Replacing FEAR with FUN: Meet Jill!

 

One thing that I am passionate about, and a big reason why Small Things exists, is to provide fear-free veterinary care for pets.  I specialize in helping dogs and cats feel comfortable with their medical care, reducing their level of stress, and increasing the fun.

I’d like you to meet Jill – a lively Jack Russel Terrier with strong opinions and a passion for playing ball.

 

FearFreeJill2015 (3)

Rewarding Jill with ball play.

 

The first time I met Jill and her brother Jack (another Jack Russel Terrier), Jack jumped all over me right away.  Jill came to say hello, tentatively.  I examined Jack without a problem, but Jill figured out what was going on and would not approach me.  She refused any attempt on my part to engage her, touch her, or play with her.

Jill was a classic case of “fearful dog”.

 

When I meet a dog like Jill, the best thing I can do for them is to provide some counter-conditioning.

Counter-conditioning is a process that aims to change a pet’s negative feelings about a particular stimulus or situation in order to avoid or reverse phobias.

Counter-conditioning replaces the fear response entirely.  It is not just about changing the way that the dog behaves.  It is about changing the way that the dog feels.

Successful counter conditioning will enable the dog to be happy and relaxed in the presence of the previously fearful stimulus.

(From Totally Dog Training)

Jill was scheduled for six sessions with me.  My ultimate goal was that at the end of the six sessions we would achieve the following:

  1. Jill would trust me and have confidence that I am not a threat.
  2. Jill would associate medical procedures, and me, with a positive experience.
  3. Jill would allow a complete physical examination, including vaccinations.
  4. At the end of any medical procedures, Jill would recover quickly from any anxiety, exhibiting playful and happy behaviors.
Look at that happy face!

Look at that happy face!

There are many ways to help a dog develop a positive association with potentially stressful experiences, and each individual dog has his or her own “favorite” reward.  Some (most) dogs respond well to food rewards, but Jill’s favorite was her ball.  Jill was very motivated to do anything for that ball, and she was extremely intelligent, learning quickly how to get me to throw it.

 

 

It took the entire first session with Jill just to get her to let me touch her gently on the shoulder. By the end of our sixth session together, Jill was laying next to me, allowing full body rubs, and I was able to perform a complete physical exam!  A week later, Jill allowed me to give her all her vaccinations and draw blood.  Although those were more stressful procedures, Jill recovered quickly afterward and continued to bring me her ball so I would play.

 

FearFreeJill2015 (2)

Jill wouldn’t come near me at the beginning. By the end of her sessions, she was my best friend!

 

Jill is an excellent example of what we can achieve when we prioritize emotional wellness in veterinary care.  With a little effort, a little time, and lots of positive reward, any dog can have a fear-free veterinary experience!

 

Is your dog or cat fearful and stressed at the veterinary clinic?  Contact me at Small Things Veterinary House Calls and give your pet a fear-free experience!

 

 

 

Does my pet need insurance?

Q&A: Does my pet need insurance?

Is pet insurance a scam?  Or is it worth every penny?  How can a pet owner decide if insurance is worth the cost for their cat or dog?

 

I was going to write a blog post answering this question, and then someone else beat me to it.  And to be honest, she does a fabulous job of addressing this controversial topic – better than I could have!

 

So, if you are questioning the idea of pet insurance, I wholeheartedly recommend this article.

 

I used to think pet insurance was a ripoff.

 

Go check it out, and then let me know if you have any questions about pet insurance!

Q&A: Does my dog need to wear sunscreen?

In Colorado, we live close to the sun.  We never leave the house without sun protection in the form of sunscreen, hat, or sleeves.  But what about our dogs?

 

Dog Hiking in the Summer

 

If your dog has light-colored or thin fur, then it’s a great idea to provide their skin with protection from the sun!  Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t use any old sunscreen lotion.

The sunscreen that you use for yourself MIGHT be okay for Fido, but only if you use one that doesn’t contain zinc oxide.  And most of them do.  Zinc oxide, the same ingredient that helps with diaper rash, is toxic to your dog.  If ingested, it will cause their red blood cells to explode, resulting in anemia.  Major summer buzz kill.

You also need to make sure that you are protecting your dog’s skin from both UVA and UVB rays (to prevent both sunburn and skin cancer), so look for a sunscreen that is labeled as “broad spectrum”.

Here’s an option that I recommend and is safe for your dog:

 

Bull Frog Sunscreen

(P.S.  Don’t put this sunscreen on your cat.  It contains salicylates, which are toxic to cats.)

There are some “pet-friendly” sunscreens you can purchase at pet stores, just read the labels first.

And if you really want your pet to be protected from the sun, there are places that you can get dog sunglasses, visors, and sun shirts!

Now get out there and have some [protected] summer fun!

Dr. D’s Tips For Hiking With Your Dog in Colorado

Oh, how I love the summer in Colorado!  Every year I can’t wait to strap on my hiking shoes, grab my pack, and hit one of the many amazing trails along the Front Range.  And more often than not, I took along my best hiking buddy – my dog.

Because hiking with your dog is one of the greatest pleasures of living along the Front Range of Colorado (there are so many great dog-friendly trails!), I put together a list of tips for you so that you and your pooch can have the best experience.

(And so can all the other trail users…)

 

Backpacking with Dogs

 

1.  Make sure your dog is in good health.  Consider getting your dog an exam to make sure they are fit for some serious exercise.  If they are elderly, definitely have them examined by your veterinarian for any joint or limb pain before you start hiking with them.

2.  Don’t be a weekend warrior.  If you and your dog aren’t getting any exercise during the week, it’s not a good idea to jump into a 4-hour hike on Saturday.  You’ll both regret it.  Start building up your dog’s endurance with walks, runs, or fetch sessions during the week.  Increase the time and intensity gradually.  You should also gradually increase the intensity of your hikes over time.

3.  Strengthen your dog’s recall response.  Many trails in Boulder County allow your dog to be off leash if they wear a Voice and Sight tag.  If you participate in the program, make sure your dog has practiced and can recall immediately when you signal them.

4.  Bring plenty of water and snacks.  Not just for you.  Hiking burns a ton of calories, and it’s easy to get dehydrated quickly.  Make sure you have some good, energy-replenishing snacks for your pup.

(4a.  Do you know the signs of heat exhaustion?  I had a park ranger in Boulder tell me once that they see tons of dogs with heat stroke, and they wished more people knew how to spot the signs.  Learn all about it in this article!)

5.  Know your dog’s abilities.  Don’t take him on a hike that’s too strenuous for his level of endurance.  He’ll end up with an injury that will put him on bed rest.  If it’s a hot day, pick an easier hike (like one that ends at a pond), or just let them stay home.  Remember, a dog’s paws are more sensitive to hot sand and rocky trails, and they can easily end up with burns.  That would certainly put a damper on your summertime adventures.

 

Dog Hiking on Trail

 

6.  You and your pooch are ambassadors for ALL hikers with dogs.  Be the best at hiker/dog etiquette:

  • Pack it out!  You know what I mean.
  • Obey posted signs regarding leash laws.
  • Yield the trail to other hikers and trail users.  When someone is passing, leash up your dog and hold them next to your side.  Say a friendly hello to the people passing so that your dog knows they are not a threat.
  • Don’t assume that everyone you see is a dog lover.  Some folks might find your exuberant, friendly pooch rather intimidating.  Recall your dog, and keep them by your side.
  • If you see another dog approaching, leash your dog.  It is easier to control the situation if at least your dog is on a leash.  Be familiar with dog body language so that you can avoid an undesirable situation with another dog.  And don’t be afraid to ask the other dog’s owner to leash their dog if necessary.
  • Don’t let your dog chase or approach wildlife.  The trail is their home, after all.

7.  After the hike, inspect your dog.  Check all four paws for injury or soreness.  Check their coat and skin for any ticks, thorns, or burrs.  Make sure they are hydrated and not over-heated.  And if they are sore the next day, give them a rest and don’t let them push so hard the next time.

8.  Above all, have fun!  Take your time, stop and smell the smells, listen to the sounds of nature, and enjoy being in the great outdoors with your best friend!

 

GrayTorrey 2011 summit

 

Need to schedule a pre-hiking exam for your pooch?  Give Dr. D a call!

Q&A: Is it ever OK to leave my dog in the car?

In the last two weeks, the rain finally stopped falling and the sun started to shine again in Broomfield, Colorado.  It’s been gloriously warm and beautiful!  But also in the past two weeks, I have heard and seen several dogs locked in cars in parking lots.

 

 

You’re asking me if it’s ever okay to leave your dog in the car.  Here’s what I hear people say:

I’ll only be a few minutes!

It’s not that hot today – only 75 degrees!

I parked in the shade; he’ll be fine.

Oh, I always crack the windows so she can get some fresh air.

I’d like to address these statements with you right now.

 

When it is 70 degrees outside, the inside temperature of a car can rise to 90-100 degrees in 10 minutes.  TEN MINUTES.  The temperature inside the car can rise up to 160 degrees on a really hot day.

 

It DOES NOT MATTER if you crack the windows.  Cracking the windows has little to no effect on the temperature inside the car.

 

It DOES NOT MATTER if you park in the shade.  The temperature inside the car will still rise rapidly.  It may not get to 160 degrees, but it will still reach over 100 degrees in no time flat.

 

It only takes a few minutes for your dog to start showing signs of heat stroke, and death can occur in less than 10 minutes under extreme conditions.

 

doginhotcar

 

It sounds obvious and I know you would never treat your dog this way, but every summer hundreds of dogs suffer and/or die from heat stroke in Colorado.  Don’t let your pet be one of them.

 

You might think I’m being extreme.  You may be one of those people who have left your dog in the car without any problems.  I am so glad that nothing bad happened to your dog.  But, just humor me for a minute.  Put yourself in your dog’s position, and then tell me how you feel in 10 minutes.  Or just watch this video:

 

 

 

Now, I know none of my wonderful clients would leave their dogs in the car, but so many of you wouldn’t hesitate to save a dog if you found one in a hot car!  So here’s a lovely info-graphic that explains what to do if you come across one.  Share with your friends!

 

IF YOU SEE A DOG IN A HOT CAR_

 

Let’s all treat our dogs the way we would like to be treated.

 

How to Win With Pets, If You’re A Veterinarian (Part 1)

 

Veterinarians become veterinarians because we love pets.  And we want to snuggle and squish them all day long.  The rude awakening occurs when we start practicing, and realize that our patients want nothing to do with us!  We poke them, prod them, stick weird things in their face and ears… why would they want to be near us?

Well, have I got the blog post for you!  In this 2-part series, I am going to share my tried-and-true strategies for fear-free veterinary exams!

Here are the first 5 guaranteed* ways to get your patients to love you again.

 

 

Giraffe Treats

1.  Peanut butter and hot dogs (tuna or liver paste, if you’re a cat)

There’s nothing better, or more distracting, to a dog than peanut butter and hot dogs.  Really, high-value treats of any kind will usually work.  And when I say high-value, I mean HIGH-VALUE.  It’s got to be something that they aren’t normally getting at home.  Something that makes them sit up and say “WHOA, whatcha got there? Can I has it?  Can I?”

Forget the cardboard biscuits that have been sitting in that jar on the counter for the past 6 months.  Not.  Gonna.  Work.

2. Don’t look or smell like a Veterinarian.

Okay, I know you’re at work and you need clothes that clean easily and look professional.  But, consider that your patients know that white coat a mile away.  And the stethoscope.  And maybe even your shoes, if they’ve met you before.  Sometimes, trying a new “uniform” with existing patients will help them reset their behavior.

Scents are important too!  We know dogs and cats are highly sensitive to odors, so forget the perfume, scented lotion, and Lysol spray (or whatever you spray yourself with after getting squirted with anal glands…).  Try Feliway instead; and/or put some really stinky treats in your pockets.  Bacon works.

 

 

ClaireParker2014

3. Play

 

Here’s your new M.O. when you enter an exam room:

  • Say hello.
  • Get down low (sit on the floor, if it’s safe from bouncy Labradors).
  • Play with pet, offer high-value treats.
  • Occasionally examine a body part.
  • Offer more treats.
  • Play again.

Playing with your patients can really take their minds off the weirdness of being in the vet clinic.  You can even have your clients bring their pet’s favorite toys with them, or just have some fun toys stashed in the exam room.  This goes for both dogs and cats!

If play doesn’t work, try #4…

 

4. Find the petting “sweet spot”

 

Ask the clients where their pet LOVES to be scratched or stroked.  Don’t just absentmindedly pat them on the head and hope they like it.  Every pet has a spot that makes them go “aaaahhhhhhhh, yeeeaahhhhhh…”.  Find it, then use it.

 

DrDandBandit

5. Talk quietly

 

Not all pets like the high-pitched baby talk.  In fact, if they’re not a Labrador, they probably don’t.  And it certainly won’t calm them down.  This is especially true for cats.  Talk quietly and don’t make direct eye contact with kitty patients.  With dogs, you can be happy, but keep that tone and volume at a normal level!  Unless you want a super bouncy, excited, or nervous dog to examine…

 

Take these 5 tips with you to your next exam room, and try them out!  I can personally vouch for each one of these tips; Now my patients LOVE me, even after I’ve poked them with needles.  You, too, can have the love of your patients again!

 

Win Pet's Love

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series!

 

*results are not really guaranteed… but I know you and your patients will be much better off if you try these tips.

 

Are you a pet owner who would love to give your pet a fear-free veterinary experience?  If you’re in the Broomfield area, Call Dr. D to set up an appointment!

Things You Should Know: Easter Hazards For Pets

It’s that wonderful time of year again – pet hazard time!  It only rolls around once a …. I mean 4 or 5 times a year…  Oh, holidays.

 

Easter-Dog

 

Yes, holidays are the most common times of the year for your pets to be exposed to poisons and hazardous items in your home.   Veterinarians like to use these magical times of year to remind you of all the ways your pet could potentially die.  So morbid.  Ah, well, you DO need to know!

 

Here are the most common hazards for your pets during EASTER:

 

Flowers of the Lily family

 

1.  Lilies, and any flower in the Lily family.  Also daffodils.

If you’ve been around me for very long, you know that I remind you often about the dangers of lilies for cats.  They are extremely toxic.  Only one or two leaves or petals can send your cat into kidney failure.  If you have cats, it’s better to not buy any lilies at Easter.  Seriously.  Don’t buy any.

 

EasterGrass

 

2.  Easter Grass

It’s that pastel colored stringy stuff that lines the bottom of your Easter basket.  And it’s irresistible to your pets.  If they ingest it, it can cause severe problems in the intestines and may require surgery to remove it.  Not a happy ending.

 

Chocolate-Easter-bunnies

 

3.  Chocolate.  Duh.

You all know this one, right?  Chocolate is toxic to your pets.  The darker it is, the worse off your pet will be.  I suggest putting any Easter candy, baked goods, or other treats under lock and key, far away from your curious pets.

 

xylitol

 

4.  Xylitol

Xylitol is that artificial sweetener that’s used in candy, gum, and even mouth wash.  It’s extremely toxic to your pets.  Ingesting as little as 1 or 2 pieces of gum containing xylitol can put your doggie in the hospital for days.

 

Now that you know the hazards, take the time to keep your pet safe!  And have a Happy Easter!!

 

If your pet ingests any of these hazardous substances, get thee to an emergency clinic!

 

5 Myths You Might Believe About Your Dog

 

 

There is a lot of misinformation out there.  Some of the things you might hear about dogs are steeped in old-wives-tales type tradition, some of it has been refuted only recently by scientific research.

Here are five commonly believed myths about dogs:

 

1. A wagging tail means I’m happy.

funny-dog-tail-happy

While a dog wagging its tail certainly can indicate happiness, you’ll need to examine the rest of the dog’s body language to know for sure.  The height of the tail, speed of wagging, and whether the tail is stiff or relaxed can also be indicators of the dog’s mood.

Here are some examples:

ydfarousal

An example of a dog in an “aroused” state.

 

In this example, the dog’s tail is wagging high and stiff.  Look at the rest of the dog’s posture:  he is stiff-legged, ears perked, staring hard.  This dog is in a state of arousal, meaning he is on alert, waiting to see if he should attack or relax.  This is not necessarily a happy dog.

 

An example of a dog in a relaxed/neutral position.

An example of a dog in a relaxed/neutral position.

 

Now look at this example.  Just looking at the tail, which is low and wagging slowly, you could easily think he is not happy.  But when you  look at the rest of the dog’s body language, you see a relaxed, slightly open mouth and relaxed posture.  This is a dog in a “neutral” state who is more likely to allow you to interact with him.

 
2. Dogs look guilty when they know they’ve done something wrong.

guiltydog

Oh, this is one of my favorite myths, because it is rampant all over the internet!  Just do a quick search for “guilty dogs” and you’ll get more examples than you could imagine!  Too bad it’s a myth.

Here’s the truth:  Dogs put on the guilty look when they know you are angry or upset.  This “look” and other behaviors such as grinning or lifting a paw are what are known as appeasement behaviors.  They are exhibited as a pacifying behavior when they see your facial expressions, body language, or hear your tone of voice.  What they are really trying to say is “You look scary, please don’t yell at me!”

For those that will insist their dogs know when they’ve done something wrong because “they look guilty before I’ve even found out what they’ve done”, those dogs have simply made an association that the change in the environment (ex. cotton stuffing on the floor) equals a person yelling.

 
3. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The truth is, old dogs can learn new tricks, but often their humans have stopped trying to teach them new things!  Old dogs actually benefit from learning new games and commands.  Stimulating their brain in this way actually helps keep them mentally healthy, which is even more important as their physical abilities start to decrease.  Just be sure to use gentle positive reinforcement, and don’t force your old dog to participate if they don’t seem to be enjoying the activity.

 
4. Playing tug-of-war makes dogs aggressive.

dogtug

You may have heard this one, along with the idea that you also have to “win” the game every time to establish dominance in your “pack”.  Sorry, not true!  Recent behavioral research has not shown any evidence to back up these statements.

However, you do want to be sure that your dog learns good impulse control so that the game remains fun for everyone!  Teach your dog a “release” command and give positive reinforcement.  Also, behaviorists don’t recommend rough play with puppies and young dogs, as this could encourage the wrong kind of play as they grow into adults.

 
5. Comforting and petting a frightened dog will reinforce the fear.

scareddog

I’ll admit, this is one that I believed until not too long ago!  However, recent behavioral studies have also refuted this myth.  All dogs have different needs, and some benefit from a little affection when they are afraid or nervous.  So go ahead and give your scared pooch some gentle petting without a lot of fuss.

 

Which of these myths have you believed?  Are there any other doggie myths you’d like me to address?  Let me know in the comments!

Dr. D’s List: The Best Veterinary Websites You Should Bookmark Right Now

I get it.  It’s almost midnight on a Saturday, and you have a question about your pet.  You can’t get a hold of Dr. D or your veterinarian, but you need answers!

 

If you absolutely have to look up some information regarding your pet on the internet, here are some of my favorite (and reliable) resources:

1.  Veterinary Partner

Why I love it:  Veterinary Partner is the place I send my clients when they need more information about their pet’s diagnosis or illness.  The content is written by Veterinarians specifically to educate their clients.  If your pet has recently been diagnosed with an illness, go here first.

P.S.  Also great for questions about small mammals, nutrition, or the meds your vet prescribed.

2.  Vetstreet

Why I love it:  The content is user friendly and often fun.  It’s a great place to go not only for medical questions, but also those weird questions you might have (like, why does my dog turn around 3 times before they lie down?).

P.S.  One of my favorite humorous veterinarians, Dr. Andy Roark, writes for Vetstreet.  His “Conversations With My Cat” video series is hilarious.

3.  Pet Poison Helpline

Why I love it:  This is the go-to place (second only to the emergency clinic) if your pet ingested something and you want to know if it will hurt them.  But please, if they did eat something, just call the emergency clinic first.

P.S.  Also great for planning your spring planting or indoor plants, since you want to make sure you aren’t bringing anything toxic into your pet’s environment.

4.  The Indoor Pet Initiative

Why I love it:  CAT OWNERS, PAY ATTENTION!  This website is an excellent resource for all things kitty – behaviors, proper environment, providing enrichment for your indoor cats, cat-to-cat interactions, and so much more.  Bookmark it, read it, love it.  It is your new best friend.

P.S.  If you are a dog person, you’re not left out of this one.  There is an equally wonderful section just for you.

5.  The Pet Food Institute

Why I love it:  Some of the most common questions I get from clients are regarding what their pets eat.  After I give them my advice, I trust sending them here so they can get all the information they need about proper nutrition and choosing the right diet for their pets.

P.S.  Especially the “Myth Buster” section.

7.  For dog behavior and training, I like these two:

Dr. Sophia Yin – Her work regarding low-stress handling of pets has been instrumental in the Small Things philosophy of veterinary care.

Victoria Stilwell – You know her from TV, but her positive dog training methods are really effective.

 

So there you have it!  These links are Dr. D-tested-and-approved.  Search them to your heart’s content!

But hey, don’t hesitate to call me in the morning.