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Treating Dog Anxiety – AKC.Org

Thanks to Barbara Manson for sharing this article from the AKC website. Gordon Setters are not normally an anxiety ridden breed, however they can have their anxious moments just like every other dog, cat, pig, sheep or goat  – not that we’re talking about cats, pigs, sheep or goats here, I just get to rambling sometimes.

As owners and breeders though, we do need to know how to read a dog’s body language, and we especially need to understand when we are seeing signs of anxiety so we can help to stabilize our dogs emotionally. We don’t want to be adding fuel to this fire!

We thought this article was a good starting place, but we also need you to share your advice, comments and suggestions to round it out, especially where your insight pertains to our Gordon Setters. Let’s give new and inexperienced Gordon owners a resource to guide them in building a calm, well behaved and socially adjusted dog. Thanks so much for contributing advice or stories in the comment section below.

Meanwhile you can read this article about anxiety below or follow the link embedded in the title to the AKC website for access to this and many other excellent articles.

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Feature Photo by Susan Roy Nelson, Casper, WY (This boy looks cool as a cucumber, obviously anything but anxious.)

Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Dog Anxiety

If you or a loved one suffers from anxiety, then you know how difficult it can be to get through the day. What you might not know is that some dogs also suffer from anxiety.

Dog anxiety affects all breeds of dogs and can lead to serious behavioral problems if left untreated. Luckily, there are steps owners can take to help their dogs live with canine anxiety. Here are the symptoms, treatment options, and prevention techniques owners need to know about.

What Causes Dog Anxiety?

Dog anxiety can have several causes, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. The most common are:

  • Fear
  • Separation
  • Aging

Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations like the vet’s office or car rides, or surfaces like grass or wood floors. These fears may seem inconsequential to us, but they create a lot of anxiety for dogs.

Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.

Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This understandably leads to anxiety in senior dogs.

SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY

So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to look out for:

  • Aggression
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Destructive behavior
  • Depression
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors

By far the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is aggression. This aggression can be targeted directly or indirectly, depending on the situation. Direct aggression occurs when a dog acts aggressively toward people or other animals. Indirect aggression can be equally dangerous, and often happens when a person comes between the dog and the source of the dog’s aggression, such as another dog. Even if a dog is prevented from harming others, aggressive behaviors such as growling or barking can lead to dangerous situations for humans and dogs, alike.

Urinating and defecating in the house is a common symptom of separation anxiety. Anxious dogs often work themselves up to the point that they pee or poop in the house, even if they are housebroken. This is frustrating for owners and can cause damage to property, not to mention the unpleasantness of the cleanup.

Destructive behavior is also common with separation anxiety. The damage is usually located around entry and exit points, like doorways and windows, but dogs in a state of heightened anxiety are also at risk of harming themselves. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in painful injuries and expensive veterinary treatments.

Treating Dog Anxiety

The best way to treat anxiety is to talk with a veterinarian. She can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog suffers from and the possible causes and triggers. Veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.

Your vet will help you come up with a treatment plan. Since anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventative strategies, and in some cases, medications.

TRAINING AND COUNTERCONDITIONING:

There are several training strategies dog owners can use to treat anxiety. One way is counterconditioning. The purpose of counterconditioning is to change your dog’s response to the stimuli responsible for anxiety, usually by replacing the anxious or aggressive behavior with a more desirable behavior, like sitting or focusing on the owner.

Another training strategy is desensitization. The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses and at a decreased intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way toward managing anxiety.

You might want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog, as training an anxious dog is not always easy.

ANXIETY MEDICATIONS FOR DOGS:

Some cases of anxiety are so severe that your veterinarian may recommend medications or natural therapies. SSRIs and antidepressants are occasionally prescribed for dogs with anxiety, including fluoxetine and clomipramine. For predictable anxiety-producing events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, your vet might prescribe a medication such as benzodiazepine in conjunction with an antidepressant to help your dog cope with the stress.

Senior dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may benefit from the drug selegiline, which can help reduce some of the symptoms of CDS. Selegiline is also used for treating chronic anxiety in Europe.

The Merck Veterinary Manual also states that natural therapies and products can help dogs with anxiety. Some products work best in conjunction with other medications, while others can be used alone, depending on your dog’s case. Natural products use pheromones and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety. Talk to your vet about the natural products best suited for your dog.

Preventing Dog Anxiety

It is hard to predict if a pet will develop anxiety, but there are ways to help a new dog or puppy avoid anxiety-related problems.

Body Language

One of the best things you can do is learn to read dog body language. Knowing when your dog is uncomfortable or scared can help you avoid negative experiences or use them as a positive training moment. Body language can also tell you when a dog is getting anxious, which is especially useful if your dog has a history of aggression-related anxiety.

Socialization

Proper socialization can prevent the development of anxiety. Introducing your dog to new people, dogs, animals, places, and experiences can help them avoid an exaggerated response down the road, and also helps them become well-adjusted canine citizens.

Obedience

Obedience training is an essential tool for preventing and managing anxiety. It lays the foundation of a healthy relationship and establishes trust. A well-trained dog is easier to socialize than a dog without training, and obedience classes are a great place for dogs to meet other dogs in a controlled environment.

Exercise and Nutrition

Regular exercise and stimulation are crucial for a dog’s development, physical, and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to pick up destructive behaviors, and good nutrition is equally important for your dog’s health. Making sure you take care of your dog’s physical and mental needs can help you prevent any behavior problems that don’t stem from anxiety, letting you know the areas where your dog needs the most help.

Situation Avoidance

If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety, you can also try to avoid or prevent situations that trigger your dog’s anxiety. For example, if you know that your dog grows anxious around large groups of dogs, you should avoid dog parks. Avoidance does not mean that you need to put your life on hold, but it can reduce some of the stress on you and your dog.

If the source of the anxiety cannot be avoided, preventative measures like leashes, body harnesses, and, in some cases, basket muzzles can prevent dangerous situations. Once you know your dog’s triggers, you can prepare for these situations ahead of time.

Take Action Now

Don’t let your dog’s anxiety take control of your life. With the right treatment strategy, you can help your dog overcome his anxiety and prevent dangerous and destructive situations from happening in the first place. If you think your dog might have anxiety, talk to your veterinarian today about a treatment plan that best fits your dog and your lifestyle.

For your dam’s sake, know the signs of Eclampsia

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Photograph by Sarah Armstrong

 

Your new litter is doing wonderful, they’re all snuggled in next to mom, squeaking and squirming, gaining weight and growing strong. But something doesn’t seem right with mom and you can’t quite put your finger on it. She’s always loving on those puppies, seems like she’s nursing them round the clock, but her appetite is off, she won’t eat, and she seems so nervous and restless, panting and drooling at times. Her movements were stiff, like an older, arthritic version of herself when she got up to go outside with you, and when you called her to come in from outside she seemed disoriented, like she couldn’t figure out how to get to where you were standing.

These are just a few of the signs of Eclampsia (some folks call this Milk Fever) in it’s early stages. While Eclampsia occurs more often in small or toy breeds, it can affect large breeds like our Gordon Setters too, especially those who have given birth to a large litter, or who have gone through a particularly difficult or prolonged labor. Risk factors include large litter size, prolonged or difficult labor, poor nutrition during gestation, stress, underlying systemic illness and excessive calcium supplementation during pregnancy.

Eclampsia is an emergency medical condition resulting from a life-threatening drop in blood calcium levels. Eclampsia occurs in nursing dams and is most common when the puppies are one to five weeks of age and the dam is producing the most milk.

Signs of Trouble

Eclampsia comes on suddenly. It progresses very quickly. It seems like one minute you have a healthy, lactating bitch with a thriving litter and the next minute she is on the ground convulsing. This is not a wait and see disease…seek immediate emergency veterinary attention at the first sign that something’s amiss.

The symptoms can be subtle at first and resemble those seen before whelping, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Panting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)
  • Muscle tremors or spasms
  • Shaking
  • Twitching
  • Convulsions
  • Tightening of facial muscles
  • Stiffness
  • Aggression
  • Hypersensitivity to touch or other stimuli
  • Continuous, steady muscle spasms without distinct twitching (called “tetany”) Tetany usually presents as rigidity in the legs, unusual pricking of the ears and/or flaring of the nostrils. The signs of eclampsia can advance to where the dog begins to walk in an abnormal, stilted manner and may seem unable to walk in a specific direction.
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness (pruritis)
  • Head rubbing
  • Biting at the feet
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased water intake
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased body temperature (hyperthermia)

If eclampsia is not treated immediately, it can lead to death. Respiration eventually becomes compromised, heart arrhythmia develops and the bitch’s condition deteriorates to seizures, paralysis, coma and death.

To learn more about Eclampsia, including how it is treated, I’ve included reference links below for you.

Merck Veterinary Manual – Puerperal Hypocalcemia in small Animals (Postpartum hypocalcemia, Periparturient hypocalcemia, Puerperal tetany, Eclampsia)

Knowing the Signs of Eclampsia Can Save a Dam’s Life – Best in Show Daily written by Susan Chaney

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photographs by Sarah Armstrong

 

 

 

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What Every Gordon Setter Owner Needs to Know

Bloat is sneaky and it’s fast. Bloat doesn’t allow time for you to think it over or make a plan. Bloat will strike a Gordon Setter like a snake hidden in the grass with no warning. It takes a dog down so fast that if we aren’t with them when it strikes we may miss the small window of opportunity available to save them. Bloat won’t wait for us to be there, it attacks our dogs at all hours of the day or night, whether we’re home or gone to the store, sleeping, out mowing the lawn, doing housework, changing the oil or folding clothes in the laundry room. We simply can’t be with our dogs every minute of every day, but we do need to understand that for our dogs to have any chance of surviving bloat, every passing minute counts like an hour. To save your dog’s life you must know how to recognize bloat, have an emergency plan in place and enact that plan without delay at the first warning sign. Always error on the side of caution.

For a Gordon Setter to survive bloat it takes quick recognition of the condition and immediate veterinary treatment. That means we can’t hesitate, can’t wait to see, can’t delay for any reason. We need to get veterinary help as fast as possible.

If you own a Gordon Setter and are not sure how to recognize bloat this article is especially for you. Bloat refers to gastric dilatation – volvulus (GDV), stomach torsion or twisted stomach – an extremely serious condition and life threatening emergency.

Gordon Setters, according to a study by the University of Perdue, ranked as the 5th highest breed most susceptible to bloat. The 2004 GSCA Health Survey lists cancer, hip dysplasia and bloat as the top three health concerns expressed by Gordon Setter owners and breeders. According to Dr. Jean Dodds “The mortality rate for gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) approaches 50 percent.”

Recognizing the signs of bloat

  • Restlessness or pacing – unable to find a comfortable position to lay down
  • In the early stages the dog may not show a distended belly though it may feel tight
  • May be lethargic, obviously uncomfortable, walking stiff-legged and hanging head
  • Salivation – drooling – these can be signs of severe pain or distress
  • Retching – vomiting – or gagging
  • Frequent attempts to vomit
  • Enlarging abdomen – the belly feels full, swollen, rounded, may look and feel like a balloon
  • Thumping the abdomen produces a hollow sound, like a kettle drum
  • The dog may groan when you press on the belly
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • The dog may go into shock – gums become pale, weak pulse, rapid heart beat, possible collapse

If even a slight suspicion of bloat exists, immediately take the dog to a veterinary hospital. Emergency veterinary treatment is necessary for your dog to survive and every minute makes a difference. Do not delay.

Which dogs are most susceptible

  • Gordon Setters are at risk.
  • There appears to be a genetic link. Dogs who have parents or siblings who are affected may be more prone to bloat. Learn more about the research at The Genetics of Bloat – Tufts Now
  • Dogs over 7 years old are more than twice as likely to develop bloat as those 2-4 years old.
  • Male dogs are twice as likely to develop bloat as females. Neutering does not appear to have an effect on the risk.
  • Dogs fed once a day are twice as likely to bloat as those fed twice a day.
  • It appears that dogs who eat rapidly or exercise soon after a meal may also be at increased risk.
  • Dogs that tend to be more nervous, anxious, or fearful appear to be at an increased risk.
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson
Photo by Susan Roy Nelson

A few things that may help to prevent bloat:

  • Feed your Gordon Setter two or three smaller meals each day.
  • Make water available all day so your dog doesn’t want to gulp large quantities at one time, limit the amount of water your dog drinks immediately before and after eating.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise, excitement, and stress on a full stomach.
  • Diet changes should always be made gradually over a period of three to five days.
  • Feed dogs individually and in a quiet area.
  • Do not use a raised food bowl.
  • Dogs who survive bloat are much more at risk for future episodes, preventative surgery should be considered.
  • There are there are those who also advise to avoid dog foods that contain high fat (fat listed as one of the first 4 ingredients) and foods that contain citric acid. At this time, no cause-and-result relationships between these and bloat have been verified, though certainly there is no harm in avoiding them should you wish to do so.

More detailed information including treatment options and reference material for this article will be found on the sites listed below:

Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus) in Dogs  – Doctors Foster and Smith

Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog | Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs.

Gastric Volvulus (Bloat) in Dogs: A Life Threatening EmergencyWeb MD Pets

The Genetics of Bloat – Tufts Now

GSCA Health Survey 2004 Results

The Genetics of Bloat on Gordon Setter Expert

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ