Monday, November 30, 2015


Diabetes in dogs is caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin.  When a dog does not produce insulin or cannot utilize it normally,  the blood sugar levels elevate. This results in an elevated blood glucose level - hyperglycemia - which can then produce many problems with the body.  It is important to know that diabetes is a manageable condition and that many diabetics live a long and happy life.  

Most dogs get Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin.  These dogs require insulin therapy. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to diabetes or are at greater risk of developing it.  These breeds include Australian Terriers, Standard and Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Poodles, Keeshonds, and Samoyeds.

Diabetic dog
Most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs:
  • Change in appetite
  • Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Unusually sweet-smelling or fruity breath
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • Cataract formation, blindness
To diagnose diabetes, usually a history, physical exam, bloodwork and urinalysis will be performed by your veterinarian.
Diabetes is treated by addressing any complicating symptoms along with adding insulin therapy.  Some dogs are very ill when first diagnosed and can require hospitalization to start regulating their blood sugar.  Dogs that are more stable will be started on insulin therapy and a proper diet to help prevent glucose spikes.  

Although insulin injections seem very scary at first to some owners, once you have had a diabetic consult and you see how easy it can be to administer insulin, most owners are quite comfortable giving the injections.  Your veterinarian will also go over ways you can monitor glucose and ketone levels in the urine.  Sometimes you can be shown how to perform blood glucose testing at home.  

During treatment it is important to try to keep your dog's blood sugar at a constant level throughout the day. The means making sure your dog will get insulin at the same time each day along with regular meals, maintaining a regular exercise program, and keeping the amount of food and treats very consistent in order to avoid spikes or dips in blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are directly related to the food that is consumed.  

At some point after initial diagnosis, you will need to set up a time to have your dog reexamined by your veterinarian and have a blood glucose curve performed to monitor how therapy is going.  This test will help your veterinarian determine if any adjustments need to be made to the amount of insulin your dog receives.  

If your dog is showing any of the signs discussed above or if you have questions about diabetes, you should consult your veterinarian. Diabetes that is left untreated can lead to cataracts, urinary tract problem, or other serious issues including death.  When caught and treated early, however, diabetic dogs can lead healthy and full lives!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Separation Anxiety

One of the most common behavioral complaints we receive is a dog that barks incessantly when the owners are away or is destructive when left alone. These dogs may urinate, defected, bark, howl, chew, dig, or even try to go through glass to escape and get to their owners! This can cause not only destruction to the house but sometimes injury to the pet as well.  

Many times, the reason behind this behavior is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is triggered when a dog recognizes cues that an owner is getting ready to leave for a period of time, and the dog subsequently becomes increasingly more upset about being left alone. Resolving the anxiety involves teaching the dog to tolerate being left home alone as well as slowly reconditioning him to the idea that fear and anxiety does not need to be present and that being alone can be ok.

Common symptoms of separation anxiety:
  • urinating or defecating while you are away, especially in a dog that has been completely housebroken
  • persistent barking or howling
  • destructive behavior to furniture, door frames, window sills, or dog crates 
  • constant pacing and drooling along a specific path
While this is not a compete list, these are the most common signs, and they can occur in any combination. These behaviors may result in self injury, including broken teeth, cut pads, or other abrasions as a dog attempts to escape his perceived confinement and get back to his owners.  

Why does a dog have separation anxiety?
No one has yet identified exactly why certain dogs develop this condition and others do not. Separation anxiety is most common in situations where a dog has been shifted between several homes, there is a loss of someone very important to the dog, there are changes to the family schedule (especially when the dog is used to having people home and then they are gone for long hours), the family moves to a new house or neighborhood, or there are changes in the number of people living in the household.  

What to do if you think your dog has separation anxiety
First have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out any potential medical causes for the behaviors. Urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, and neurologic problems, among others, can cause similar signs and symptoms. Often bloodwork will be done to rule out some of the medical conditions as well as access whether the body is well enough to handle anti-anxiety medications if they are needed.  

Treatment for separation anxiety always involves desensitization and counter-conditioning.

Desensitizing involves teaching your dog to get used to certain "leaving" cues, such as jingling your keys or putting on your shoes, without you actually leaving the house. Once the dog learns that these cues aren't tied to anything negative, the cues are reset to a neutral status that doesn't elicit an anxious response.

Counter-conditioning takes retraining to the next level by teaching your dog to associate your departure with a positive experience.  In more mild cases, you can counter-condition your dog to associate your leaving with the receipt of a favorite toy or a treat-stuffed KONG.  This can provide distraction as well as a pleasurable experience for your dog while you are away.

With any reconditioning, it is important to gradually expose your dog to the initial cues that you will be leaving (i.e. putting on your shoes) without actually leaving the house. Then, over time, you can progress through the cycle of your departure, perhaps picking up your keys or coat, to the point where you can walk out the door and back in again without your dog reacting in a negative manner.  Finally, start increasing the amount of time that you are gone from the house.

Consulting your veterinarian or a board-certified behaviorist (a veterinarian who specializes in behavior) can be extremely helpful in initially establishing a successful program for desensitization and counter-conditioning. Any program requires a large amount of time and commitment. The key is going slow to reteach your dog that being left alone is not upsetting.

Additional Tactics
Some dogs have difficulties responding to just counter-conditioning alone. They may require adjustments to your schedule, such as getting a pet sitter to come visit or taking your dog to doggie daycare, to help in the process. Additionally, you want to make sure these dogs are getting plenty of exercise and are given jobs or enriching toys to help keep their mind active. 

At some point, medications may be of benefit. While they are not always required life long, medications can help aid in desensitization and positive reconditioning. It may take several tries to find the right medication or dose, as each dog is unique. Sometimes, you can wean your dog off medication once he become more comfortable.

Sticking with it
Separation anxiety is not only difficult on your dog, it is also difficult on you! Don’t give up! Just keep trying, and be patient. It can take a great deal of repetition to convince your dog that their fear can go away.  Sometimes it takes some extra creativity. At the end of the day, remember that the separation anxiety stems from how much your dog loves you and how upset they are when you leave. Your dog means no harm, and they only want to be with you.

In conclusion:
Dogs are some of our most loyal and loving companions. My first Labrador, before Shelby, developed separation anxiety after our Yorkie was let out of our yard and ran away. Even a year later, after he was returned, my Lab was never the same.  I went through everything with him, from behavior clinics to medications and counter-conditioning. Although it helped a bit, I had to accept that leaving him alone would no longer be an option. He could not be crated or alone without hurting himself, so instead he went to daycare everyday.

All I can tell you is that he was the best friend I could have ever asked for.  Despite this extreme disability to both our lives, he has left Shelby some pretty big shoes to fill. These dogs are full of love, but they sometimes need extreme understanding. Be patient and love them…..they are worth it!!!