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Category Archives: Dogs

Scary thunderstorms and how to help your phobic dog.

It’s that time of year– hot sticky days that end in frequent thunderstorms rolling through the area. As much as I enjoy thunderstorms, my dog is terrified by them. He hides, he shakes, he wants to cling to me, he drools. It’s really not a great time for either of us. And unfortunately, my dog is not alone. There are many many dogs of all shapes and sizes who are stressed to varying degrees by thunderstorms (or fireworks or gunshots).

I’m lucky in that my dog reacts by hiding and clinging. Other dogs react by being destructive or, worse, by trying to escape the house. It is not unheard of for a dog to jump out an upper floor window to escape something scary and injure himself in doing so. We need to be proactive about these fears and phobias before they get worse and potentially endanger the lives of our dogs.

Thunderstorm phobia is not always a sound-based phobia. Dogs are extremely sensitive to the environment. They can react to pressure changes in the absence of thunder. They may be reacting to the change of the scent in the air. It has also been questioned whether the static charge in the air during a storm bothers them. Some dogs are upset by the flashing of lightning. Regardless, it is not simply a matter of hearing. (Deaf dogs can react to thunderstorms as well).

Storms are scary.

Storms are scary.

It is also important to note that you are not going to reinforce your dog’s fear/phobia by offering him moral support, by talking to him quietly and soothingly, or by feeding him treats. If you’re terrified of snakes and you end up trapped in a room full of snakes, and a friend comes in and puts her arm around you and starts telling you that it’s ok, calm down, we’ll find a way to get through this safely, is it going to make you more afraid of snakes?

Reknowned behaviorist Patricia McConnell has some wonderful blog posts on this subject: You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms, and Reinforcing Fear II and Thunderphobia III. Both are excellent reads.

Many dogs, especially when they are puppies, will benefit from some preventative maintenance when it comes to storms. It is important to do your best if you are nervous about storms to remain calm and not pass that anxiety along to your dog. Turn thunderstorm time into a party! Pop some popcorn and toss some in your pup’s direction with each rumble of thunder. Does your pooch have a favorite toy or game? Break that out and have a good time together. Anything you can do to build a positive association toward storms will work in your favor.

If your dog will not accept his normal treats or show interest in his regular toys, this means he’s stressed. You can try upping the ante– offering really delicious treats like cheese or hotdogs (or a bullystick to chew on).

Some dogs, no matter what you do to storm-proof them, are going to end up scared, unfortunately. Breed does appear to play some sort of a role– Border Collies, for example, are especially prone to storm phobia and other sound sensitivities. However, it can happen to any dog of any breed or mix, and it can appear at any time in life– sometimes not until old age.

Fortunately, there are many different options out there to try to help your dog be more comfortable. A lot of dogs prefer to be able to hide during storms. They may be more comfortable in a closet or a basement, for example. Many dogs are attracted to bathrooms during storms. If it’s going to storm and you’re not going to be home, making sure your dog has access to his hiding spots is important. Playing music or leaving the television on can help drown out some of the noise, and closing curtains can block the flashing lightning.

Steve makes his Thundershirt look good.

Steve makes his Thundershirt look good.

There are also many commercially available products which may be of some help. A lot of these products seem to be hit-or-miss. They work amazingly for some dogs, and not at all for others, so you have to experiment a bit. The Thundershirt is one of the most popular available items. It is an adjustable, snugly fitting shirt that provides comforting pressure that may help relieve anxiety (think swaddling an infant). The manufacturer does offer a money-back guarantee if the shirt does not help and you return it within 45 days.

Another interesting product available is the Storm Defender Cape. This cape-type blanket is lined with a special material that cuts down on the static that can build up during a thunderstorm, and prevent the reaction and anxiety that it can produce in some dogs.

Dog Appeasing Pheromones, also known as DAP, can comfort a dog who is stressed. DAP is available in a spray, a collar, or a plug-in diffuser. This is a product that is userful for a dog who is generally anxious, but the spray especially can be helpful for an especially stressful event like a storm.

If all else fails and your dog continues to be terrified of thunderstorms, there are also medications available to help. The downside of medication is that it works best when given an hour or so before a storm hits, so the timing can be tricky (plus you have to be there). However, if you think that is the best option for your dog to get through this summer that has so-far been heavy with storms, give us a call. It’s no fun to be terrified, and if we can help alleviate that terror, we want to do so.

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More than just a set of eyes: Service dogs in the real world

In 1929, the Seeing Eye opened their doors on a revolutionary new program which paired specially trained guide dogs with blind people to help those people regain some of the independence they had lost along with their sight. The program blossommed, and continues on today, along with a host of other similar programs which train assistance dogs of all sizes and shapes and skills. These dogs range from hearing ear dogs, to PTSD dogs helping veterans survive the day-to-day struggles of life after war. There are dogs who can smell when their partners’ blood sugar has dropped dangerously low and alert them. There are dogs who can tell when a handler is about to have a seizure and alert him so that he can take appropriate steps. There are dogs who interrupt panic attacks, turn on lights, check to make sure rooms are clear. And there are the mobility dogs who help people to balance and to get around. These dogs can pick up just about anything, hand money to a cashier, turn lights on and off, bring things from the fridge, even help with the laundry.

Dogs are nothing but amazing.

But most people are sadly ignorant of all these different types of service dogs, all of whom are protected under the Americans with Disability Act. There are more than just guide dogs for the blind! Other service dogs are just as highly trained and indispensible to their partners no matter what the disability.

Up until the recent past, I paid about as much attention to service dogs as any other able-bodied, able-minded American. I knew they existed. Once in awhile I saw one and it was like seeing a celebrity. But that was the extent of my knowledge.

And then I ended up needing a service dog, and depending on one to be able to manage the parts of every day life that most people go through without a second thought. At this point, I can’t imagine being without him. He is that integral to my functioning.

But being out in public with my clearly vested dog has opened my eyes to how utterly ignorant many people are around and about service dogs.

A service dog can be large or small. He can be walking by his owner’s side, leading him, or held in his arms. It all depends on what the dog is being used for. Just because a person doesn’t look a certain way, doesn’t mean that their dog is not doing important work. Just because we do not meet your stereotypes does not mean we are fakers. Not all disabilities are visible.

Hanging out at McDonald's like a pro.

Hanging out at McDonald’s like a pro.

Service dogs are allowed to go just about anywhere a person can go, with a few exceptions such as sterile surgical suites and sometimes zoos. Service dogs are allowed in restuarants. Service dogs are allowed in schools. Service dogs are allowed at Major League Baseball games and in amusement parks. They are allowed in your local grocery store and at your mall. You might see them in your doctor’s office waiting room or at the hospital. They are allowed to be there even if food is being served (although a good service dog will not beg or try to steal food off the table, or even take food that is dropped on the floor).

Please do not try to disrupt these dogs while they are working. Do not bark at them, do not try to pet them, do not throw food or toys at them, do not babytalk or make kissy noises at them (this means you, too, adults). Just leave. them. alone. These dogs are very well trained, but they are still dogs, and their attention wavering at the wrong moment because somebody at the mall was barking at him again (why people think this is funny, I will never understand) could end up in disaster for the person depending on him.

Please don’t treat the owner as if she’s not there. There are two members in every service dog team. It’s ok to ask polite questions, but don’t be offended if the handler is not interested in talking or in revealing her personal information or history. General questions are usually ok, but “what do you need a service dog for, you don’t look disabled?” is not an ok question.

Business employees may ask two specific questions to verify if the service dog is a “real” one. He may ask whether the dog is a service dog, and he may ask what tasks the dog has been trained to perform. That’s it. He may not ask why the handler needs a service dog, what disability afflicts them.

Employees may ask any dog who is disruptive to leave. This is one that I think employees don’t necessarily know and that they are afraid to use. If the dog truly is a service dog and the dog is being disruptive and is not under the control of the handler, the ADA still gives permission to businesses to ask them to leave. While all service dogs are guaranteed access to any public place under federal law, that federal law does not allow them to abuse the privilege and cause problems.

It’s just a service dog, not a unicorn. Service dog teams may be uncommon in your area, but surely you’re aware that they exist, right? Don’t stare, don’t cause a scene, don’t whip out your cell phone to snap a picture. Just let us go about our business. Just let us fit seamlessly into the flow of people on the street or in the aisle. Respect our privacy and our space the way you would that of any other stranger.

And please, stop trying to pet my dog when I’m not looking. He doesn’t like it.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Dogs

 

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What to do when your pet is lost.

A bunch of clearly tagged dogs.

A bunch of clearly tagged dogs.

It’s a terrible feeling– you look out into the backyard where you left your dog just a few minutes ago, and he is not there. Or your kitty escapes while you’re bringing in the groceries and completely disappears. You’ve walked around your neighborhood multiple times calling and calling and still your pet does not appear. What next?

Ideally, before your pet ever goes missing, you’ll have taken some steps to help him get home. A microchip is a great start, but even better is a collar with tags that include your phone number. A rabies tag or a license can get your pet home as well, but there is an extra step involved (contacting the veterinarian or the treasurer’s office which is in charge of dog licensing). If your pet is clearly tagged with your phone number, the people who find him only need to make one call.

The most important thing you can do is get the word out that your pet is missing. Talk to your neighbors. Take a photo with you! Ask them if they’ve seen your pet.

Contact the police, especially if it is a dog who is lost. The first point of contact in many places for a found or loose dog report is the local police department. Let them know when and where your pet went missing, so that if a call comes in, they’ll know someone is looking.

Call the local veterinary hospitals. Many times a person who finds a pet will call their veterinarian to ask what to do next, or if anybody has reported a pet missing. They might also take that pet in to be scanned for a microchip. If we know your pet is missing, we can help connect you up with the people who have found him!

Call the animal shelters in your area, and go there to look in person. Animal shelters can be busy places, and the people who answer the phone might not have accurate information. Many a dog has been found at the shelter when the receptionist told the owner there was no dog there matching that description.

If your pet is microchipped, notify the microchip company (and there are many– Home Again, Avid, AKC ReUnite to name a few) and confirm that your contact information with them is correct. There is nothing more frustrating than finding a pet with a microchip that leads to a disconnected phone number.

Social media has become a tremendously useful tool in reuniting lost pets with their owners. If you have a Facebook account, post a picture and your contact information (make sure it is a public post, not friends only!) and ask your friends to share it. The reach that Facebook can have in just a short time is astonishing. There are also Facebook communities such as Find Toby in PA that are specifically geared toward connecting lost pets and their owners. Let us know and we will post it on our Facebook. Get your pet’s photo and information out there to as wide an audience as possible!

Hang fliers around your neighborhood. Keep in mind that most people will see these posters as they are driving by, so you want to include only the most important information and make it is big as possible. A large LOST DOG/CAT heading, a photo of your pet, and your contact information are the most important things. Offering a reward may entice people to be more attentive to their environment, or might encourage a person who found your pet and is considering keeping him to return him instead.

And last but not least, don’t give up hope. There are many stories of pets being reunited with their families after weeks or even years! It is possible.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Safety

 

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Leptospirosis: Is your dog at risk?

Leptospirosis is a type of bacteria that dogs can pick up from wet, marshy areas or standing water and from eating rodents. The bacteria can either be ingested (from drinking it, from licking paws, from eating infected critters) or it can be transmitted through some type of wound (a small, unnoticed cut on a paw, for example). It results in a disease that causes liver and kidney failure.

It can also be transmitted from dog to human through blood or urine. In humans, the most common symptoms are fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, and in the most severe cases, liver and kidney failure.

In the past, we have included the vaccine for leptospirosis in our distemper combination vaccine (the L in DHLPP). This has never provided great protection, but lepto is one of those diseases that doesn’t get that much attention. There are a bunch of different variations of it (similar to the flu) and the vaccine only works against specific strains. It also, in combination form, only lasts for about six months. We prefer to vaccinate dogs with the DHLPP vaccine every three years, so we have really not been protecting our at-risk patients.

Fortunately, the vaccine has been improving over the years.

steveswim

Pond-swimming is fun.

Because of this, we are now able to offer vaccine protection that lasts a full year. But this means giving it as a separate vaccine, which is why we are changing our protocol a bit.

Instead of vaccinating all dogs (except those who are sensitive to it– leptospirosis is the most common offender with regards to vaccine reactions) regardless of risk and not protecting them for very long, we will now only be vaccinating dogs who are at risk of contracting the disease.

These are dogs who are exposed to wet or marshy areas, ponds, standing water. Dogs who live on farms, who hike frequently, hunt, or camp are at increased risk. Dogs who have a lot of exposure to areas where wildlife is, especially if it’s a wet area, are at increased risk. Dogs who live in a highly urban environment where rats or other rodents may be a problem are at increased risk. These are the dogs who should be vaccinated against the disease.

Dogs who live a comfortable suburban life, whose life consists of a manicured lawn and walks on sidewalks are at a much lesser risk, and probably do not need to be vaccinated.

The new vaccine is given annually, and separate from the distemper combo. If your dog has previously been vaccinated with the lepto componenent in the combination vaccine, the new vaccine will not need to be boostered. For pups who have never been vaccinated against lepto, they will need to have the vaccine boostered in 3-4 weeks, and then it will become an annual vaccine.

It gets to be a lot, all of these separate vaccines, but we are trying our best to tailor our healthcare to the specific needs of your individual pet. We don’t want to be given vaccines that aren’t needed, but we want to protect those pets who are at risk. If we can prevent a serious disease, especially one that can be transmitted from dog to human, we want to do that. If we can avoid giving unnecessary vaccines to dogs who really don’t need them, we want to do that too. We want to provide the care that best fits your pet and his lifestyle.

Concerned that your dog should be vaccinated against leptospirosis? Give us a call at 665-2338 and any of our staff members would be happy to talk to you about the risk factors and help you make the right choice for your pet.

For more information, check out these handy websites:
Interactive map of Leptospirosis cases
A very nice risk-assessment test tool

 
 

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Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 2: Bite-proofing your child

A dog can be a boy's best friend.

A dog can be a boy’s best friend.

Every year, 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs. 50% of these bites are to children 12 and under, with the highest rate among children between the ages of five and nine years old. Fortunately, of all dog bites treated in emergency rooms, 96% are treated and released (source).

While few of these bites are serious, dog bites to children are a serious and scary problem. Thankfully, there are many steps a parent and a child can take to lower his risk.

The first, and I think the most important, is for parents to closely supervise their childrens’ interactions with dogs. This is especially important with new or strange dogs, but it is also important with the family dog. Dogs are animals. Sometimes they lose their patience. Sometimes their warnings go unheeded and they end up warning more strongly than tender human flesh can tolerate. Sometimes they’re in pain.

The best way to counteract this unpredictability is to learn to read and understand the dog’s body language and comfort level. While some dogs will tolerate a child climbing all over them, but for most dogs it is very stressful. So even though the dog is putting up with it, he might be trying very hard to communicate how uncomfortable he is with the situation.

We have fallen into the habit of “Disney-fying” dogs. Yes, dogs can be man’s best friend, but they are still living, breathing, feeling animals who don’t always respond in the ways we want or expect.

Here is an excellent guide to understanding how to read stress signals from your dog. Often the easiest to see are yawning, tucked tail, pinned-back ears, nose-licking, and trying to avoid the situation. All of these need to be cues to parents that it is time to intervene now because the risk of something bad happening is steadily increasing.

Children, especially older ones, can be taught to recognize friendly vs stressed vs go away messages from dogs. Doggone Safe’s Learn to be a Dog Detective is a terrific child-oriented webpage for helping kids understand what a dog is feeling at any given time and what the best response is.

Teach your child that if he is approached by a strange, loose dog, do not run but instead Be a Tree. Running or screaming makes a child more interesting and a more appealing target. Being still and quiet is boring, and less interesting to a dog.

It is also vitally important to teach children not to approach strange dogs without the owner present. Statistically, dogs who are chained, kenneled, or contained in a backyard are a high bite risk. They are often poorly socialized with people and protective of their space. This can be a recipe for disaster if a child approaches. Between 1976 and 2001, at least 98 people were killed by chained dogs. 92 were children.

If an owner is present, the child must know to ask first before trying to pet the dog. Not all dogs are comfortable with children, and some dogs, such as service dogs, should not be interrupted from their work. If the owner says it is ok, the child should be taught to extend a fist for the dog to sniff and to let the dog come to him. If the dog wants to say hi, he will!

Let sleeping dogs lie! Teach your child that if the dog is sleeping, chewing a bone, or otherwise occupied by himself, it is best to leave him alone.

Give your dog a safe place to go when he wants to be left alone, and teach your child to respect that. I cringe when I see pictures of kids in crates with dogs. If things were to go bad, they could go very bad very quickly with neither dog nor child able to quickly escape.

Teach your child to never try to take something from a dog that the dog will not willingly give up. A hard stare, a stiff body, crouching over the item, and growling are all signs that your child needs to back off and go to an adult if the dog has something that he shouldn’t. Also, a wagging tail is not necessarily a sign of a happy dog! A loose, full-body wave is a sign of happiness. A stiff or slow wag is not.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Some older children can be taught to “trade”. Trading is taking something that the dog values highly (food, a favorite toy), and offering it to the dog in exchange for whatever he is guarding. If the dog shows desire for the trade object, toss it several feet away so that you are able to retrieve the item while the dog is occupied away from it.

Resource guarding can become very dangerous, so getting in contact with a trainer or behaviorist as soon as possible is highly recommended.

Last but not least, please do not ever leave an infant alone with a dog, even if the baby is in a crib. Babies smell funny, they sound funny, and they move funny. All of this has the potential to trigger prey drive in a dog who would never hurt someone he recognized as a human.

With all of these things in mind, it is possible to minimize the risk of your child being bitten either by a strange dog or the family dog. Kids and dogs can make a great combination, but keeping safety in mind is a must!

Other resources:
Doggone Safe!
Be a Tree!
And for all things dog-bite-statistics, The National Canine Research Council

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Dogs, Safety

 

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Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 1: Bite-proofing your dog

My dogs are family.

My dogs are family.

This week is considered Dog Bite Prevention Week, a week in which professionals who work with animals strive to put out good and useful information about dog bites and about how to prevent them. In a country where more homes contain dogs than don’t, it’s an important topic. Dogs bite humans every single day. The good news is that according to the National Canine Research Council, greater than 80% of reported bites require no medical treatment at all. 19.4% of reported bites require minor medical attention, and the last 0.01% of bites are the ugly ones requiring major medical attention.

This is probably not the impression you get from the media. So frequently there are dramatic news stories about children attacked by vicious pit bulls, or police having to shoot attacking dogs. The truth is, a lot of this is media and attention-driven. In 2010, there were 33 dog attacks that resulted in fatality. In contrast, there were 33,041 unintentional poisioning fatalities, and 3,782 unintentional drowning deaths. (Source: NCRC).
According to Janice Bradley’s book Dogs Bite But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning twice than you are to be killed by a dog. There are more cow-related human deaths every year than dog-related ones.

So why this great fear of dog bites?

I think it is just something primal in us. As a society, we have in many ways taken the “animal” out of dogs. We’ve tried to turn them into Disney characters– always affable, never dangerous. They are “man’s best friend” and they are supposed to fit neatly into our cultural expectations. But the truth is, dogs are living, breathing, thinking, emotional animals. They are the sum of their genetics and their environments, and when they get into serious trouble, it is almost always the result of human error in one way or another.

The next question: How do you bite-proof your dog?

First off, choose a breed or dog that is appropriate to your lifestyle and experience. If you’ve never owned a dog before, it’s probably not the best idea to go out and get a dog who is going to react to everything he sees in his environment by wanting to bite it. If you have kids, you are going to be better off looking for a dog who likes kids and is pretty go-with-the-flow, not a dog who is scared of his own shadow. If you plan to use a dog-park to exercise a dog, do not choose one whose entire breed is built around fighting with other dogs. Do your research! There are lots of breed-selectors available online that can point you in the right direction. Here’s one from Animal Planet that’s pretty nice. Iams has an interesting breed selector as well.

If you bring home a puppy, it is so very important that you socialize him so that he learns to roll with the punches and tolerate having to deal with new things. Helping him to have plenty of good experiences in all kinds of locations with all kinds of people will set him up to be more tolerant later on, and tolerance is always something we prize in a pet dog.

Buy your dog either from a responsible breeder who is breeding dogs who have been proven to have good temperaments or rescue one from an organization that temperament tests its dogs, and ideally keeps them in foster homes. Meet the dogs. If from a breeder, meet the dogs’ relatives. Make sure you are seeing dogs who are steady and engaged, not dogs who are shrinking back from the world, and not dogs who are aggressively approaching every person they meet. You don’t want to see hard eyes, raised hackles, stiff bodies. Look for fluid motion and appropriate interaction.

Please please do NOT buy your puppy from a petstore, online vendor, or a puppy mill or farm where the pups have lived their whole lives in cages or a pen, rarely handled, and not at all socialized to the world. Socialization in puppies is HUGE and if your pup is not exposed to a variety of people and sounds and experiences and textures under his feet at a young age, life is going to be that much harder for him, and he’s going to be that much more of a bite risk.

Whether your new dog is a baby or an adult, attending a postive-reinforcement-based obedience class dramatically decreases your dog’s future bite risk.

All dogs should go to school.

All dogs should go to school.

One of the biggest factors in serious dog attacks and fatalities is that they frequently involve dogs who are not considered members of the family. These dogs are referred to as “resident dogs”, and while they live on the property, usually chained or penned or relegated to the backyard, they miss out on the bond with humans, they miss out on the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior, and they miss out on the constant mental and physical stimulation of life shared with people.

The dogs with the highest risk of getting into trouble are those who are recently acquired, kept as “resident animals” instead of pets, are chained and rarely if ever let off the chain to lead a normal doggy life, who are not spayed or neutered, not trained, and have had little socialization.

So basically, to bite-proof your dog…. Do the opposite! Include your dog in your family, train him, teach him the ways of the world, let him have good experiences, protect him, and learn to read his body language and what he is telling you. Dogs are pack animals. You are his pack.

Family dogs who bite very frequently give you plenty of notice (unless this notice has been punished out of them) but you have to know what you’re looking for and you have to respect it. A dog is growling at you over a toy is communicating important information. And this should be a red flag that you need to contact a trainer ASAP so that you can learn how to change your pup’s reaction to your approaching his toys. A lot of bites could be avoided by learning to recognize stress signs in your dog and by seeking help as soon as you notice the beginnings of the problem, not after somebody gets bitten.

Hopefully this post gave you a basic overview of why dog bites happen and ways to “bite-proof” your dog. But what about bite-proofing your child? Stay tuned. We’ll look at that later in the week.

 

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‘Tis the season for… knee injuries?

Ah, Spring. The air is warm. The grass is green. The bunnies are frolicking on the lawn. And your dog, fresh from a hard winter spent snoozing on the couch, just came up lame after chasing something cute and furry across the yard.

Cruciate Ligament tears in dogs is, unfortunately, a common injury , and one of the leading causes of hind-leg lameness. The cruciate ligament reaches from the upper legbone to the lower leg bone in the dog, and is an important factor in keeping the knee stable. When this tears, the knee joint moves around far more than it should, causing pain and leading to arthritis and dejenerative joint disease. Think football injury in people. It’s very uncomfortable for the dog.

While all breeds of dogs (and even cats, though it is uncommon) are at risk for this injury, there is a number of predisposing factors. Large breeds, especially dogs who are overweight, are at increased risk. Middle-age dogs are more likely to rupture their cruciates, and for whatever reason, spayed females are at an increased risk. There are breed factors too– Labs and Rotties are overrepresented. Pit bulls are another type of dog frequently affected. And not to leave out the little dogs, Cocker Spaniels have a higher than average occurrance of this problem. Small breed dogs with kneecaps that slip out of place (luxate) are at higher risk because there is already stress and instability in the knee joint.

But one of the biggest risk factors is Weekend Warrior Syndrome. You know the dogs I’m talking about– during the week, they spend most of their time sleeping on the couch while their family is away at work or school or evening activities. But on the weekend, everybody has time to exercise the dog, and he’s got tons of energy but maybe he isn’t as physically fit as he thinks he is. He goes tearing off after a rabbit, or maybe he’s just romping in the yard, being a dog, and bam! He is limping dramatically.

The hurty knee sit.

The hurty knee sit.

The weird thing about cruciate ligament injuries is that they can be a chronic issue. The ligament can stretch or tear just a little bit at a time, so you might notice your pooch being a little stiff for a few days, limping a little bit, and then it goes away and he’s fine. You might see him sitting funny, with one of his legs propped out to the side. He might especially have trouble after he’s been resting and still for a while. He might sometimes walk with a limp, only putting down his toes instead of his whole foot (referred to as “toe touching”) but then it goes away. And then one day he jumps out of the car or off the couch– nothing unusual at all– and he’s hurt. Because all this time, his ligament has been tearing a little bit at a time, and then all of a sudden– like an old shoestring– it finally tears the whole way through.

When this happens, especially in a big dog, the best course of action is surgical repair.

In small dogs (under 30 pounds), it is possible to get away without surgery. There is an increased risk of arthritis and chronic lameness with the non-surgical route. Strict crate rest is imperative for at least 8 weeks following injury. The dog must be leash-walked to potty and there can be no running or jumping at all. Usually pain and swelling is managed with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by your vet.

This conservative course of action can be an option in a larger dog too, especially when money is an issue or the dog is older and a couch-potato, but the outcome is generally not as good. The weight of a big dog, especially if he is overweight, just makes for a more difficult healing process and increased arthritis, and the increased work asked of the opposite leg makes it more likely to have a problem as well. Unfortunately, once a dog tears one cruciate ligament, his chance of tearing the other is 30-40%.

There are a variety of different types of surgery to repair a knee with a torn cruciate ligament. The surgeon will choose which surgery is the most appropriate based on size, weight, structure, activity level, and his own comfort with the procedure.

One of the most common surgical repairs is called an extracapsular or “fishing line” repair. In this surgery, the torn ligament is replaced by a nylon cord threaded through holes drilled in the bones to recreate a ligament. The idea is to keep the knee stable enough for long enough for the body to form scar tissue to keep the knee stable on its own. This procedure can work wonderfully for some dogs, especially smaller, less active dogs.

For larger or more athletic and active dogs, often a surgeon will look toward a surgery that changes the angles of the knee so that the bones stay where they belong.

The first of these two surgeries is called a Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA). Basically, the very front of the tibial bone is cut and angled forward to change the physics of the knee, keeping the femur from sliding. This stabilizes the knee and lets the dog resume a normal, active lifestyle with less of a risk of developing severe arthritis in the joint with time and wear.

The second common surgery that involves changing the angles of the bones of the knee is called a Tibial Plateau Leveling Operation (TPLO). Again, this is a surgery that involves cutting bone and this time rotating it to provide more stability.

11 years old and lookin' good with two bum knees.

11 years old and lookin’ good with two bum knees.

Both of these surgeries are extremely effective, but unfortunately they also come with a fairly large pricetag. The good news is that they are generally successful as long as the post-operative instructions for restriction, range of motion exercises, and a very gradual return to normal activity are followed.

There is a very owner-effort-intensive period following surgery. The dog must be kept quiet, must be leash-walked to potty, and cannot be allowed to run or jump. For many dogs, this involves being kept in a crate. It’s hard to keep a dog mentally entertained enough to keep him sane while he’s not allowed to run or play, but it’s crucial if the surgery is going to be successful. When you get tempted to let your dog have “just a little bit of freedom”, just visualize the enormous vet bill you just paid to have his knee fixed and remember how much you don’t want to pay to have it fixed a second time.

Rehab is another option for post-op dogs. A variety of exercises are used to help increase the strength in the repaired leg in ways that are safe and gradual. A lot of times, an underwater treadmill is used, so that a dog is able to walk and use the leg without having to bear all of his weight on it.

So the good news is that for this common injury in dogs, there are a lot of options and surgery is generally successful. The downside is that surgery and rehab are very expensive, the recovery process is quite time-consuming and can be stressful, and the dog will end up with some measure of arthritis in the injured knee no matter what. But surgery does make a tremendous difference, especially for dogs who are high-energy and athletic, and many of them can return to the lively, fun life they were leading before they got hurt.

For more information, check out these websites:
ACVS page for Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease
Information about rehab for dogs from West Chester Veterinary Rehab

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2014 in Dogs, Health

 

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