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

Expert Advice January 2014 Issue

Dear Doctor

Letters to Tufts Veterinarians

The dog dines on squirrels

Q We have a miniature schnauzer who weighs 16 pounds, and she has a strong hunting instinct. We call her Chasie for that reason, but her nickname is Squirrel Girl. She very much enjoys catching a squirrel, taking it into her hiding place, and eating it. While she is busy with her kill, there is nothing we can do or say that can get her to release the animal and come to us. All of her vaccinations are current, and we have never seen her get sick or vomit as a result of squirrel eating. Still, we are concerned that she is eating raw meat that could be laden with harmful bacteria. Is there anything we can do to subdue this strong instinct to capture squirrels? If not, is there anything we can do to keep Chasie safe from any illnesses eating a raw squirrel could introduce?

Ed and Glenda Norman

Spring Lake, North Carolina

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Norman,

AWe understand your concern. A dog eviscerating a rodent with her teeth is not the prettiest thing to watch. But the health concerns for a dog who is up to date on her shots are minimal, including any concerns about harmful bacteria. It’s true that raw food you buy in the supermarket or pet food store can be of concern bacterially because it could be days between slaughter and the arrival of the ensuing packaged flesh food to store shelves. That extra time gives bacteria an opportunity to multiply to the point of being able to cause illness. In addition, antibiotics and other drugs administered to feed animals are believed to have the potential to cause mutations in some of the bacteria harbored by meat that could hasten illness in a dog that eats it raw. The meat of a just-killed animal, on the other hand, is safe.

Ed and Glenda Norman's miniature schnauzer, Chasie, will do anything to get to a squirrel.

The larger concern is for the squirrel. You might be able to attenuate Chasie’s predatory tendencies toward live animals by taking her to structured lure courses and even engaging with her in longer walks and more play time with fetch toys and the like. Of course, sometimes her speed and natural proclivities may outpace all your efforts to keep her from attacking small prey. Don’t beat yourself up about that if you’re doing your best.

It’s good that Chasie is up to date on all her inoculations, which we assume includes the rabies vaccination. That will go a long way to keep her health strong when she dines “al fresco” on victuals of her own chasing and choosing. As long as you don’t see her getting sick after a meal of squirrel — vomiting, changes in bowel movements, lethargy, or other signs — let it go.

Can you predict “bathroom” time?

Q I am trying to determine when my dog can be expected to eliminate waste. She is fed once a day at 11 pm. She receives no snacks during the intervening hours. She weighs 51 pounds, is about five years old and is part German shepherd and part Doberman pinscher. She is also intelligent and responsive except for her refusal to eliminate solid waste outside when she is walked (except for one time). She will, however, excrete urine on leash.

She will void solid waste only in her pen and when she is off leash on my ranch. We also keep very large napkins out in two places indoors for her to use.

Sally Capps

Mason, Texas

Dear Ms. Capps,

ATufts veterinarian Linda Ross, DVM, an expert in all things GI tract, says that “puppies usually defecate shortly after they eat, but for adult dogs there is no particular relationship between when they eat and when they eliminate solid waste, in part because there are many factors involved, including the type of food fed and the amount as well. “The best analogy I can use,” she comments, is the comparison between infants and older people. “Feeding does stimulate gastrointestinal motility” in both people and dogs, but because puppies and babies are not yet “toilet trained,” they go immediately when they feel they have to go. That’s why babies are put in diapers and puppies are taken outside to relieve themselves more frequently than adult dogs. Once the baby or puppy gets a little older and is able to wait a bit, either to go on the toilet or out of the house, the timing becomes less predictable.

“It’s kind of unusual for a dog to go in her pen,” Dr. Ross comments. “Most dogs will not defecate in their pen because they consider it their territory,” and they don’t want to soil it. “If the pen is big enough and they can get away from the waste, however, they sometimes find it acceptable.”

It’s also unusual for a dog to be unwilling to eliminate solid waste on leash and, at the age of five, to still be “going to the bathroom” on napkins spread out in the house. “People in high-rise apartments will sometimes have their dogs learn to do that because they can’t go down 25 flights of stairs” every time the dogs needs to void, she says. But it appears that’s what this dog has been trained to do, and “perhaps some retraining with an animal behaviorist is in order.”

Tufts animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, agrees, saying that the dog will eventually learn to poop on leash if not given the option to roam around the ranch, hang out in her pen, or do her business on napkins set out specifically for that purpose.

Dog is uncommonly itchy

QMy dog is incredibly itchy on her rump, to the point that her scratching is causing little bumps and rashes. I can’t get her to stop this compulsive behavior no matter how much I try to engage her in other activities. Any suggestions?

Lydia Sestina

Weymouth, Massachusetts

Dear Ms. Sestina,

ABased on what you’re saying, we suspect the problem is not behavioral but medical, which is why you’re not able to distract your pet. Your dog may very well have fleas. If the number of fleas is high, you can see them moving on a dog’s skin surface where there is relatively little hair, for instance, on the abdomen. In some dogs, however, the number of fleas is small enough that they’re not going to be visible to the naked eye yet still cause itchiness, which in medical terms is called pruritus. If the dog is allergic to flea saliva, she will react more strongly, even from just a small amount of flea infestation. In an allergic dog (who often also has allergies to airborne allergens like pollen, dust, and mold), the flea saliva not only causes itchiness but also bumps and other skin lesions. Your dog may be exacerbating those by scratching rather than causing them to develop in the first place.

Flea infestation is much more common in warm weather and so is more apt to occur in warm, humid southern states than northern ones during January, but some people’s dogs do become infested with fleas during the winter months even if they live closer to Canada than Mexico. Those fleas can thrive — and lay eggs, producing ever more fleas — in heated homes during the cold season.

The first step is for your veterinarian to determine whether the cause of the itchiness is in fact flea infestation as well as whether your dog is flea-allergic. If that is the case, the second step will be to stop the itchiness with adequate treatment in addition to starting a rigorous year-round plan to prevent fleas and ticks.

To kill the fleas already there, the veterinarian will prescribe what’s called an adulticide. A medicated shampoo to attack any fleas on the dog’s body may also be in order.

Because fleas jump well (they can’t fly), a flea-infested dog might very well signify a flea-infested house. It doesn’t mean you don’t keep a clean home. It means fleas got the better of your environment, most likely because your dog makes a good host (or hostess). Make sure to wash all linens in hot, soapy water (especially if you let your dog on the bed with you). Vacuum any carpets and rugs, too, and throw away the vacuum bag. You may also need a flea fogger, or bug bomb. But work with your vet to ensure you choose one that will be safe for your pet. You don’t want to create a problem by eliminating another one. n

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