Archives for February 2013

Beyond Separation Anxiety: Part 4, The Grand Finale

     It’s hard to believe I have been able to cover so many differentials for behaviors associated with separation anxiety in just 3 blogs! The only other differential I want to briefly mention is predatory behavior. Destructive behavior (and even vocalization) can be seen when the dog is trying to get to prey; which could be in the form of rats behind the walls! The treatment is to remove the source as predatory behavior is different from other behavior problems in that it is not very amenable to behavior modification. Dogs are either born with it or not, making the prognosis poor for changing the underlying emotional response.

     In the first blog of this series, we discussed the signs for separation anxiety, so in this blog we will focus on what can be done about it! Confirmation of appropriate diagnosis is important. Separation anxiety is one of the most difficult behavior problems to treat as it is often extremely difficult to avoid leaving the dog home alone for most people (myself included). Like other behavior problems, the more the dog practices the behavior, the more difficult it is to change. Since not leaving the dog home alone for months and months while behavior modification is implemented is not realistic for most people, anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed by your veterinarian to facilitate this process. If the pet does need to be left alone, they should be left in the place they are most comfortable with multiple long lasting treats they can safely consume in your absence. The Kong Company has some great ideas for different long lasting treat recipes (http://www.kongcompany.com/recipes/). The dog should always be ignored for 10-15 minutes before leaving and until calm once the owner returns home in order to decrease the emotional highs and lows of these times.

     A key component to treating separation anxiety is to change the dog’s emotional response to being away from the owner. To do this, the dog first must be comfortable with the owner being in a separate part of the house. This is accomplished by implementing independence exercises. The dog is put on a mat with a favorite long lasting treat. Over many sessions the owner practices moving further away for longer periods of time. If the dog is not sleeping or relaxed and eating their treat, then the time and/or distance must be decreased during the next session. After many weeks, once the owner is able to walk around the house for 10-15 minutes out of sight of the dog, graduated departures can be started. This is an extension of the independence exercises with the owner being able to walk out the door for 1 second initially, working up to longer and longer (hopefully hours) periods of time. The long lasting treat should be picked up when the exercise is over so that your dog is rewarded for your absence, not presence. Using a video camera helps to monitor your progress once you are out of sight of the dog.

     Another part of behavior modification for separation anxiety is uncoupling the cues that tell your dog you are leaving from your actual departure. This involves practicing the cues when you are not actually leaving. For example, pick up your keys and then go wash the dishes or put your shoes on and sit down to read a book. Over time you can do more and more cues together until you are able to work up to a whole day’s routine without leaving. Remember that these are general recommendations and each individual patient should have a treatment plan devised by a Veterinary Behaviorist or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist for safety reasons and the best outcome.

    Well, that’s it for my discussion of separation anxiety. Stay tuned for more behavior blogs. If there is a particular topic you are interested in please let us know!

Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB (Veterinary Behaviorist)

New Puppy or Kitten?

      It finally happened. Your children won the argument and you came home with a new puppy or kitten. Everything was peachy – then it all started to happen: the kitten decided to use your great-grandmother’s rug as a litter box and scratching post, or the puppy found your beloved vinyl records of Elvis or the Beatles and destroyed them with such efficiency, that an industrial shredder would be jealous. You’re now over your head with this young creature. Now what?

     Bringing a new puppy or kitten into the household is not as simple as walking down to the shelter, picking out the cutest animal, and then bringing it home. Time must be spent before ever bringing a new pet home. Most parents don’t have a baby without some sort of pre-planning and preparation, right? The same applies here.

     Research the breed that you are interested in getting. Some breeds are better suited to your family’s lifestyle than others. An owner who doesn’t like to walk or can’t exercise will not fit well with a dog who likes to run a lot. The same is true for certain breeds of cats: some cats require a lot of attention and talk a lot, and some owners might not like that.

     Make sure you have all your supplies beforehand. Crates, chew toys / scratching posts, water / food bowls, appropriate food for the age of the animal and grooming supplies. A leash, collar and ID tags are a must.

     Is your house set up properly? You need to find a place for the crate and sleeping areas. Designating a potty area should be done as soon as your puppy comes home. Kittens need to be introduced to their litter box right away. Put away items that you do not want destroyed.

     Routines work well with animals. Work with your puppy or kitten from the beginning to establish a routine for eating, playtime and exercise. Establishing good habits early on will save you trouble later on down the road.

     Your first visit to the vet can be overwhelming with the amount of information you will receive. The following is a list of typical topics:
          1.Vaccines and diseases
          2. Controlling parasites, both internal and external
          3. Nutrition
          4. Insurance
          5. Behavior – house training, biting, contact with children / other pets
          6. Problems commonly associated with certain breeds
          7. When to spay / neuter
          8. Dental care and grooming
          9. New puppy / kitten kits

     Vaccines are obviously an important topic at the beginning of any puppy or kitten’s life. While there are some risks involved with giving vaccines, the benefits far outweigh the risk. However, anytime an animal receives a vaccine, regardless if it’s the first time or the 10th time, some signs may occur, such as swelling, pain, a low grade fever, or lethargy. More serious reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, can also occur. In cats, a reaction called a vaccine associated sarcoma (a cancerous tumor) may also occur, but this is also infrequent.

     There are a number of required, or core vaccines given to puppies and kittens. Additionally, there are other vaccines that can be given, based on you and your pet’s lifestyle (close contact with wildlife, frequent boarding, for example).

The core vaccines and their schedule for dogs:
          1. DHPP – distemper, canine infectious hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza virus
               a. These viruses can attack the liver, heart, respiratory tract, central nervous system and the intestinal tract
               b. Initial vaccine at 8 weeks, then boosters at 12, 16, 1 year 4 months, and then every 3 years after that.
          2. Rabies – a virus that attacks the brain, spread by being bitten by an infected animal
               a. Initial vaccine at 16 weeks, a booster at 1 year 4 months, and then every 3 years after that.

Lifestyle vaccines for dogs can include:
          1. Leptospirosis – a bacterial disease that is spread by contact with urine from infected wildlife. Can be spread to humans. Can cause liver and kidney disease.
               a. Initial vaccine at 12 weeks, then boosters at 16, 1 year 4 months, and then every year after that.
          2. Bordatella (kennel cough) – a bacterial disease that can cause respiratory illness, commonly caught at dog parks, grooming facilities or kennels.
               a. Initial vaccine at 12 weeks. Boosters every 6 – 12 months.
          3. Rattlesnake – helps decrease the severity of rattlesnake bites.
               a. Initial vaccine at 12 weeks. Boosters every year thereafter.

The core vaccines and their schedule for cats:
          1. FVRCP – feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia virus
               a. These viruses can attack the respiratory and intestinal tracts. They are spread in the air or by close contact with an infected individual.
               b. Initial vaccine at 8 weeks, then boosters at 12, 16, 1 year 4 months, and then every 3 years after that.
          2. Rabies – a virus that attacks the brain, spread by being bitten by an infected animal
               a. Initial vaccine at 16 weeks, and then every year thereafter.

Lifestyle vaccines for cats can include:
          1. FELV – feline leukemia virus
               a. This virus can cause immunosuppression (decreased ability to fight other infections) and death in cats of all ages. It is spread by contact with infected individuals.
               b. Initial vaccine at 12 weeks, then a booster at 16, and then every year thereafter.

     Getting a new puppy or kitten can be stressful, but don’t worry, you’ll get through it. It requires patience, discipline, and sometimes the ability to step back and calm down. Don’t worry, you’ll do great with a new member in the family!

Byron Bowers, DVM