Is Your Dog A Speed Eater?

I can speak to this subject with a lot of experience!  We rescued our 8-year-old Lab when she was 2.  She came to us with a host of emotional and behavioral problems.  One problem was the voracity with which she consumed her food.

Yes, she is a Lab.  And we know all Labs love their food.

But this wasn’t a normal Lab’s love of food.  All fingers and hands needed to be quickly out of the vicinity of the bowl when it hit the ground.

Almost instantly, it became clear this was no laughing matter.  Most meals came back up shortly after she ate.  She’s our third Lab.  And although all three of our Labs loved their food, never had any of them eaten so fast they threw it all up.

After speaking with our vet, we realized we had to make some changes.

Timing how quickly your dog can empty the bowl may seem like a fun game but speed eating can cause health problems.  These can be serious, especially in a big dog like a Lab.

What causes a dog to eat too fast?

If we’re not talking about a sudden increase in appetite and the sudden onset of speed eating, dogs eat fast because of:

A learned behavior from puppyhood – Puppies often compete with their littermates to get enough food.  That may even be the case when they’re nursing.

The fear of competition from another pet in the house – If you have another pet, your dog may fear they’ll steal their food before they finish it.

Poor nutrition – Low quality food may not be providing enough nutrients, leaving your dog feeling hungry even after they’ve just eaten.

A parasite – Parasites can affect your dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from their food, again leaving them feeling hungry.

If your dog typically eats at a normal speed but suddenly they eat very fast or are always hungry, this can be a health issue—a hormone production or thyroid problem.  See your vet at once.

When my greyhound had thyroid cancer, he couldn’t get enough food.  A dog that wasn’t interested in food was suddenly stealing my kids’ sandwiches off the kitchen counter… in plain sight.  That’s a warning sign.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.  I’m talking about a dog that eats too fast from the day you bring him home.

Why is eating fast problematic?

Interestingly, a dog’s mouth isn’t even considered a part of their digestive system because unlike in people, no part of the digestion process happens there.

Food is out of the mouth and into the body in seconds.  Dogs have pointed teeth for tearing big pieces of food at a time and getting the food down fast.

In humans, digestion does start in the mouth.  Our flat teeth and saliva break the food down before it even leaves the mouth.

But if your dog is gulping mouthfuls of food, that’s not what nature intended and they can choke. Although dogs don’t chew their food the way people do, they still need to swallow their food in manageable amounts.

Gulping also causes gas.  If your dog is gulping their food, they’re taking in a lot of air, making them gassy.

And all that air is the dangerous part.  A big dog that takes in a lot of air when they eat is at risk for bloat.  The stomach fills up with air and twists on itself.  This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate emergency care.

And as in my Lab, speed eating can cause vomiting and other digestive problems. If you free-feed your dog, speed eating can also lead to canine obesity.  As soon as the bowl is empty, you’re filling it up again.  And your dog ends up getting too much food each day.

Remember too, that if your dog is eating at a breakneck pace because they’re afraid someone will take their food from them, they may show aggression when someone does.  And this can become a dangerous behavioral problem if not stopped.

How can you slow down your chowhound?

First, rule out a parasite by taking your dog to the vet.  In addition, feed the highest quality most nutritious food you can.  A super premium food like Husse is well-balanced to provide a nutrient-dense satisfying meal.

Once you’re certain your dog’s problem isn’t a parasite or poor nutrition, you can take simple steps to fix it.  And solutions abound!  Some may work and some won’t.

You might need to try a few things before you hit on the one or two that help your dog.  Every dog’s different.

Increase the number of meals you feed.  We feed our Lab three meals a day.  Eating less is easier on the digestion, even if your pup consumes that smaller amount faster than normal.

Try a bowl with obstructions.  They sell slow feeder bowls with plastic prongs that stick up or compartments.  Your dog has to work around the prongs or sections to get the food.  This slows them down.  Or try putting a brick or large rock (one too big to swallow) in the middle of the bowl.  You can also put a smaller bowl upside down inside the big bowl and put the food in the channel between the two.  If a bowl like this has the opposite effect because your dog becomes panicked that they can’t get the food fast enough, don’t use it.

Feed meals from a food toy or food puzzle.  A Kong toy stuffed with food will not only slow your dog down, it will give them mental stimulation as they work to get the food out.

Feed multiple pets separately.  This will eliminate the fear of competition.  You can try feeding them on opposite sides of the room, or in different rooms.

Scatter the food on the floor so your dog has to graze.  Picking up one kibble at a time will slow them down.

Use a muffin tin, dividing the food between each hole.  At least your dog will pick their head up long enough to move from one hole to the next.

Make feeding time game time, which will not only slow down your dog but will also provide mental stimulation.  Hide food in various locations in your house and tell your dog to “find it”.  Start by putting the food in locations your dog can see and progress to accessible hiding places.

You’ll find the greatest success by combining a few of these approaches.  For our Lab, feeding her more frequent smaller meals and using a slow feeder bowl did the trick.  Now she’s not a speed eater, she’s just the typical Hoover Lab that consumes any food in her path like a vacuum.

Does your dog eat too fast?  How do you slow them down?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winter Blues… Pets Suffer From Depression Too

Short gray days at this time of year can make anyone feel a little low.  I attended college in Binghamton, New York where the sun didn’t shine from late October until late April.  I can tell you with certainty that when I was there, I suffered from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)… winter depression.  It’s a problem for many people.

But how about our pets?  Is it possible they’re affected by seasonal changes too?  And what about depression in general?  Can our pets be depressed?

If your pets are used to enjoying the outdoors—long walks in the park, games of fetch in the yard, hikes in the mountains—you can be sure they’re feeling down if bad weather’s keeping them housebound.

Are you noticing signs of the winter blues?  Our pets don’t care if the weather’s nice or not.  They still want and need to exercise… both their bodies and their brains.  Keeping a regular exercise routine, even if you have to take it indoors to an agility gym or play games of “Find It”, is essential to keeping your pet happy in every season.

But what about just generalized depression?  Have your pets ever been in a bad mood at other times of the year?

It’s likely pets experience depression, but maybe not in the same way people do.  We can’t be sure how our pets feel depressed because they can’t tell us.

In humans, doctors diagnose depression through dialog with a patient.  The patient can tell the doctor what they’re experiencing.  An animal has no ability to explain their state of mind.  So it’s a little more challenging to say they’re suffering from depression, as we think of depression.

But we know our pets suffer from depression-like symptoms.

Because of their inability to talk to us though, we can’t be sure that the symptoms they are experiencing are being caused by depression and not a medical problem.  The signs of depression are also linked to other health issues.

See your veterinarian as soon as you notice any of the behavioral changes I talk about in this article to rule out a health problem that needs treatment.

How do you know if your pet’s depressed?

A pet that’s depressed will act differently.  So take notice of any changes in their normal behavior.  Things like:

Lack of interest in playing

Sleeping more

Changes in appetite

Drinking less

Hiding

Destructive behavior

Aggression

Pottying in the house or outside the litter box

Lack of or excessive grooming

Lethargy

Withdrawing from attention

Moping

Pacing

Whining or crying

What would cause your pet to become depressed?

In pets, depression is short-lived, and it’s generally brought on by change.  A new home, a new baby or pet in the house, or a stay-at-home owner getting a job outside the house.  These can all lead to depression.

But the most common reasons for depression in our pets are the loss of an owner or companion animal.

Unfortunately, loss is a part of life… for everyone.   But there are ways to lessen the blow for our pets.

How can you keep those tails wagging?

During periods of change in your home, try to keep your pet’s routine the same.  Keep up with daily exercise, play and cuddle time—even if your new circumstances make it difficult.  Your pet needs their regular routine.

If your pet is moping, try not to reward that behavior by lavishing affection on them.  Instead, get them to do something that makes them happy and reward that behavior.

For instance, grab the leash for a walk.  If they wag their tail and show excitement, praise that happy behavior.

With a cat, give them their space.  But when they come to you, try to engage them in an activity they like and give them affection when they respond.

If you use this method of behavior modification early on, you can often avoid a prolonged period of depression.

Most pets bounce back in a few days or weeks.  They just need a little more TLC, exercise, and attention.

But if your pet falls into a depression you aren’t able to help them shake, talk to your vet about meds.  Some of the medications used for depression in people are also available for our pets.  Vets often prescribe drugs like Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.

Medication takes time to kick in—up to 2 months.  But your pet probably won’t need to be on it for more than 6 to 12 months.

If you prefer to take a more holistic approach, herbal supplements are available for pet depression.  A holistic vet can help you find the one that’s right for your dog or cat.

But remember, never give your pet any drugs or supplements without talking to your vet first.  They can have adverse effects if your pet is sick or is on other medications.

Depression is treatable in people and pets.  It just takes a little education to see the signs so you can act… because happiness is something we all want for our pets.

Has your dog or cat suffered from depression?  How did you know and what did you do about it?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

12 Tips to Calm Your Pet This New Year’s Eve

In a few short days, 2016 will come to a close. If it’s been a year you’re happy to see end, you’ll likely be celebrating.   As will your friends and neighbors who are happy to turn the page on the calendar.

With all that celebrating there’ll surely be noisemakers, fireworks, loud music and maybe some hootin’ and hollerin’ in your home or your neighborhood.

Although the carousing may be a release for us, our pets don’t feel quite the same way. For them, loud noises can be terrifying and anxiety provoking, making New Year’s Eve less than enjoyable for our furry family members.

If you have a seriously anxious pet, they may tremble, hide, pace or pant. With moderate anxiety your pet may lick their lips and yawn a lot.

Knowing you have an anxious pet enables you to be proactive and prepare.   Here are 12 things you can do to minimize your pet’s stress.

1) Confine your pet to a safe place. If your pet is crate trained, they’ll probably be comfortable there. But if your pet isn’t crate trained, now’s not the time to try it. Instead, put them in a safe room where they can’t get themselves into trouble.

2) Play relaxing classical music or the television at a volume that’s loud enough to drown out the frightening noises, but not too loud to cause more anxiety.

3) Spray lavender oil on your pet’s bed or favorite blanket. Or just let them smell it.

4) Try canine or feline pheromones that help your pet feel safe. These come as plug-in room diffusers or sprays.

5) Talk to your vet about ProQuiet, a chewable tryptophan tablet that works for cats and dogs. Sileo is a prescription medication for dogs that reduces anxiety without sedation. Ask your vet if it’s right for your dog.

6) Take your dog out for as much exercise as possible before the festivities begin. And keep your cat moving with toys and laser pointers before the evening gets going. They’ll be too tired to be stressed.

7) Try desensitizing earlier in the day or a few days before by making loud noises, blowing the noisemakers, and clanking the pots and pans. This may not work for extremely anxious pets.

8) Try a pressure point coat like ThunderShirt. These jackets put constant gentle pressure on a dog’s pressure points and promote a sense of calm by creating the sensation of being held.

9) Distract your pet with food puzzles or some new toys. Spritz a new toy with catnip to keep your cat engaged. And I never met a dog that didn’t love a Kong stuffed with peanut butter.

10) Allow your pet to follow you around if that helps them stay calm. If that’s not possible or you’re going out, hire a pet sitter. This is particularly advisable if your pet is extremely anxious.

11) Some say you shouldn’t comfort or coddle a frightened pet. It will reinforce their negative behavior. But some say it’s okay to show calm affection. I’m personally in that camp. If you were scared, wouldn’t someone speaking soothingly calm you down? When your pet is calm, reinforce that behavior with treats. And always stay calm yourself so your pet sees that everything’s okay.

12) Leave the neighborhood for a quieter place if possible.

One or two of these alone may not work. You may have to try several of them to have any effect on your pet.

In spite of your best efforts, you may come home to damage if you leave your pet alone on New Year’s Eve and there’s a ruckus in your neighborhood.

Whatever you do, don’t scold them! Your pet needed an outlet to express their anxiety. Or they may have been trying to escape from it.

What if your typically calm pet unexpectedly becomes anxious on New Year’s Eve? This can happen as pets age. Especially if they suffer from health problems or the dementia I wrote about in my last article.

Awareness can go a long way in minimizing your pet’s stress. It allows you to plan if you know you have an anxious pet.

But there are also things on the list you can do if your normally relaxed pet starts to unravel. Look out for the signs your pet is melting down and confine them to a safe place. Play calming music. Give them a stuffed Kong toy.  And sit with them for a while.

In some pets, the anxiety is so severe they hurt themselves. They may bloody their paws trying to escape out a closed door or possibly even jump from a window. And never tie up your anxious dog outside. They can injure themselves trying to escape the tether and runaway.

Always be sure your pet has a collar on with identifying tags and that they are micro-chipped, in case they get loose.

It’s unfair to let a pet suffer. Talk to your vet if you know you have an anxious pet.

For humans, the holiday season is a time for joyful celebration. But we rarely consider what our pets think of all the hoopla.  We can make the festivities enjoyable for all our family members with a little planning.

A happy and healthy 2017 to you and your pets!

How do you keep your pet calm when they’re frightened of noises? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

Doggy Dementia… 21 Warning Signs

It’s not enough to worry about keeping our brains sharp as we age, we need to think about our dogs’ brains too.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or CCD, is a problem for half of all dogs over 11 and can have devastating quality of life consequences.  Not unlike Alzheimer’s/dementia in humans.

It can be difficult to watch your beloved dog go through the changes in personality dementia causes.  But if you think senility is a part of the aging process and there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s not true.

Our pets will not live forever.  But being proactive when a problem starts will keep our fur babies healthy and happy for as long as they’re with us.

If you know the signs of CCD and act quickly, the treatments will be more effective.

What does dementia look like in a dog?

As our dog’s age they change.  No question about it!

A loss of hearing or vision can cause your dog to walk into walls or ignore your commands.  Kidney problems can mean accidents in the house.  Arthritis can make your dog avoid activity.  And cancer can bring about a lack of appetite.

Surprisingly, these can also be signs of canine dementia.  Because the signs of dementia are also the signs of so many other health problems, your vet must rule out other conditions first.

Here are 21 things to look out for if you have a senior dog.

  • They get lost in the corners or behind furniture
  • They have trouble finding and using doors
  • They don’t respond to their name
  • They can’t navigate the house and seem disoriented
  • They’re restless at night, sleeps during the day
  • They don’t signal to go out and have accidents
  • They don’t want to play
  • They don’t respond to sounds or people
  • They don’t recognize family
  • They tremble
  • They’re extremely irritable
  • The lick excessively
  • They don’t self-groom
  • They lose their appetite
  • They’re slow to learn new tasks
  • They don’t respond to commands they’ve previously learned
  • The bark, howl, and whine inappropriately
  • They pace or wander aimlessly
  • They stare at walls or into space
  • They startle when you turn lights or television on
  • They’re hesitant to take treats

If the alarm bells are going off as you read through this list, call your vet.  Don’t chalk it off to old age.  A senile dog is an anxious and unhappy dog.  Just like any other aspect of aging, we need to manage dementia for our pets so they can enjoy the best quality of life possible as they enter their golden years.

Remember too, that symptoms may start off mild but cognitive decline can worsen.  If you get a treatment plan in place, you may be able to delay serious dementia.

What causes CCD?

There are 3 major pathological changes that occur in the brain in older dogs that can cause diminished mental function.

1)  The brain shrinks

2)  Dopamine levels drop

3)  Beta-amyloid plaque (a protein) accumulates in the brain

Any one, or all, of these things can result in memory loss and impaired cognition.

We know what happens in the brain that contributes to diminished cognition.  But just like in humans, no one knows why these changes in the brain happen to some but not others.

In dogs, there may be genetic factors that predispose them to senility.

What are the treatment options?

First, your vet must rule out a health or behavioral problem before confirming CCD.  If they’re certain dementia is causing your dog’s symptoms, there is unfortunately no cure.

But there are treatments.  And they can be effective in slowing the decline and reducing anxiety.

Anipryl, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s in people, is approved for use in dogs with CCD.  It can take a few months to kick in, but it works in many dogs.  The earlier you start it, the more effective it is.

Your vet will likely suggest environmental enrichment.   Schedule exercise and play time into your dog’s daily routine.  Introduce new toys and teach some unfamiliar, simple commands to improve memory.  Even spending time with a doggy friend can be beneficial.

Diet’s important too.  A food rich in antioxidants, like Husse Optimal Light, is important to brain health.   Studies show that combining diet and environmental enrichment improves cognition in dogs with dementia.

Sometimes doctors will also suggest supplements like Vitamins E and C, selenium, flavonoids, beta carotene, carotenoids, carnitine, and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) which studies show improve mental function.

A dog suffering from CCD should see the vet twice a year to assure treatments are keeping stress and anxiety in check, and that your dog is still enjoying a good quality of life.

But it will also be up to you to keep your dog’s environment as stress free as possible.

Don’t move furniture around, or redecorate.  Keep clutter to a minimum so the dog can easily negotiate its surroundings.  Use short commands to avoid confusion.

Know your dog’s limit with new situations, people, places and other dogs.  And develop a routine feeding, watering and walking schedule that your senior pup can count on.

If you’re noticing your dog’s quality of life is deteriorating and the treatments recommended by your vet aren’t helping, consider talking with a veterinary behaviorist.  They may be able to help your confused pet.

If you prefer holistic options, talk to your vet about Chinese herbs and/or acupuncture to treat senility.  These treatments have worked.

As our dogs age, there’s little we can do to stop the clock.  We all want the best for our pets. We want them in our lives as long as possible.  But we can’t be selfish.

My vet once said something that stuck with me.  I always remind myself of his words when it’s time to make that gut wrenching decision to euthanize.  What he said was simple, but it hit home. “It’s the quality of the years, not the quantity,” he said.

If your dog is living a life filled with anxiety at every turn, that’s not quality.  When our senior dogs decline, we need to be compassionate.  And always remind them they may change but our love for them never will.

Does your dog suffer from Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?  How do you deal with it?  Please share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

Risky Kisses… Should We Let Our Dogs Lick Us?

If you asked me before I wrote this article, my answer to this question would have been an unequivocal yes. But my research has made me rethink this position because dog kisses may not be a good idea for everyone.

If you’re a dog owner, you’ve heard the myth that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s… and you’ve also heard this is absolutely false.

Let’s face it, we all know where our dogs stick their tongues. They eat junk in the street, dead animals in the yard, and sometimes their own poop. Even the most diligent dog owner cannot watch their dog 24/7.

Could their mouths be germ-free? I’m afraid not.

If you’re like me and you let your dog lick you, you’re opening yourself up to the risk of wound infection and stomach illness.

Capnocytophaga and Pasteurella are bacteria that live in the mouths of some dogs and cats. They can cause serious infection if they get into a wound or the bloodstream.

Parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium are transmitted through stool and cause diarrhea.  So if your dog is a poop eater, or just likes to lick their butt, these parasites (and others) can be in their mouths.  And a lick can pass them to you.

Salmonella and Campylobacter, common causes of food-borne illness, may also live in the mouth of your dog. They can both pass from dog to human.

But here’s the thing, these bacteria and parasites rarely cause harm to healthy adults. So… I personally will continue to let my dogs lick me.

However, there are people who should not let their dogs lick them—kids under 5, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you are receiving chemo, pregnant, an organ recipient, or have diabetes or HIV/AIDS, you should not be letting your dog lick you.

And that means anywhere on your body, not just your face. If your dog gives you a slobbery kiss, be sure to wash with soap and water.

Knowing what I do I will be careful, as should you, to never let my dog’s saliva anywhere near open skin. I hadn’t given this thought before. But after researching this topic, I’m certain that’s a bad idea.

Even letting my dogs lick my teens’ faces when their acne is flaring is a risk. Pimples are openings in the skin and are susceptible to infection.

At the same time, we’re aware as dog owners that an open cut on our skin is a magnet for our dog’s tongue. They instinctively want to lick the blood from an open cut. This is a behavior that would protect an injured dog in the wild because the smell of blood attracts predators.

And so it can be a challenge to keep your dog away if you are bleeding. But you must. And if they get a lick in, wash it with soap and water.

You might be thinking as you’re reading this that a dog bite would make you susceptible to the same bacteria. And that is very true. If you are ever bitten, be sure to wash the bite and watch for infection.

Know too there is a connection between dog kisses and the risk of being bitten. Some dogs don’t like to give or get kisses. And some dogs don’t like your face in theirs. They feel threatened.

So if you or your kids are getting in your dog’s face for a kiss, and your dog doesn’t like it, they may bite.

66% of bites among children occur to the head and neck, according to the American Humane Association. There are many reasons for this.  I’m sure some of those bites occurred because the child was leaning in for a smooch.

Dogs that don’t want kisses may back away, look away, or lick their lips. Heed the warning and back off.

In addition, if you’re thinking you can avoid bacteria from your dog’s mouth by kissing them on the top of their head or somewhere else on their body… think again.  Dogs lick themselves all over which leaves bacteria on their fur. And bacteria from their ears or other body parts they scratch can end up on the top of their heads too.

As a matter of fact, if you play fetch with your dog or tug with them, the slobbery ball or tug toy is laden with the bacteria found in their kisses. You’re exposing yourself to the same nasty organisms.

If you don’t wash your hands after play and then eat your lunch, you’re no better off than if they licked your mouth.

So what is a dog-kiss loving human to do? Be a responsible pet owner.

Be sure your dog sees the vet at least annually and have them checked for worms and other parasites. Don’t let them eat through garbage. If your dog shows signs of illness, see the vet. And don’t let diarrhea go untreated.

For many, dog kisses are part of the joy of dog ownership. We dog owners presume those kisses are our dogs way of showing us love… even if they’re not.

For this reason, we’ll probably continue to let our dogs kiss us. But we’ll be a little wiser about the dangers, and better able to protect our vulnerable family members from serious health problems now that we understand the risks.

Have you ever contracted an illness or infection from your dog? Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.

Separation Anxiety… Why So Many Dogs End Up in Shelters

Do you have a dog that suffers from separation anxiety? Then you know how frustrating it can be for you and how devastating for your dog.

If you are a dog owner but haven’t experienced this disorder, it’s only a matter of time. A dog in your future may show you what it’s like to come home to destruction, defecation and self-inflicted injuries from trying to escape.

This is a serious situation and one that can diminish your pet’s quality of life, not to mention your relationship with them.

If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you know how horrible it feels. But you understand that everything will be okay. Your dog doesn’t understand that. All they know is they are terrified that you’ve left them alone and they’re certain something bad will happen.

What does separation anxiety look like?

A dog that suffers from real anxiety will show signs before you even leave the house. They may drool and pace as they see you going through your usual departure routine.

When you come home, you may find they’ve peed or pooped in the house. They may have tried to chew or dig their way out of the house, and may have broken teeth or bloody paws from their escape attempt. Chewed windowsills and clawed doors are common.

Dogs can severely injure themselves by jumping through windows in their panic to get out.

You may also come home to a full voicemail box with complaints from neighbors that your dog barked and howled all day.

Upon your return, they’ll act like you’ve been gone for years.

Separation anxiety is much more intense than separation distress.  Distress is a low level of stress and not usually as destructive.

The behavior of a dog suffering from separation anxiety differs greatly from the behavior of a dog that has a medical problem that causes them to have accidents. Or a dog whose owner hasn’t housebroken them completely, or correctly.  So the dog isn’t sure where they’re supposed to do their business.

It’s also very different than the behavior of a dog that is destructive because they’re bored, under exercised or needs to chew.

What causes this disorder?

No one knows for sure what causes separation anxiety in some dogs but not others. But to understand why some dogs suffer from it we only need to look at the behavior of their pack ancestors.

Pack animals need their pack to survive. In the wild, an animal by itself will starve because it needs the pack to hunt. It also needs the pack to protect it from predators. So isolation means almost certain death.

It makes sense that a pack animal like a dog is hard-wired to fear isolation.

In today’s world, we see more and more dogs suffering from separation issues, or at least showing the manifestations of separation anxiety, than we did 40 years ago. It’s more common now for dogs to be left home alone all day.  In those days mom was often home most of the day to keep a pet company.

So it’s possible that dogs would have shown the same signs of anxiety years ago if they were alone for 8 hours a day, but it didn’t happen as often.

Because of this destructive and frustrating behavior, too many dogs end up at shelters. It’s no surprise that this problem is most often seen in dogs adopted from shelters. Whether it’s because many dogs are given up for this reason, or because shelter dogs are more insecure as a result of having lost a person close to them, no one knows for sure.

What can you do if your dog can’t be left alone?

I must be frank. This is a behavior problem that will take work… a lot of work. And patience. And probably some medication too… for your dog that is.

But first be sure that what your dog is experiencing is actually a separation problem, and not a training or health problem.

If your dog suffers when they are alone but are okay with a pet sitter or even another dog in the house, that’s isolation distress or anxiety. They don’t want to be alone.

You might fix this problem by getting another dog. But I would suggest trying that out by borrowing a friend’s dog first to see if it helps.

If your pet can’t bear to be apart from you, or another member of your household, even if they aren’t alone, they are suffering from separation anxiety or distress. There’s no quick fix for this. It will take counter conditioning.

If your pet is suffering from a low level of stress, whether it’s separation or isolation distress, you can probably fix the problem yourself by conditioning your dog that good things happen when they’re alone.

You can train your dog to associate the fear of being alone with something they love like food. You can give them a food puzzle when you leave the house or a stuffed and frozen Kong. They only get that special treat when you leave the house. You take it away as soon as you return.

This will only work with a dog that suffers from mild distress. A highly anxious dog will not eat when you leave.

If you give your dog something they love when you leave, your dog will soon develop an association between being alone and a special tasty treat. And your dog’s fear may be replaced with positive feelings.

This will not work with a dog that’s severely anxious. In this case, your dog must gradually become accustomed to being left alone for longer and longer periods—starting with short intervals only a few seconds long. These short separations must be anxiety free.

As soon as the separation is filled with fear, your counter conditioning will backfire.

If your dog is really anxious, crate training may not be an option either. The crate just exacerbates the anxiety. You can give a crate a try when you are around to watch your dog’s reaction to it. If they become stressed or anxious when they’re crated and you’re there, it will only be worse when you’re gone.

You must confine your dog in a small room with a baby gate until your dog has overcome their anxiety and can be safe roaming a larger area. And that may never happen. The safest place for them to be may always be confined in a room.

If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, you will need to enlist the help of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Your vet may be able to help you if they’re expertise is in animal behavior.

But a dog trainer may not. Most trainers are not certified animal behaviorists. And this problem requires an expert.

What might an animal behaviorist suggest?

They can help you set up a behavior modification plan. This plan will lay out how many short separation stints you need to do each day, how long the separation can be, and for how many days before you can increase the duration. This can take several weeks.

An expert will suggest things like changing your routine. So instead of grabbing your keys and running out the door to go to work in the morning, pick up your keys throughout the day and watch television. Or make dinner.

Change the association between picking up your keys and leaving the house, to picking up your keys means nothing important happens.

If you always put your briefcase in the car a few minutes before you leave the house, put your briefcase in the car in the evening before you sit down to dinner.

Make your routine unpredictable. And do this for several weeks.

Little changes will minimize the anticipation and spiraling anxiety your dog feels when they see you getting ready to leave the house. If you leave your dog when their anxiety level is heightened, it only worsens the problem. Your dog needs to be calm before you leave them.

Exercise your dog for at least 30 minutes before you will leave them alone. And be sure you finish exercising them at least 20 to 30 minutes before you will leave.  Then they can settle down before you go, yet still be a little tired.

Goodbyes and hellos should be calm. If your dog gets crazy, turn your back and walk away. Acknowledge them only when they settle down.

Give your dog lots of physical and mental stimulation to reduce anxiety. Food puzzles make them use their brains.

You can play “find it” with their food, hiding small piles around the house when you leave. This can be a good distraction and keeps their brain working.

Take them to lots of new places and give them new experiences. New sights and sounds provide stimulation.

These things will give your dog more confidence and will also tire them out. A tired dog is less likely to be anxious.

Be sure your dog has appropriate chew toys when you’re gone. Chewing and licking has a calming effect.

There are many parts to the separation anxiety dilemma, which is why it’s so important that you enlist the help of an expert.

Your dog doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety? Hold on…

Separation anxiety can suddenly become a problem for a dog that has never showed signs of a problem before.

An abrupt change in routine can trigger separation problems. If you’ve always worked from home but suddenly get a job outside of the house, your dog may find it difficult to adjust to being left alone for 8 hours a day.

Moving to a new house or a household member moving out of the house can cause anxiety.

But a little preparation and training can head off a problem. If you are planning a lifestyle change that will affect your dog, talk to a certified animal behaviorist first. They can help you implement strategies to get the dog used to the change before it happens.

What about medication?

Dogs that suffer from severe separation anxiety will need medication to decrease their anxiety enough so that you can leave them alone for short spurts during behavior modification sessions.

Dogs with mild separation problems may only need medication. If the meds enable them to be alone without fear that’s often enough for them to become conditioned that they can be by themselves and be okay. Eventually they won’t even need the meds.

Most dogs will need meds and behavior modification.

It’s very important to see your vet as soon as your dog exhibits separation anxiety. The longer you let the problem continue, the more you are reinforcing the fear associated with being alone.

Remember that anxiety isn’t something your dog can control. So never scold or punish them for doing damage when you’re away. Punishment will only cause more stress and anxiety, making the problem worse.

Have you had a dog that suffers from separation anxiety or distress? How did you handle it? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

11 Signs Your Pet Is in Pain

The only thing worse than seeing our fur babies suffering in pain is knowing they were suffering, and we didn’t realize it.

Instinctually, dogs and cats will try to hide their pain in order not to appear weak to a predator. But there are subtle signs you may notice if they’re suffering.

1) Excessive grooming

When a dog or cat is in pain, they will often groom the area that’s causing them pain to clean and care for the wound. Even if there is no wound but the pain is internal, they may lick the spot.

2) Heavy panting

When your dog pants, you probably think nothing of it. But excessive panting warrants attention. It’s a sign of stress and that stress can be caused by pain.

One of my labs panted like crazy towards the end. I live in a warm place, so I assumed she was just cooling herself. But when I look back, I realize she was panting all the time… not just after activity.

I took too long to realize the panting was a sign of her pain.

Besides panting, you may also find that their breathing is faster or shallower. This can be a sign it hurts to breathe but it can also be a sign of general pain.

Your pet may be subtler. If they lick their lips when you touch a part of their body, they may be telling you it hurts.

3) Inappetence

Lack of appetite, particularly if your pet is a good eater, should be a red flag. Their pain may make it difficult to stand or to lean over the bowl. But when you’re in pain, you sometimes just don’t feel like eating.

Inappetence can be a sign of many ailments, some serious. So this definitely warrants a trip to the vet.

4) Shyness and aggression

An animal in pain can act out. They may try to bite or scratch if you try to touch them. If your always-sweet dog growls or snaps, or your mellow cat tries to bite or scratch you, they’re trying to tell you something. They’re going into protection mode so you don’t hurt them.

Have your vet evaluate your pet so you don’t get hurt.

If your friendly pet is suddenly hiding or doesn’t greet you at the door like usual, check for pain. They may avoid you so you don’t hurt them.

Some pets will seek constant affection when they’re suffering. But if the pet that typically likes to be held won’t let you pick them up or cries when you do, this is a warning sign.

Any noticeable change in attention seeking should cause you to question if something’s up.

5) General behavior changes

Is your pet depressed, lethargic, or mentally dull? Any extreme changes in behavior should cause the light bulb to go on.

If your pet suddenly won’t walk steps, jump, climb, or chase a ball something’s wrong. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in pain. You don’t want to do anything that’ll increase the pain.

You may also notice limping or stiffness when they stand.

A general disinterest in the things your pet used to love is a signal that something’s amiss.

6) Unexplained accidents

When a pet is in extreme pain, they may have accidents in the house. When the pain is too much to get up, a dog may not make it outside to do their business and a cat may not get to the litter box.

And if squatting is painful, they may just do their business in their bed.

7) Excessive vocalizations

If your dog is vocal, they may become less vocal. If they’re typically quiet, they may start whining, whimpering, yelping, growling, snarling, or howling. Do you find they’re vocalizing more than usual?  Check it out with your vet.

Cats may purr more. Purring is not always a sign of pleasure, so take note if your cat is purring more than is typical for them.

8) Changes in sleep

Sleep is important for healing. As a result, your pet may sleep more than usual. Sometimes though, they’re sleeping more because it hurts to move.

If your pet is pacing and not sleeping, they may be too uncomfortable to stay in one place and rest.

9) Postural changes

Your pet that normally curls up in a ball to sleep may lay flat on their side when they’re in pain.

They’re back may be arched or sunken, while some may get down in a prayer position with their rear-end up in the air and their abdomen stretched.

Your pet may take a rigid stance or their usually perky tail may be tucked.

10) Eye changes

This one may not be immediately obvious to you. Pain can cause your pet’s eyes to become dilated. Conversely, animals with eye pain often squint and their pupils may become smaller.

11) Restlessness

If you’ve ever been in severe pain, you know you can feel agitated and restless. It’s difficult to sit or lie down. The same goes for your pet.

If you see they’re pacing— or sit or lie down and then immediately get up— they’re uncomfortable.

Sometimes your pet will sit or lie in an unusual position to minimize their pain.

Anything out of the ordinary should alert you to a problem. If you sense something’s up, reach out to your vet at once.

The sooner you identify your pet’s pain, the sooner you can treat it. But never, ever give your pet a human pain med without talking to your vet first.

As our pets age, things will hurt. They’ll get sick.  And our young pets will have those inevitable accidents and illnesses.  But minimizing their pain and keeping them happy is our job as a pet parent.

Knowing what to look for will help you spot a problem quickly so you can manage your pet’s pain and keep them comfortable.

Has your pet ever been in severe pain? How did you know? Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.