimulus, while creating a positive and calm association about it. Start with the lowest level of stimulus and work your way up. You can use pre-recorded sounds, starting at a low volume level and gradually increase it. Or, work your dog at very safe distance from real-life triggers, even in the house with everything closed up. Use on-leash obedience training to keep your dog working and active through the stimulus, and only reward and share affection when your dog is calm and ignoring the triggers. If they do "spook", calmly stop them from running with the leash and quickly move on to something else. Do not "coddle" them when they are nervous, doing so will only nurture their fear. Work with your dog on that level of the fear stimulus until they are consistently calm with it before increasing.
- Timing, your own energy and your leadership are important. Remember, your job is to guide and lead your dog, helping them face their fears. If you're calm and communicating to them that this is "no big deal", they will eventually pick up on that!
- Working on your dog's fear is a process. It may take months or even years depending on the severity. The key, as always, is consistency! Take it a step at a time and slowly build on your progress. Either keep your dog safe, or work on the fear. Do not allow your dog to live in fear and anxiety in between.
When the winter conditions prevent your dog from getting their outdoor exercise, it's time to get creative indoors with mind-stimulating activities!
- The Fundamentals--Brush up on obedience with practice sessions or by incorporating it into daily life. By keeping your dog sharp on their skills, it will keep their mind active and give them something productive to do around the house during cold winter days.
- Obstacle course--Use household items to create an agility-style obstacle course and have fun guiding your dog through! Weave around chairs, crawl under blankets, zoom through a cardboard box tunnel, or jump over broomsticks and through hula hoops. You can also build inexpensive obstacles such as jumps with PVC piping, weaves with soccer cones, or ramps with wood and carpet scraps.
- Snow maze--With the next snow fall, shovel a path to make a maze around your backyard. Your dog will naturally want to follow it, and navigating a maze will make the short amount of time spent outside more challenging and fun.
- Temporary yard--Larger basements can become an indoor play space to play fetch and other games. You can use carpet remnants, old play mats, or inexpensive rugs from the dollar store to provide more traction on concrete floors.
- New tricks--Teach your dog a new trick every week. Make a list of tricks and tackle a new one each week by practicing 15-20 mins every day. A quick search online or instructional books can give you plenty of ideas--here's a book we like.
- Treadmill sessions--With a little time put into training, a treadmill can become another piece of the puzzle in helping your dog expend more physical energy. It doesn't have to be a fancy new model, it just needs to work!
- Social outings--Short trips to the pet store or visits with friends and family can help breakup the monotony of being stuck indoors while keeping your dog socialized.
- Food puzzles--A simple home solution is a muffin tin with cups or balls hiding a treat underneath. There are many mind-challenging puzzles available--here's one we like.