Wags and Whiskers

WAGS and WHISKERS

 

Welcome to Palisades Veterinary Clinic new blog! Here you will find monthly posts about animal/pet news, helpful tips, and articles written by our staff vets that will keep you up to date on the most purrtinent pet owner information.

Our first article comes from Dr. Jann Elliott, Palisades Veterinary Clinic’s Medical Director, who writes regular articles for Lucky Dog Pet Rescue. Please Contact Us if you have any feedback!

We hope you enjoy the posts and check back often!

 

 


 

October 19, 2018

Puppy Socialization — Tips For Success From a Vet

by Jann Rhea Elliott, DVM

While I’m not a behaviorist, and would suggest anyone whose pet seems to have severe or chronic issues seek the guidance of a board certified veterinary behaviorist, I have gleaned some really valuable tips through study and observation over the years. In particular, I’ve noticed the importance of proper socialization and positive reinforcement for puppies so they grow into confident adults.

On occasion, we encounter one of the saddest parts of our jobs as veterinarians: euthanasia of a healthy pet due to behavior issues. Upon further investigation, these pets’ untenable behaviors often stem from anxiety or fear, and we hear the despondent owners’ stories about intense social anxiety, leash aggression, inability to live with a particular person, or aggressive behavior to other dogs. Being a vet in an urban environment, most of the dogs in our care encounter unfamiliar dogs and people on walks at least twice a day, so it’s vital they are properly socialized to process and enjoy this.

The “socialization window” for puppies closes around 14 weeks of age. It’s really important to expose them — with positive results and rewards — to all types of people and noises that will be common in their day to day lives, so that daily routine is not something inherently unfamiliar and potentially scary. Once this time in development has passed, it is more difficult to acclimate puppies to unfamiliar things.

Some common mistakes in socialization include waiting until ALL vaccines are complete (around 16 weeks of age) to expose puppies to things outside the home, reinforcing shyness/retreat behavior, and failure to use proper training devices.

Research local trainers or groups like Your Dog’s Friend, who usually offer free or reasonably priced puppy socials or basic manners classes. Puppy classes where all attendees are up to date in ongoing puppy vaccines, positive reinforcement is the only training method, and exposure to healthy adult dogs with good social skills on neutral ground are excellent ways to ensure good basic social skills.

There are lots of take home skills attained by interacting with other dogs and puppies during this socialization window. Puppies learn subtle social cues and manners acceptable to other dogs. They may get a “side-eye” or snarl or even a gentle nip or push-off from a dog whose boundaries they have pushed too far, and that’s sometimes how they learn.

Along with classes and exposure prior to 14 weeks, and continuing until mastery, basic manners will help with efforts and outings to encourage good social skills. For large or boisterous pups, a halter type lead such as a Gentle Leader is a great tool. For shy pups, encouraging (and rewarding with high value treats) confident behavior, not relieving or rewarding “retreat” and hiding, is essential. Most pups outgrow a period of shyness. A trainer or vet can help with this behavior if it persists, as you also don’t want to push a shy pup and worsen fear or shyness.

Along with classes and exposure prior to 14 weeks, and continuing until mastery, basic manners will help with efforts and outings to encourage good social skills. For large or boisterous pups, a halter type lead such as a Gentle Leader is a great tool. For shy pups, encouraging (and rewarding with high value treats) confident behavior, not relieving or rewarding “retreat” and hiding, is essential. Most pups outgrow a period of shyness. A trainer or vet can help with this behavior if it persists, as you also don’t want to push a shy pup and worsen fear or shyness.

Lead and clicker training for a miniature poodle puppy.

A great training tool is the Clicker, popularized by Dr Karen Pryor. Her training books are also excellent for owners, and simple to implement. All pups can easily learn basic manners and skills such as sit, down, come, leave it, and settle.

If excessively shy or any aggressive behavior is noted in your pet, please set up a behavioral consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. A growl is not necessarily a dog or pup being naughty; it’s their way of saying they’ve had enough. Respect the growl, lest you push things to the next level (possibly a bite), but talk to your vet or positive reinforcement trainer about any difficulties.

Working with your puppy on many different surfaces such as grates, grass, linoleum, wood, concrete, mulch, stairs, ramps, etc, as well as gentle introduction to noises like Metro buses and trains, traffic, construction, vacuums, etc, are good ways to ensure these won’t be foreign and potentially anxiety inducing later on. Also, realize that some dogs, like some people, will not feel comfortable in a crowded, noisy environment like a festival or dog park. It’s ok to avoid those areas to keep your pet safe and happy.

Socializing puppies is a bit of an art, in that we want to reward good behavior that is pleasing to us, but we don’t want to push them out of their comfort zone, especially if we can acclimate the pup without doing so!

For a list of veterinary behaviorists and helpful pet owner links on behavior, please check out https://www.dacvb.org/page/petownerresources

Local positive reinforcement dog training group with weekly puppy classes in a dedicated space in NW DC: http://www.dogtrained.com

For a list of positive trainers and tips on puppy socialization and dog body language: https://yourdogsfriend.org/we-recommend/positive-trainers and https://yourdogsfriend.org/life-with-dogs/advice-for-puppy-parents

 


 

August 31, 2018

A Timely Note on Veterinary Nutrition

by Jann Rhea Elliott, DVM

Within the last week, news broke of a potential link between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DC-based cardiology specialty group, Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates, noticed an increase in DCM cases in atypical breeds and began to look for common denominators. Grain-free diets appear to be a possible link. It’s possible this is a red herring, as grain free diets are “all the rage” right now, with the majority of pet food-buyers being guided in that direction at the pet food store, but there are links between nutrition and cardiac diseases in dogs and cats, so it is not unlikely that the trendy foods are to blame.

About 5 years ago, clients began asking me why the prescription diets I recommended for disease states contained corn, wheat, and rice. Some pet owners refused to feed them, stating these are cheap “fillers.” Apparently, many online and pet store resources of information malign these ingredients. The trend was to feed grain-free diets. It reminded me of when breeders and pet food stores began referring clients to raw diets as a solution for many issues in their pets. It turns out that raw diets result in bacterial contamination in human kitchens and can result in problems for pets’ digestive tracts as well, since cats and dogs have long been domesticated and NOT fed raw diets.
Grains provide fiber, which helps promote bowel motility, provides bulk and firmness to stools, and in some cases prevents diarrhea and anal gland issues like overfilling and impactions. If your pet requires a lower carbohydrate diet, grain-free is one way to go about this, but in the majority of cases, pets do not require the elimination of grain.

Larger pet food manufacturers have gotten a bad name with the emergence of SO many smaller, “boutique” food companies. The boutique food costs more, and the food store employees recommend it, so it must be better for the pet, right? I try to tell pet owners not to feel pressured to buy the most expensive bag of dog food, because chances are it is not actually the best food! Of large food companies, I hear lots of bad things from pet owners that they have gathered through the grapevine; “They are so big, they don’t care,” “their food gets recalled all the time,” and “their large factories are dirty and contaminated” are complaints I have heard. The reality is that these larger companies invest in expensive clinical and safety trials, incorporate far more in-factory testing to prevent toxins and contamination in their diets, and thus have a much safer product as a result. I would much rather my food be tested and recalled before my pet eats it and get sick, wouldn’t you? Smaller food producers don’t usually have these clinical trials or in-factory tests in place, so they might miss a Salmonella contamination or toxin presence that these larger companies locate and eliminate before the food hits the shelves.

Allergic pets in this area turn up in my office many times already on raw and grain free diets intended to relieve their skin eruptions, ear infections, and nighttime itching, which are for the most part the result of environmental allergy called Atopy. While food may be a part of the allergy, and in rare cases responsible, proving this allergy expediently would require an elimination diet trial, rather than trying “Food Roulette” (as I call choosing a random grocery store food with a different protein base to use for the 6-8 week trial).

Dogs are omnivores, and there is no overt need to eliminate grains from their diet unless they have a documented allergy. Saliva and blood test kits to determine food allergies abound, but these simply are not reliable; some test kits have been sent in with water for screening (instead of saliva), and those samples returned with similar allergy profiles to a saliva sample. The way to document food allergies should be discussed with a veterinarian, but it will include an elimination diet trial. Because these elimination diet trials can last up to 12 weeks, it is important that this diagnostic test be based on proven methods.

In some ways, with all the misconceptions and incorrect information swirling about pet nutrition, perhaps this grain free diet + DCM link coming to the fore is a blessing; the resources it reveals may shed some light on proper nutrition and how to interpret labels and pick safe foods for pets.

For more information on choosing a pet food that is safe, please consult your veterinarian, a veterinary nutritionist, or a veterinary university nutrition site. Here are some reliable resources for information:

All About Pet Food

Pet Nutrition Resources for Pet Owners, Grain-Free