Friday, September 13, 2013

Coprophagia, update

In a past post, I discussed coprophagia in dogs.

Dr. Ben Hart, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist from UC Davis, did a study using internet surveys regarding this subject, and the results and conclusions were presented at the AVSAB annual meeting in 2012. He learned that as many as 16% of dogs ate stools frequently. 85% of these dogs at the feces of other dogs. Intact males were less likely to eat feces than neutered males or females (spayed or not). Diet did not influence this habit, so dogs are not likely to be eating feces to gain something that they are lacking nutritionally. 40% of Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs ate feces; no Poodles were reported to do so. Interestingly, 90% of the stools were eaten within 2 days of deposition.

Dr. Hart's conclusion from this study was that since dogs eat the stools of other dogs while they were relatively fresh, that coprophagia may have been a selected-for behavior because it provides a way to keep the den clean and protect puppies from intestinal parasites, which would not yet have matured to be at an infective stage.

Dr. Hart's study also found that deterrents (such as For-Bid, Deter-um, etc.) and food additives (pineapple, meat tenderizer) were effective only 0-2% of the time to prevent coprophagia. Neither punishment (yelling, electronic collars) nor reward based traning methods (clicker traning) were effective. The best solution was to pick up the dog promptly after it is deposited... or, perhaps, as Dr. Hart jokes, get an intact, male Poodle.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ideas for Post-Surgical Exercise Restriction

Dogs who have undergone surgery are often hard to keep quiet post-operatively. The same is true for dogs who have suffered an injury and need to be exercise-restricted.

The importance of rest during the healing period cannot be overstated; normal activity can lead to painful hematomas, seromas, malalignment of a fracture, exacerbation of or failure to heal from a soft tissue injury or worse. How can an owner make their active dog rest?

  • Consult with your veterinarian or rehabilitation specialist for the details regarding just how much activity is allowable given your pet's individual case. Does the dog have to be confined to a cage? Are leash walks allowed, and if so, what length leash, how far, how long, how often, and are hills ok? Is the dog allowed out in the yard with the other dogs? Is the dog allowed to be loose in the house, with or without the other dogs?
  • Engage the mind. Play the brain games (Find It!, Shell Game) described in my last post on Cognitive Dysfunction: Behavior Modification. There are some commercially available dog games that are puzzles in which food is hidden. Practice sit-stays and down-stays. Teach your dog to balance something on his body, i.e., a toy on his nose, a treat on his paw. I taught my first dog, Marcus (seen with me in my profile picture) to start the balancing tricks with a 12-inch length of grosgrain ribbon (it did make a neat Christmas picture, as the ribbon was red). Note: please do keep the treats relatively small in size. If your dog is being exercise-restricted, he is not burning as many calories as normal. Let's not contribute to an obesity problem.
  • Consider offering a stuffed Kong toy once or twice daily. You can plug the small end with peanut butter, stuff it with regular kibble or other goodies, pour in some dilute low-sodium broth, place upside down in a plastic up and freeze it. Kong also makes stuffing that can be squirted into a Kong or similar food-dispensing toy. Other alternatives for stuffing include squeeze cheese, cheese melted for a few seconds in the microwave and cooled, and small amounts of peanut butter.
  • Chewing is a great way for dogs to burn energy. If your dog has not suffered through gastrointestinal surgery, consider offering something to chew. There are some toys that can be refilled, and if your dog can tolerate it, consider rawhide, bully sticks or pig ears (please supervise when these are given to make sure big pieces that could potentially cause an obstruction are not swallowed).
  • If your dog is allowed to take walks, consider using a Gentle Leader headcollar. This will give you much better control over the pace at which your dog will walk. Please refer to prior post on the Gentle Leader.
  • If your dog is inherently active, and you feel that you will need help taking the edge off a normally frenetic attitude, please discuss with your veterinarian the possible use of low-level oral sedatives.
Although it is not related to exercise restriction, I do feel it is worth mentioning that post-surgical device often recommended by veterinarians: an anti-lick device called the elizabethan collar, aka, the cone of shame or the lamp shade. Dogs do usually learn how to navigate around the house and people within a couple of days. There are some alternatives that may be worth discussing with your veterinarian, depending on the part of the body that needs to be protected from licking, including the Bite-Not collar, the Cloud Collar, and the Boboloon collar. No matter what the device that needs to be used, it can be helpful if an owner can give it a trial run, and spend a bit of time training the dog to accept it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cognitive Dysfunction, Part III: Behavior Modification

In Parts I and II of this series, we have discussed what Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is, and what medical treatments are available for it. In this section, we will discuss what an owner can do at home, through behavior modification, to help maintain his senior dog's aging brain.

One of the symptoms of CDS is alterations to the dog's sleep/wake cycle. Many of these dogs sleep all day and pace around the house all night, keeping owners awake. Attempts should be made to keep these dogs active and awake during the day. Take the pet for a walk, play games outside or inside the house. If the dog is active during the day, then hopefully he will be more tired and apt to sleep when the owner chooses to, also.

Another symptom of CDS is house soiling in a previously well-trained dog. Try to get the dog outside to eliminate on a very regular and perhaps more frequent schedule. Some of these older dogs forget what they went outside for, so taking them to a special toileting area can help them to remember their "duty."

It is well-discussed how protective "brain games" can be for human minds in protecting them against dementia. There are also "brain games" you can play with your dog (and it can be fun, even in a young dog!). These activities increase blood flow to the brain, which can be protective, even in a dog who does not exhibit signs of CDS.
  • Find It! Have a family member or friend hold your dog in a room while you go into another room to hide a treat or favorite toy. Return to your dog, and tell him to find the treat. Start easy, and as your dog gets the gist of the game, make it more challenging.
  • The Shell Game. Turn 3 cups upside down and place a piece of kibble or treat under one of them. Shuffle the cups around and have your dog "pick" one of the cups. If he selects the correct cup, then he gets the treat!
  • New tricks. Teach your old dog a new trick. While there are many methods for trick training, clicker training is a method that is positive, hands-off, and stimulates the dog to think. Tricks for older dogs include: Walk backwards, speak, hand touch, touch a target, such as a plastic lid, circle right, circle left, play dead, shake hands, wave. The possibilities are endless!
  • Take your dog for a walk. Walking off your property can be more than just exercise for the body, it is very stimulating for the brain. When a dog sniffs, he is reading the scent paths of all those who have gone before him - people, other dogs, cats, and wildlife.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, Part II: Treatment

There are multiple medical treatments that can help to alleviate, or at least slow to progression of signs Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).

Anipryl (selegiline hydrochloride) is the first and only drug approved by the FDA to control the clinical signs of CDS. Anipryl is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor that will help to decrease the breakdown of dopamine in the brain, not only making dopamine more available, but also reducing the dangerous, cell-killing free radicals that are produced during dopamine metabolism. Anipryl should not be used concurrently with tricyclic antidepressants (i.e., amitriptyline, clomipramine) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (i.e., fluoxetine). Use with any product containing Amitraz (i.e., Preventic collar, Mitaban dip, Certifect) is also not recommended.

Hill's b/d diet contains antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to help protect brain cells from the dangerous free radicals that are generated by the breakdown of dopamine by monoamine oxidase B (MAOB).

S-AdenosylMethionine (SAMe) is a molecule naturally present in the body that is well documented for its effects on membrane fluidity, antioxidant cellular activity and the renewal of certain neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. This molecule is available in a neutraceutical form called Novifit. This form of SAMe is a specific salt that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier for increased efficacy in the brain.

Senilife is another nutritional supplement that is a proprietary mixture containing phosphatidylserine, pyridoxine, Ginkgo Biloba, resveratrol and vitamin E that can help to prevent cognitive decline.

neutricks is a new supplement that is supported by evidence-based research for healthy brain aging. This supplement contains apoaequorin, a jellyfish calcium-binding protein. This supplement was shown to improve learning, accuracy, and enhance attention.

These medical treatment options can be used singly or in combination. Please consult with your veterinarian what might be best for your dog if you suspect your dog has CDS.

Coming up next.. Part III: Behavior modification

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, Part I: What is it?

Our geriatric dogs often suffer from a variety of physical ailments. If we are blessed enough to have our dogs live to an advanced age, they do inevitably become arthritic and lumpy, and some become affected by other chronic medical problems. Some older dogs also experience behavior changes unrelated to anything that can be found through physical testing.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a form of dementia in older dogs. Some of the clinical symptoms include:

  • Disorientation: Wanders aimlessly, gets lost in a familiar house or yard, gets "stuck" in corners or under/behind furniture, stares into space, stands at the hinge side of the door to be let out, does not recognize familiar people, does not respond to his name, forgets why he went outside.
  • Decreased interaction with family members: Seeks less attention, walks away while being petted, less enthusiasm upon greeting, or fails to greet family members at all.
  • Altered activity and sleep patterns: Flipping of day/night activity/sleep cycles, increased wandering/pacing, vocalization (particularly at night) for no reason.
  • Lapse in housetraining: Urinates indoors, has accidents inside soon after being outside, does not ask to go outside.

Many of these clinical signs appear very gradually - so much so that the owner is often unaware of the early subtle changes in behavior.

What causes CDS? Beta-amyloid is a protein toxic to neurons that accumulates in the aging brain; it may form plaques. This is similar to findings in the brains of human Alzheimer's patients. The exact role of beta amyloid accumulation in the development of cognitive dysfunction is not yet known, but its accumulation seems to lead to decreased neuronal function in the brain.(1)

Neurotransmitters are also altered during aging. Monoamine oxidase B (MAOB) is an enzyme that has been found to have increased activity in older dogs (2). In dogs with CDS, the increase is even greater than what is considered for a normal aging change. MAOB breaks down dopamine, a neurotransmitter. In humans, dopamine affects brain processes that control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience pleasure and pain. Also, metabolic processing of dopamine results in release of cell-killing free radicals.

A study at the University of California-Davis found that 62% of 11- to 16-year-old dogs showed signs in at least one category of CDS (3, 4).

CDS can make a dog's life lonely, separated from family members who cherish their older dog's companionship. It can be as hard on family members as it is on the dog.

Coming up next.. Part II: Treatment

1. Cummings BJ, Head E, Afagh AJ, Milgram NW, Cotman CW: Beta-amyloid accumulation correlates with cognitive dysfunction in the aged canine. Neurobiol Learning & Memory 1996 Vol 66 (1) pp. 11-23.
2. Campbell S, Trettien A, Kozan B: A noncomparative open-label study evaluating the effect of selegiline hydrochloride in a clinical setting. Vet Ther 2001 Vol 2 (1) pp. 24-39.
3. Neilson JC, Hart BL, Ruehl WW: Cited in Hart BL, Hart LA: Selecting, raising and caring for dogs to avoid problem aggression. JAVMA, 210(8):1129-1134; 1997.
4. Ruehl WW, Hart BL: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. In Psychopharmacology of Animal Behavior Disorders (Dodman NH, Schuster L, eds.). Boston: Blackwell Scientific, 1998; pp. 283-304.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New toy review: FroliCat

I was in a pet store this weekend and came across a toy new to me. It is called FroliCat Bolt, and it is a device you can place on the floor or any other stable surface, or hold in your hand, and it will emit a low-power laser beam and move it in random patterns for your cat to chase. It also has a timer so that the device will automatically turn off after 15 minutes. It requires four AA batteries. What a great way to exercise/entertain the cat for the busy cat owner!

There is a similar product called FroliCat Dart that has variable speed and timer settings. The Dart is also marketed as a RouseDog Product. WARNING! Do NOT use these types of devices on dogs! You can create a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in your dog by encouraging them to chase lights and shadows (and some dogs do not need much encouragement).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feline Redirected aggression

The scene: The three-season room at the rear of Mrs. Zee's house

The action: Mrs. Zee is reading the newspaper on the chaise lounge. Ay the cat is sunning on a window sill with a stunning view of the garden. He grooms himself languidly while pausing occasionally to watch a bird or butterfly flit by. Ay shares his window sill with Bee, a fellow feline housemate, who is dozing while basking in the warmth of the sun. Suddenly, See, the new neighbor's Siamese cat saunters through the garden. Ay hisses and growls, and his coat puffs up, but there is no response from See, who cannot see or hear the cat behind the window. Ay then attacks Bee, jumps on his back and bites him. Bee, not knowing what happened, runs away, completely bewildered and injured. Mrs. Zee, also bewildered and quite angry at Ay, throws her paper in Ay's direction and hurries to find out the extent of Bee's injuries.

The analysis: Redirected aggression is a phenomenon in which the recipient of the aggression is not the stimulus for the aggression, and is often an innocent bystander. This type of aggression can occur in both dogs and cats, but I tend to see it more frequently in cats. The victims of this form of aggression can include other cats, dogs, or people. The owners of these cats often express surprise at the sudden violence that can erupt between parties that previously shared a friendly relationship. Owners may or may not know what the stimulus of the aggression was; often the location of the incident provides clues to this.

The solution to this type of problem is to identify and manage the source of the aggression. This can be especially tricky in cats because the early signs of aggression can be so subtle. In Mrs. Zee's case, she would either need to keep neighboring cats out of her garden (, keep Ay out of the room where he can look out the window, or she would need to block her cat's view of the garden through which cats can stray. Obstructing the cats' view can be acheived through curtains, blinds, or translucent contact paper on the lower half of the window.

Also a word of caution: owners should not use their hands (or other body parts) to physically separate fighting pets. Throw a blanket over them, douse them in large volumes of water, sound an air horn, use a broom to physically separate them. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Hand Surgery revealed that stray animals do not contribute the majority of bites to the hand. Two-thirds of the patients in this study required hospitalization for at least intravenous antibiotics.