Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aggression in dogs

I was on WTOP yesterday afternoon (click here to listen) to discuss aggression in dogs after a woman in Alexandria shot her dog as he was mauling her boyfriend.  According to the report the man moved the dog’s toy with his foot and the dog lunged at him.  He wrestled with the dog until his girlfriend stepped in and shot the dog in the head, killing him.  The man sustained five to nine bites on his body; I do not know the severity of these bites.  The deceased dog had a history of aggression related to resource guarding that had previously resulted in other biting incidences.  The dog was reportedly a Doberman-pit bull mix and I do not know if he had been neutered or not.  I mention this because unneutered dogs are more likely to be aggressive than those that have been neutered.

This story is unbelievably horrific on many levels and brings to mind multiple issues related to aggression in dogs that I will address.  WTOP asked about certain breeds and if aggression was more common in some than others.  The short answer is yes, aggression like any other genetic trait can be selected by breeding two dogs that are more aggressive than others.  For example, a desirable trait in greyhounds is predatory aggression, you want a racing dog that has a strong will to chase down something that is running away from it.  Dogs with this trait will most likely try harder, run faster and win more races than dogs without it.

Any dog breed has the potential to be dangerous but the larger breeds get more of the blame simply because they have the potential to cause more damage.  A five -pound aggressive Chihuahua is going to be much less of a threat than a hundred pound pit bull in any situation.  In addition, breeds such as the Mastiff, Rottweiler and Doberman Pincher were initially bred to be guard dogs and aggression is a desirable trait in a dog for this purpose.  Perhaps these dogs have more aggressive tendencies somewhere in their DNA but that does not define their personality.

But as we all know in the great nurture vs. nature debate, genetics is only a piece of the puzzle in what makes up any personality be it dog or human.  There are many other factors that contribute to a dog being aggressive such as socialization as a puppy, previous training, past experiences and interactions with people as well as other animals.  Our dogs do not know how we want them to behave; it is up to us to teach them.  It is natural for a dog to guard his food or any other resource he find important to his survival.  I am not saying that it is okay or should be tolerated but it is up to the owner to recognize the dog has an issue and take steps to teach him it is not acceptable.

For the most part aggression in dogs is rooted in fear and nine times out of ten the dogs tries very hard to show us he has a problem before biting even enters his mind.  Dogs communicate with body language; a turn of the head or flick of the ears can be a very clear signal to the dog but we as humans are generally very bad at picking up on these subtle signs.  Often it is after the dog has shown every way he knows how to indicate he is not comfortable with the situation that he finally resorts to growling or snapping.  It is not until this point that we humans pick up on the problem at which time it has escalated to a serious issue.

The take home message with this story is listen to your dog, learn to read his signals because I promise he is showing them to you as best he can.  If you notice any signs of aggression immediately find a trainer who practices only positive reinforcement and reward based training.  Using punishment based or dominance theory methods on a fearful dog are only going to make the situation worse.  If you feel that the issue isn’t resolving make an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist, this is a veterinarian who has advanced training in behavior.  A great resource is the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s website which is loaded with great articles on how you should train your dog and where to find a good trainer.

Remember to always listen to what your dog is trying to tell you, it will only improve your relationship.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I just returned from the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in Orlando where I had an amazing time learning about the new and exciting developments in veterinary medicine. Since medicine is constantly evolving and recommendations are always changing, all veterinarians are required to participate in continuing education. What makes Friendship stand out among other clinics is that all of our doctors regularly attend national conferences. This is another way the doctors at Friendship make sure that your pet is provided with the very best veterinary care possible.

Essentially, attending a conference is kind of like going back to school but is even better because you get to focus on subjects applicable to what you do every day.  I spent the week listening to specialists from around the country lecture on various topics. This helps us to make sure that the recommendations we give our clients are not just appropriate but the gold-standard of care determined by the latest research.

In addition to the lectures there is also a massive exhibit hall where vendors display all the new and exciting products available in veterinary medicine.  After attending a particularly disturbing lecture about how difficult ticks are to control and that the incidence of tick borne diseases lick Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are on the rise, I made a point to visit the booths and learn more about the newer spot-on preventives that are available.  I also made a mental note to be much more vigilant about applying these products to my dogs once a month every single month.

I also am very excited about the Adaptil Collar and immediately put one on Poppy as soon as I walked in the house.  The idea is similar to a flea collar but instead of pesticide the collar releases a pheromone that has been shown to help calm dogs and reduce anxiety.  At this point I am unable to say if it is helping her but it certainly can't hurt, I will report again in a few weeks with my finial decision.  Another cool use of this pheromone is that it comes in a spray that you can apply to a bandanna for more focal control of anxiety.  For example, if your dogs hates riding in the car or going to the vet you could put the bandanna on to help him feel better for the limited time he is nervous.  

I could go on and on about the exciting tips I picked up but I think I will save them for future posts - stay tuned!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kitty Food

Happy New Year!

As I embark on my annual New Year’s resolution to eat better and exercise more I thought I might once again try and tackle the ever looming question asked by owners: what is the best food for my pet? 

Furla, Vegas and Breaker
In truth this is a question without a definitive answer so I will tell you what I feed my pets and why I have chosen these foods.  I will start with my three cats, two of which have medical issues that require them to eat prescription diets.  Vegas has food allergies and if the majority of food he eats is not venison based he will scratch his face creating horrible open sores. 

Because of this Vegas and my other cat Furla eat a combo of dry and canned Hill’s Prescription Diet D/D Venison.  Furla doesn’t particularly need this diet but she likes it and feeding it to both of them is easier for me.  I feed them mostly canned with only a small amount of kibble for them to munch on during the day.  For cats I feel the canned food is better for them as it is higher in protein and moisture that more closely mimics the diet their bodies were designed to process.

Unlike dogs and humans that are omnivores, cats are obligate carnivores meaning all of their required nutrients come from animal tissue.  For example cats have evolved to eat multiple small meals that they spend the day hunting, think mice and birds.  Giving your cat a huge bowl of dry, carbohydrate-based food that he plops down to inhale at one sitting is not compatible with the development of his gastrointestinal tract.  There is a theory that feeding our cats this way has lead to the numerous cases of obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal lymphoma that we see.

My third cat Breaker has a sensitive stomach and after extensive diagnostics to look for a cause of his frequent vomiting I found that feeding him Hill’s I/D eliminated the issue.  For the reasons listed above I would prefer to feed him only canned food but he refuses to eat it.

In addition to their main diets I also like to add in a few things to keep it interesting for them.  One of my favorite treats for cats and dogs is Hill’s T/D, which is designed to act like a little sponge packed with enzymatic cleaners to wrap around the teeth and break down the tartar.  This is actually a complete diet and can be fed alone but I prefer to use it as treats.  I sprinkle a handful on top of the cat’s dry food, they love it and will pick out the T/D pieces to eat first.  I firmly believe this stuff works, all of my cats are around 7 years old, have never needed a dental cleaning and have lovely teeth with minimal tartar.
Pieces of T/D
I also like to increase their omega-3 fatty acid intake by giving them Evanger’s Whole Mackerel in Gravy canned food once or twice a week.  I have tried squeezing fish oil capsules on their food but it is messy and they refuse to eat it.  As I have states before in previous posts I am a firm believe in the magic of omega-3’s helping every body system.

I hope this gives you an insight into how I choose what to feed my kitties and will help you find a diet that works for your cat.  There is an overwhelming amount of information about pet foods out there so I encourage you to do some research and speak with your veterinarian about what will help your cat live a long and healthy life.