Wednesday, November 28, 2018

But Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?!

Clients are often mortified to even discuss this issue with me.  Their dogs eat poop.  Their own poop. The other dog's poop. Cat poop. Any poop they can find on a walk.  It seems so gross!  Why in the world would they ever do such a thing?! 

The technical term for this behavior is coprophagia. While it is most often a behavioral problem, owners must rule out medical causes first. If there is some reason that a puppy or dog is not absorbing the nutrients properly from their food or they are experiencing nutritional deficits such as missing vitamins or minerals, parasites, or they simply are not being fed enough, can all result in coprophagia.  If your veterinarian has examined your dog's diet, run a stool sample for parasites, etc. then you can definitively say your dog has a behavior problem and you can seek out a solution with that in mind.

Coprophagia is quite common in puppies and may simply be a byproduct of them being left unsupervised long enough to explore and consume feces. There is definitely observational learning that goes on with this behavior, meaning if you have another dog who does it, it is likely that your new puppy will do it too, just from seeing the adult dog engage in the behavior. I've even seen owners use the old fashioned correction technique with their puppies where they take them to fecal accidents in the house and shove the pup's nose toward it.  This can certainly make a puppy want to eat the feces to make it go away since you've drawn so much attention to it!  And finally, some adult dogs who have groomed and cared for puppies, just inherently want to clean up feces when they find it. Feces from other species of animals, including the family cat, are attractive to dogs because they smell different and are often texturally different as well.

Treatment for coprophagia requires vigilance and no one method works for every dog.  First and foremost, owners must be vigilant about keeping their yards free of feces.  Cleaning up immediately after defecation is key.  Keep the dog on leash so that as soon as they go, you can lead them away, give them a treat, and then go pick it up.  On walks, keep your dog away from areas where other animals toilet regularly, particularly if you live in an area where your neighbors aren't picking up behind their dogs.  Clean the cat box regularly and place the box in an area easily accessed by your cat, but not by the dog.  

There are a couple of products (CoproBan and For-Bid) you can buy through your veterinarian that when sprinkled on your dog's food will not change the taste of the food, but will change the taste of their poop!  Likewise, canned pumpkin, some pineapple juice or canned pineapple, or even a meat tenderizer such as Accent can be put on their food and change the way their feces tastes.  Just be careful if using canned pineapple as you don't want to use too much as the sugar can give your dog diarrhea. Many dogs, however, are not deterred by any of these food additives and will continue to eat feces.  

The bottom line is this:  Try it all, but know that the best treatment involves avoidance.  Keep your yard spotless. Keep your puppy or dog on leash.  Call or pull them away after defecation and give them a high value treat for moving away from the poop. Over time, many puppies grow out of the behavior, but for adult dogs it may persist.  They won't do it at home where you keep everything clean, but they will go looking for feces on walks.  Keep to the sidewalks, always keep them on leash, and teach the "drop it" or "leave it"command so you can reward them for dropping the feces they find or walking away from it.

As always, if you need my help, let me know!

Laverne, the Labrador puppy, keeping busy so she doesn't eat poop!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On Being Thankful

I am thankful for so many things, but wanted to touch briefly upon just a few.

I am thankful for my neighbors.  Paul with his Labrador, Stella, who is always cheerful when we see him.  He calls out to the collies, makes Stella share her treats with them (hard work for a Labrador!), and encourages his grandson to go visit "those fluffy collies." And there is Dorothy.  She is 92 years young, legally blind, but still walks out neighborhood daily with the aid of only a walker.  She is upbeat, loves to stop and visit, and always has time to scratch collie butts.  She says she looks forward to "seeing" them, and then laughs.  Really, she says, she looks forward to touching their luxurious coats. We also love seeing Carol.  She lost her husband earlier this year and has been thinking about getting a dog.  She's in her early 70's and would love to have a dog of her own. In the meantime, she spoils the collies, which they do so enjoy.  And I can't forget my next door neighbor, Elaine.  She lives alone and says the collies barking at our shared fence makes her feel safe. LOL.  Those collies are happy to oblige when it comes to barking.

I am thankful always for my friends near and far.  I love having friends that I see every week, those that I see every month, and my Facebook and Instagram friends that I see daily in my newsfeeds. I know that some people complain that the internet has created distance between people since folks don't have to leave their houses any more to "socialize." I really don't feel that way.  Social media has expanded my world, introduced me to people around the globe that I never would have had the pleasure of meeting otherwise. For this, I am grateful.

Finally, I am thankful most of all for my family. They are always there to support me, to bolster me up when needed, to roll their eyes when I need to just get it together, and hug me on the daily. Even at almost 17, my son has time for me.  We take in a movie or play miniature golf.  He likes to tease me about how ridiculous I am with the dogs.  And yet, he is just like me. While I miss my girls now that they are away at college, I appreciate that they check in.  Love the texts, memes, ted talk links, music clips, and conversations when they have the time.  I love that Jessica sent me my first "mom care package" this year as well.  Somewhere in heaven, her grandmother and great-grandmother, the queen and queen mother of care packages, are smiling.

And I am grateful to all of you for reading this post. I just needed to say what was in my heart. Feel free to share what you are thankful for in the comments as well. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Is Your Dog a Little OCD?

While some might joke about a dog "obsessively chasing its tail" or "snapping at imaginary bugs," I take those comments very seriously.  One thing I know about dogs...some chase their tails (and bugs) for fun or because they are bored, while others do it because they feel compelled and just can't stop.

More than once I've seen a dog with a raw spot on a foot or leg. It's obviously a spot that the dog has licked/chewed/rubbed constantly until it was raw and sore. While many dogs will do this as a result of an allergy of some sort, there are some who purposefully chew these spots, usually on the paws or limbs, until they are raw.  They are compulsive lickers creating something called lick granulomas on their bodies. Treating these self-inflicted sores with ointments doesn't solve the problem. Nor does putting the "cone of shame" on the dog to block them from chewing.  Once the sore heals and you remove the cone, they will go right back to chewing on that spot. They simply can't help it. They don't have a skin issue. They have a brain issue. Believe it or not, chewing themselves raw fulfills a need.  It is the dog's way of dealing with underlying stress and anxiety.  Much like some people chew their nails all the way down until they bleed. Grooming is a natural/normal behavior. Grooming until you create a sore is not.

Let's talk about those other dogs too. The ones who obsessively chase lights on the ceiling, shadows on the wall, and snap at bugs that aren't there. Or chase their tails round and round until they exhaust themselves. Dogs are predatory, so chasing prey is something that they are wired to do.  However, chasing lights, imaginary bugs, or your tail is predatory behavior gone wrong. Finally, there are dogs that suck on blankets and bedding or eat rocks or other inedible objects.  These dogs are filling themselves up, just not with appropriate things. 

Being well-groomed, able to chase down prey, and then fill up on what you've captured are all evolutionarily selected behaviors that insured the survival of dogs as a species.  However, when it gets to the point where they are engaging in these behaviors until exhaustion or until sores develop, then this is a problem and that problem is canine compulsive behavior or even obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Given that doing these behaviors lessens the dog's anxiety, treatment must focus on the underlying anxiety, not on simply treating the sores on the skin or missing hair on the tail. For these dogs, doing these self-destructive behaviors relieves their anxiety because the pain is predictable. 

Treatment of compulsive behavior requires a combination of behavioral modification and drug therapy.  These dogs must have their environments altered to relieve stress:  they like predictable schedules; need more mental and physical exercise; and  often a change to their diet.  Treating a dog (or any animal) who suffers from OCD is a coordinated effort between the pet owner, their vet, and the behavior specialist.  If you feel that your pet is suffering from OCD, please let me know. I understand how frustrating and upsetting it is and I can help.

A dog with a lick granuloma on its leg

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Is Your Dog a Picky Eater?

I hear this a lot. Clients telling me their dogs are picky eaters.  While it is certainly the case that dogs with anxiety may be a bit more finicky about their food than the average dog, it is also the case that some anxious dogs (like some anxious people) actually overeat rather than walk away from their food. So what makes some dogs picky eaters while other dogs will eat anything and everything?

A veterinarian once told me the best food to buy for your dog is the one that fits in your budget and that your dog likes. Period.  He didn't say anything about protein sources, grain free, or fat content.  So, your first conversation if you have a picky eater should be with your veterinarian. You need to make sure that your dog is healthy, doesn't have issues with their teeth or gums, etc.  If your dog is overweight, you should expect your vet to suggest more carefully measuring out meals and limiting snacks, or even a special diet designed to help dogs lose weight in a healthy manner.

If you have ruled out medical reasons for your picky eater, it's time to look at the way you feed your dog.  Puppies should be fed 3-5 times a day; these are small meals, spread out to help them better digest and utilize their nutrients.  Adult dogs should be fed twice daily.  While it is true that you can certainly feed a dog once a day, most dogs are happier and healthier with their daily caloric intake divided into two meals so they feel satiated.  Food should not be left down for a dog to free feed.  Free feeding makes it very difficult to house train a puppy since you can't know when food is going into your puppy and therefore know when they will need to toilet!  Adult dogs shouldn't be free fed because giving them the option to eat whenever they want actually can create picky eaters.  If instead a dog is fed twice a day, and said meal is offered to them for 10-15 minutes and then any food left is picked up, you end up with dogs who look forward to meal time, eat what they are hungry for, and then walk away. If you feel that 10-15 minutes isn't enough time for your dog, you can certainly extend that time to 20-30 minutes.  However, most dogs will eat what they want in those first 15 minutes anyway, so why the extra time?  If you feed your dog at well-defined, predictable meal times, you will find that that's when they are hungry.

Most of us like variety in our meals, and many people feel bad about feeding their dogs the same food all of the time.  Keep in mind that dogs who are constantly having their food changed up end up with digestive issues and are often those dogs who are described as picky eaters.  Pick one kind of food and stick with it. If your dog is hungry, he will eat.  That doesn't mean you can't spice up their food a bit if you are so inclined. I know people who add a little canned food to the kibble, put a dollop of canned pumpkin or veggies on top, or crumble in some chicken breast.

I know not everyone will agree with me, but I feel that puppies, just like young children, should be exposed to lots of different healthy food options (in small quantities) so that they will seek out and choose those healthy options later.  This also means that if you've exposed your puppies to carrots, squash, pumpkin, green beans, apples, bananas, berries, etc., then you can give them these things in small quantities as a treat or to supplement their kibble, thus spicing up their routine.  However, there are other ways to spice it up rather than adding in more calories.  Putting your dog's kibble into an interactive feeding toy is a great way for your dog to forage for their meals and exercise their brain at the same time.  Many dogs actually prefer to eat kibble they've had to work for versus kibble just handed to them in a bowl.

And then, of course, there is the question of hand feeding your dog.  Some dogs prefer to have their people sit with them and hand feed them their kibble. Frankly, I'd be surprised if a dog didn't enjoy this kind of curb service!  If your dog doesn't have a specific issue that requires them to be hand fed, I suggest staying away from this option.  If your dog will only eat when hand fed by you, this will make it difficult for you to ever leave your dog in the care of someone else for any length of time. And it goes without saying that if you are feeding your dog from a bowl, that bowl should be clean and free of odors that might deter your dog.  Feeding your dog in a well-lit area of your home, preferably in an area where people frequent so eating feels sociable, is also important.

There is a diet out there that is perfect for every dog.  You just need to find that diet and stick with it.  Your dog doesn't have to eat every bite at every meal to be happy and healthy.  Dogs like predictability so too much change in what you feed them can create picky eaters.  Save the changes and surprises for their special treats.  Those treats that they get outside of set mealtimes are a great place to experiment with variety in texture, protein source, etc.

As always, if you have questions, please let me know!

Ozzie enjoying some canned pumpkin AND cooked chicken breast with his kibble!