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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice December 2013 Issue

Dear Doctor

Letters to Tufts Veterinarians - December 2013

My dog scares smaller dogs

Q I often walk my dog in a park near my house that allows dogs off leash—if they are under voice control. Most of the time, Patrick is amiable and relaxed. Even if he starts to chase a jogger or someone on a bicycle, he always comes back to me immediately for a biscuit when I call to him; the incident is averted. But occasionally, my 60-pound mixed breed runs up to smaller dogs out of nowhere and starts barking ferociously, looking very much like he’s going to bite. My calling him and offering a treat in those instances proves useless, and he dodges just out of reach when I run over to try to grab him by his collar. Other owners have yelled at him to get away from their dog and have even kicked at him in alarm, which I understand given the scary circumstances. But he stops only when he’s ready. What can I do to abort this behavior? I don’t think Patrick would ever actually bite another dog, but I know this is unacceptable, and I’d hate to keep him away from one of the few places in my area where he can romp without the lead.

Roland Scutari

Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Mr. Scutari,

AFirst, we commend your willingness to face the problem squarely. Some owners become defensive if their dog becomes inappropriately aggressive.

The solution here is obviously not the gentle one that works to keep Patrick away from joggers and bicyclists. A firmer response is in order.

First, as much as it may feel bad, do not let Patrick off the leash in the park until you’ve established with training at home that his job is to follow through on your vocal cues always, not when it suits him. Work with him to sit, stay, lie down, and live up to other standards of good behavior that you set for him. That includes coming when you call even if he would rather continue what he’s already doing. First, start by giving the verbal cue in a non-angry but firm tone. Second, make the desired behavior happen. In some cases you may have to insure that it happens with a Gentle Leader. Third, watch him follow through. And four, then reward him. Don’t promise him a biscuit or other reward in advance of his doing what you ask of him.

Once you feel your control over Patrick has been established, or re-established (and this could take a few weeks), take him back to the park and let him go. But leave the Gentle Leader on him along with a long leash attached, trailing behind. Following your instructions in that setting is going to be a lot harder for him — at least at first — than in your family room or back yard, and leaving the lead on will make it much easier for you to run over and take control of the situation by stepping on the leash, putting it in your hand, and then tugging lightly on the Gentle Leader.

Note that some dogs never reach the point of being able to run around without their lead attached to their collar, but that would be a small compromise for Patrick to make instead of never being let loose at all. Indeed, if Patrick had actually been biting other dogs rather than just adopting a threatening posture, we would have recommended that you hold the leash in your hand and not let him go without surefire training in which you perhaps involved the services of a professional trainer. Another option for a biter besides keeping him on leash is to fit him with a basket-style muzzle so that he can run free without risk to other dogs or people.

Why dog urinates indoors is a mystery

Q Our 2˝-year-old Labrador retriever, a loving and much loved member of our family, has been with us for more than a year but has developed an increasingly difficult time dealing with the need to urinate on an extremely frequent basis. In the beginning, this was a five-walks-a-day situation. Today, the walks are necessary as often as 10 to 12 times daily. Our vet conducted a full workup on him using both blood and urine tests, and he appears to be very healthy, so the situation is not medical. It doesn’t appear to be behavioral, either. When he has to go out, he will come to us and whine. If we do not respond quickly, he will go to the door and urinate there. He seems to really have to go and produces urine 90 percent of the time when we take him out. Any suggestions on how to get a handle on the situation would be a lifesaver. We are unwilling to give him up.

Harold Phibbs

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Dear Mr. Phibbs,

AThis sounds like a difficult one. Our first diagnostic step would be to determine whether your dog is castrated or an intact male. Sometimes dogs that are rescued (was yours?) are claimed to be neutered yet have “retained” testicles —testicles inside the abdomen. And the influence of testosterone can make dogs with testicles “mark” their territory with a small squirt of urine. You might ask your veterinarian to request the appropriate tests to check for this.

The next diagnostic step would be to watch your dog urinate, perhaps videoing a few typical “events” to show the veterinarian. His behavior while urinating might suggest the source of the problem. For instance, abnormal posturing, or straining, or a poor stream of urine all mean something different, even if blood and urine screenings have ruled out various illnesses.

In all, we are thinking along the same lines as you, going through the various possibilities. Is this problem behavioral in origin (“There’s a dog outside, and I’ve got to let him know this is my territory!”) or medical (perhaps a urinary tract issue that needs imaging with an ultrasound to be identified correctly)? If your veterinarian is unable to pin down the source of the problem, you may wish to ask for a referral to a specialist in internal medicine. Your vet may know of one, or you can search on the ACVIM.org site. These veterinarians have special training and equipment needed to diagnose and treat difficult medial conditions like the one you describe.

Best of luck. The more devoted owners like you, the better off we all are.

Cure for kidney failure?

QMy mini-mixed dachshund just turned 13 and has been diagnosed with kidney disease. Is there a medication that can be given to cure it? He is still eating rather well, but there are days he won’t touch his food. He has not vomited in the last six days, which I take as a rather good sign that he isn’t as ill as he might get in the future.

Wilma Smith

Jacksonville, FL

Dear Ms. Smith,

AIf kidney failure turns out to be acute, resulting from a clearly identified problem like an infection or the ingestion of a toxic substance such as antifreeze, it can sometimes be resolved completely, that is, cured, with the right treatment. But that tends to happen in younger dogs. Because your dog is 13, we assume he has chronic kidney failure. That’s the kind most older dogs get. And in just about all cases, a cure for chronic kidney failure remains elusive.

That said, a dog with chronic kidney disease can sometimes live for several years if the symptoms are treated properly.

Reduce stress, both emotional and physical. Stress can impact how much a dog eats and drinks, which is critical to his well-being. To reduce emotional stress, do not yell at your dog, and try to keep exchanges between humans in the household pleasant and unaggressive. To reduce physical stress, make sure you do not leave your dog outside on a very hot or very cold day. His body cannot respond as well as a dog’s without kidney disease to physiologic demands.

Keep water available. All dogs must always have a bowl of water available to quench their thirst at will, but this becomes even more important for a dog with kidney disease. In fact, you need to make a conscious effort to insure he drinks enough so that the blood supply to his kidneys will not decrease and so that his body can continue to rid itself of toxic waste. To that end, use whatever water bowl your dog likes best, and change it frequently if that gets him to drink more. Even an automatic water fountain might help.

Feed a therapeutic diet. A dog with kidney disease should follow a reduced-protein, reduced-phosphorus diet, available by prescription from your veterinarian. Less protein will help him feel better because his kidneys will have fewer protein by-products to filter, and less phosphorus will actually slow disease progression.

Your vet may also recommend certain supplements, and you may end up having to hydrate your dog with subcutaneous administration of water. Dialysis and kidney transplants could also keep your dog alive and comfortable longer, but for most people they are prohibitively expensive, costing at least $15,000 for the transplant and $1,000 a week for the dialysis. 

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