Itchy Pet?

Many pet owners struggle with scratching and itching, especially in the summer. Why let your pet be miserable when the problem could be as simple as diet or a minor parasite issue? Solving that problem now could make both your life and your pet’s life a whole lot more pleasant.

Parasites

The first course of action is always to check for fleas. Treatments do not always work as advertised, so don’t just assume that your flea product is working. (A flea comb will let you know whether your pet has fleas and/or flea dirt, which looks like coffee grounds. Flea dirt indicates the presence of fleas even if you can’t find them). Fleas are a problem that all pet owners deal with at some time or other; the trick is to use a good product for prevention, and if you do find signs of fleas to tackle them quickly. One flea can lay up to 30 eggs per day, so the math on this can get pretty scary. When fleas fall off your pet and hatch, they create even more problems. Don’t procrastinate! Remember that a single flea can bite an animal up to 100 times a day, so you can imagine what an infestation feels like to your pet. Fleas can cause a multitude of problems in addition to the suffering caused by the bites. Fleas can cause serious hair loss, anemia, bacterial infections, and other problems.

Diet

If your pet has no fleas, a food allergy could be the culprit. Many dogs are becoming sensitive to foods, most commonly corn, soy, and/or wheat. Try eliminating those ingredients from your pet’s diet. Supermarkets and pet stores now carry a range of corn, soy, and wheat-free foods, but check the ingredients: just because a dog food has pictures of vegetables on it doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Don’t forget to check ingredients of treats and table foods also. You should begin to see results in four to six weeks after you change foods. If this doesn’t get good results, a more restrictive diet may be the answer. Try going completely grain free and also try a different protein source (for example, if you have been feeding chicken, move to fish or bison). Most dogs will show improvement in skin and coat quality and will be scratching much less or not at all if you can get them on the right food. Sometimes it is challenging to weed out the allergen, but through trial and error you can find a food that agrees with your dog. The Whole Dog Journal (available in print or online) is a great source for information on dog foods, ingredients to avoid, and companies that produce quality foods for both dogs and cats.

Skin Infections

If your pet has suffered from a long-time allergy, it may suffer from skin issues even after you remove the source of the problem. Check with your vet to see if a course of antibiotics might help, especially if your pet’s skin is oily or has suffered some hair loss. Vets sometimes recommend special shampoos, Benadryl, steroids, or cortisone shots in addition to the measures above, but don’t forget to check with them first, especially to determine the dosage.

A note for cat owners

Cats don’t seem to show the same outward symptoms of poor diet like dogs do, but please keep in mind that cats are true carnivores. They should be fed a quality diet to maintain good health. Look for foods with meats as the top ingredients and avoid corn and wheat, by-products, and artificial colors. Avoid foods such as milk and tuna, and what your pet’s salt intake. Also consider adding some raw foods to their diet as in nature that is what cats and many dogs would eat.

By Trish Morgan, owner of The Pet Stop stores

Introducing a new dog

(Based on Patricia McConnell’s booklet, Feeling Outnumbered?)

Many pet owners have asked me for strategies to introduce a new dog to the household pack. As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I’ve learned a few tricks that might help.

For the best shot at a successful introduction, meet on neutral territory. Have a family member or friend meet you at a park, hiking area, school yard, etc. with your resident dogs. Let the dogs look at each other, but keep a distance of 10 feet or more, and start walking side by side. Slowly let the distance between dogs decrease, but be ready to back up if needed. Walk dogs in the same direction. Use your “happy” voice and toss treats to the ground whenever the dogs look at each other. You want both dogs to associate the other dog with something good (treat). Also, sniffing the ground is a calming signal to the other dog.

Once you feel that the dogs are ready, let them meet each other without the leash restriction. Tight leashes signify stress, so keep the leashes slack or drop them. If you and the dogs are comfortable, take them off. I like having them on so I can grab them if need be. When you select an area for play, bigger is better. Avoid doorways, gates, or corners. Try not to hover and set the wrong tone. As the dogs are interacting, call them away and give them a treat. End the interaction on a good note.

Having met off territory, you can now move on to meeting in the house. Take the resident dog out and let the new dog in. Again, keep the meetings short. The first meeting can set the tone of the relationship, so try to have it go as smoothly as possible. Toss treats to each of the dogs; the current dog should associate the new dog with lots of treats.

Be very conservative as to when you let the new dog be alone with the others. Separate them with crates, with different rooms and / or with gates. Usually, weeks or months may pass before you are certain there are no problems.

Signs that may indicate a problem:

· One dog is pushy and wants all the pets and attention.

· Dogs guard their food bowls and toys from each other.

· Dogs are frequently up on back paws during play.

· Dogs watch each other warily–hard stares and glares pass between.

· You find yourself feeling tense about what might happen.

· You see stiff postures between dogs.

· One of your dogs keeps another from moving freely around the house, or one of the dogs slinks around the house.

· And of course, one of your dogs is growling, showing teeth, lunging and fighting!

Have a plan in case a fight breaks out. I have a can of compressed air on the counter in my kitchen in easy reach. I’ve had a new Bearded Collie rescue pet for 18 months and have not had to use it, but 40 lbs. separate him and my smallest dog, so I can’t afford to waste any time. I have seen stares and stiffening from time to time, but both dogs are very responsive to their names and will redirect easily. I have used Premier’s citronella spray to break up fights at the animal shelter. In the past, I have toppled chairs, thrown pots, and brandished brooms and pans. What I will not do is put my hands in between two dogs that are fighting. So be prepared.

Jane Finneran, CPDT

(Based on Patricia McConnell’s booklet “Feeling Outnumbered?”)
Dr McConnell’s booklet is available from Dogwise.com

Preventing Separation Anxiety

My experience in 20 years of dog training has been that the "rescued" dogs are most prone to developing separation anxiety. This makes sense in that these dogs are most likely to have been neglected and mistreated, so of course they are going to attach themselves to the first nice person they meet. What’s more, that "nice" person is more likely to give the dog extra attention, extra treats, and extra time. Careful, as this may backfire on you. Suddenly the new dog does not want to let you out of his sight. I also see the anxiety develop with owners who allow their dog to constantly be on them or next to them, often leaning on them.

When treating separation anxiety, using a two-pronged approach is best. The first is that the dog has to learn that it is okay to be alone; in other words, the dog has to learn to comfort itself. The second is that the dog has to learn that you are coming back.

Where do you want the dog to be when you are not home? A crate? Outdoor kennel? Basement or laundry room? (Think about where the dog will do the least damage to itself and your home.) If the dog has severe separation anxiety, the experts do not recommend a crate. Choose a place, and then follow this routine:

1. Teach the dog that going into this area is a good thing by tossing treats. Play this game a few times a day for a few days.

2. When the dog is consistently going into the enclosed area, start to swing the door closed for a few seconds.

3. When the dog is okay with the door closed, toss in a Kong stuffed with something wonderful or a similar toy. Let the dog eat the treat with the door closed. When the dog is really into the treat start to walk away for a few seconds and work up to a few minutes. The dog only gets the treat in the confined area.

The dog has to learn that he is okay with you gone, even if you are only in the other room. I have worked with dogs that needed to start by being separated by only a few feet and that had to work up being across the room from its owner before that person ever left the room.

A good sit or “down stay” is important, and you need work on this first. Start walking across the room and have a solid stay before you walk out of the room. Important: start with very short departures–shorter than the time it takes for your dog to become upset. Gradually increase the length of time you wait on the other side of the door.And I mean gradually! By the time you start leaving the house or apartment, your dog should have a good track record of playing the “stay” game. Keep comings and goings low key. Don’t croon over the dog before leaving, and keep the excitement on your return to a minimum. If you are practicing comings and goings, leave enough space in between for the dog to calm down.

The second part of working with separation anxiety is making the comings and goings low key and mixing up the signals. I coach clients with such dogs to mix up the signals that they are leaving. Don’t do the same routine every time you leave; for example, pick up your keys and then put them down, put on your coat and sit on the couch, or open the door and look out then come back in. (You get the idea.) Do not do the same routine very morning. Try leaving for a few seconds or a few minutes, and sometimes for a little longer; work up to 30 minutes. When you can pass that interval without incident, start increasing the time. Add a stuffed food toy into the game when you leave. You can also practice the stays with some of the departure cues; for example, have the dog stay while you put on your coat. Do not attempt to leave if the dog is getting upset with the departure cues.

Most people progress too quickly. Go slowly so the program does not backfire on you. Watch for signs of stress during the early sessions when you are working across the room. Some signs are whining, panting, yawning, lip licking, and salivating. Slowly build up the endurance only a few seconds at a time and then only a few minutes. The worst anxiety is the first 20-30 min you are gone–so go slowly at this point. After 30-40 minutes, you can start increasing your time away in larger amounts. (Note: When you start leaving your dog for more than 10-20 minutes, do not tell your dog to stay while you walk out the door. You really don’t expect him to stay for eight hours without moving!)

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