Help! My Dog Is Itchy & Won’t Stop Scratching

itchy dog treatment

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Rapid Care Guide

How To Stop Itchy Dogs Scratching

  1. A cool rinse or bath with soap-free dog shampoo can give temporary relief
  2. Always use vet-quality external parasite control even if you can’t see fleas
  3. To identify the cause, see your vet quickly before secondary infections develop

Now dive deeper.

Does your dog have itchy skin or scratch a lot? If so, you’re not alone.

The good news is, there are a lot of simple things you can do at home to make your dog’s red and itchy skin more comfortable.

Just make sure you’re on the right track first…

Is My Dog’s Itching Caused By Allergy?

Many skin conditions of dogs cause signs of itchiness. Please get your dog checked before assuming the problem is an allergy. You need your vet to make sure that it’s OK to just treat the symptoms. Read more about what vets can do for itchy dogs here.

How To Soothe A Dog’s Itchy Skin.

dog brown feet
Saliva stained paws!

So assuming your vet has diagnosed canine atopy (the common form of allergic dermatitis), and you have followed their advice, what else can you do for your dog?

Most of these methods have only mild effects but are very safe unless otherwise stated. By combining a few of these with your vet’s plan you can build the foundation of a successful itch management plan.

No two dogs respond the same way. You need to try many different strategies to see which ones will help your dog.

1. Flea Control

dog cat flea control

“He doesn’t have fleas” is something no vet will say about their own dog. The best we might say is “he’s up to date with his flea control” or “I don’t think it’s a flea problem”. Vets know that you can’t detect fleas in most animals that carry them, and in fact the more itchy a dog is, the faster the fleas are removed. Read here how vets were fooled by fleas prior to 1994.
Think of flea control as an insurance policy against fleas.

No dog who lives in a real world environment can avoid flea bites. Flea eggs, larvae and waiting adults contaminate any area where dogs and cats go, including private yards.

Dogs with itchy skin have already crossed the ‘itch threshold’ and any extra irritation will have a major effect. Protect your itchy dog from flea bites by using these quality flea controls. Note that none of them are available in the supermarket.

2. Bathing

sensitive skin shampoo

Bathing is the most misunderstood part of skincare. Everyone has heard that frequent bathing is bad for dogs’ skin. Instead, visit our guide to bathing dogs to see how the right shampoo allows you to bath a dog as often as you like. Then read about five examples of dermatitis that got better after bathing.

Good dog shampoos allow you to do two things:

  • Prevent the buildup of surface irritants
  • Soothe inflammation

For inflamed, red skin there are some important extra rules:

  1. Judge by results. Only use shampoos that make your dog less itchy.
  2. If it works, do it as often as you need, even every day in bad times.
  3. Use specialised shampoos (avoid antibacterials or insecticides).
  4. Follow label instructions closely, especially regarding contact time.
  5. Pre-dilute shampoos 5 to 10 times & start with the worst parts of the skin.
  6. Consider a post-bathing conditioner or moisturiser (see later)

3. Nutrition

itchy skin dog food

Diet affects skin health in three ways:

  1. The constant state of renewal of the skin and coat means that any nutritional problems are often first seen there. Most dog foods supply all the known essential requirements but we still recommend buying a higher quality food if possible. Skin health is especially sensitive to the protein quality and the presence of essential fatty acids.
  2. Diets can become therapies by being fortified with treatments known to help the skin.
  3. Dogs can be allergic to a component of the diet. This is so rare that we don’t recommend you focus on this until later. We will work with you to design an elimination diet at the appropriate time.

Read here about the myths of food allergy in dogs.

4. Omega 3 and Essential Fatty Acids

dog fish oils

The foods pictured earlier both contain additional levels of the fatty acids we know to reduce skin inflammation and itch. Many clients choose to use these integrated foods, but you can also add them to your dog’s existing diet.

Essential fatty acids include linolenic and linoleic acid. The easiest source for these is sunflower oil at a rate of one teaspoon per 1 cup of dry food.Omega 3 fatty acids are primarily derived from fish oil and krill oil. I use fish oil in dogs at a dose of one 1000mg capsule per 5kg of dog.

Some dogs do not tolerate extra oils in the diet and may experience vomiting, diarrhoea or poor appetite. Never give extra oils to dogs prone to pancreatitis.

5. Grooming

Thick or matted coats make itchy skin worse. If your dog has a double coat with a thick undercoat, regular brushing will help remove old hair and help the skin breathe.

Matting of the hair in longhaired breeds always worsens skin problems. Read our guide to dog grooming for more advice.

6. Antihistamines

Sadly, even though in theory they should help, most dogs do not respond to antihistamine use. We always trial a few different ones, and use them in conjunction with other remedies.

Some dogs do benefit. Visit this page for a list of antihistamines for dogs and their doses.

7. Spot Treatment

dog aerogard sunscreen

The advantage of using ‘topical’ or surface treatments is that you can control local flare ups as they happen. Here are some that we see helping dogs:

  • Aloveen Conditioner
  • Resisoothe Lotion
  • Triderm Calming Gel
  • Aloe Vera
  • Colloidal Oatmeal
  • Tea Tree Oil? Read why we don’t recommend using Tea Tree Oil on dogs.
  • Sunscreen. Pink skin gets burnt on dogs just like people. Loki gets his pink nose dabbed every day.
  • Insect Repellents. Only use these with veterinary advice , but they can help some problems.
  • and of course, prescription ointments, lotions, creams and sprays containing hydrocortisone or other corticosteroids. Please don’t use these without veterinary advice as they can easily do more harm than good.

All of these should be lightly massaged into inflamed areas after bathing or gently wiping with a clean damp cloth to remove buildup.

Even a cool water bath or dip at the sea (followed by a rinse) can temporarily settle a distressed dog.

8. Barrier Care

soothing skin creams

The concept of good barrier function is gradually becoming accepted. Many products are available overseas but relatively few can be bought here in Australia.

The simplest way to improve the skin barrier is to lightly moisturise your dog’s coat after bathing. Best are probably Aloveen Conditioner, Resisoothe Lotion or Triderm Calming Gel. After your dog is towel-dried but still damp, rub a small amount on your hands and massage it through the coat. The skin and coat should feel soft, not greasy.

You may still find all of these leave too much residue in the coat if used according to their directions. Personally, I go ‘off-label’ and dilute them to apply using a spray bottle. As they contain no preservatives I make up a fresh mix each time and discard the remainder.

Other options include Alpha Keri oil and other similar human products. These need to be used very sparingly to avoid a greasy coat that leaves stains on clothing and furniture.

9. Bedding

rogz dog beds
Rogz Spice Podz ‘Indigo Bones Small’

Lastly, simple as it is, don’t forget to keep your dog’s bed as clean as they are. Natural fibres such as wool, jute and cotton are hard to clean thoroughly and can themselves be allergenic.

We recommend any of the modern synthetic beds; they are generally hypoallergenic and wash and dry well.
Follow this link to read more about the common allergens of dogs like dust mites, pollens and plants.

Skin care in itchy dogs is an ongoing battle. A puppy with a skin allergy can be expected to worsen as he or she matures, even if you are treating their itch well. Then, just as you think you’re getting it controlled, something upsets the delicate balance you’ve made.

You’ll need to be light and nimble, and prepared to adapt as things change. And so will we.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Cat Was Hit By A Car

cat car injury

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

What To Do If A Cat Is Hit By A Car

  1. Do not chase if runs away- follow without adding stress
  2. If severely injured, protect your hands when picking up
  3. Lift injured cats wrapped in a blanket if possible
  4. Take straight to a vet to check for internal injuries

Now dive deeper.

First, how to tell if a cat has been hit by a car…

The Signs Of Road Trauma In Cats

Cats get a variety of symptoms depending on which area has been damaged. They include:

claws after road injury
  • Frayed nails (see picture)
  • Greyish smudges on the hair
  • Poor leg use or limping
  • Breathing heavily from chest trauma
  • Hiding or lethargy from pain

These three stories might help explain better how cats can get injured by cars.

Lily

Lily came to us after arriving home one evening unable to walk on her hind leg. Somehow she’d managed to get over a high fence to get home.

Like most cases, the car injury was not seen, and she didn’t seem too bad at first.

We examined her and apart from a very painful hip region she was in reasonably good shape. We placed a drip and took two full-body X-rays.

The half-serious name we give this view is a ‘Cat-o-gram’. It quickly shows in two views a survey of all the important structures likely to be damaged in road trauma. These are: spine, pelvis, hips, thigh bone (femur), lungs, abdominal wall, bladder and diaphragm (see below).

We took extra views of her hip confirming a dislocation. These can usually be easily put back in so we anaesthetised her to do just that.

However, in this case the hip just wouldn’t stay in and kept coming straight out again. She needed surgery.

The next day we operated and found the soft tissues around the hip had been so badly damaged there was no way of reconstructing the joint. The only option was what we call an “excisional arthroplasty” or “femoral head and neck excision”. We removed the top of the femur, and made an artificial soft tissue joint.

It won’t be perfect, but she’ll have normal mobility and will be pain free. Once she heals you’ll have a hard time telling she isn’t like other cats. Here she is after surgery.

Charlie

Charlie is a sadder story. He came in one morning after being missing for a while. He didn’t seem too bad but his owner thought he wasn’t himself and brought him in for a check.

cat sacral fracture

When we examined him two things struck us straight away. His tail was paralysed, he was leaking urine and his bladder was too large. Fearing the worst, we anaesthetised him to take this X-ray.

There is a fracture (arrowed) diagonally through the sacrum (the part of the spine attached to the pelvis). The amount of separation, and his symptoms told us that the spinal cord nerves had all been severed at this point.

The saddest thing was knowing that although he looked OK, and a despite paralysed tail being no big deal, he would never be able to urinate by himself again.

I’ve tried in the past to keep these cats going, but the nursing care is nearly impossible to do well. I always regretted not making the right decision early enough. I advised immediate euthanasia to spare him any further suffering, and thankfully his owner agreed.

His owner, who loves his cats, has since rescued a cat from a local shelter. I hear he’s an inside cat now.

Tux

Tux is a kitten who was found by one of our clients on a local road. We started looking after her and she seemed fine at first. She had a good appetite, put on weight and generally enjoyed her lucky break.

After a few days we noticed her breathing was becoming laboured so we took the X-rays you can see here. When you compare them to Lily’s earlier images you can see that there is no clear division  between the chest (black) and the abdomen (mostly white). In other words, you can’t see the diaphragm and it all looks a mess.

This plus the fact that she was found on a road led us to the diagnosis of a diaphragmatic hernia. This happens when a cat is run right over, and the abdominal pressure ruptures the diaphragm, forcing abdominal organs into the chest space. Cats can usually breathe well enough at first, but fluid and adhesions form making it harder and harder.

This is the main reason why all cats suspected of being in a car accident must have X-rays. They also get ruptured bladders and abdominal hernias at the same time.

Despite Tux’s tiny size and the high risk, Dr Claire successfully operated. Tux’s liver and intestines were put into their rightful place in the abdomen and the tear in the diaphragm was sutured.

Update: Tux came in one year later, this time with a tail degloving injury, which required tail amputation. She’s very lucky; most cats with tail-pull injuries also lose urinary and faecal control like Charlie.

This only repeats what we always say: cats who get hit by cars keep getting hit, unless the owners get them away from cars.

Do Cats Have Nine Lives?

Of course they just have one. We say they have nine lives because:

  • Cats are curious and exploratory, making serious injuries common
  • Cats are very resilient to trauma, and often survive things other species wouldn’t
  • There are lots of cats. In the old days people probably never knew which stray cat was which
  • They keep getting injured- cats don’t usually learn from car accidents

The most common cause of death in cats is still the motor vehicle. But there is some good news. It’s definitely getting better as more and more cats are kept inside. And not all cats die; amazingly, if cats find the strength to get home, vets can usually save them.

These feline patients were al hit by cars. Their stories are typical of the sorts of injuries and recoveries we regularly see.

To completely prevent car injuries requires cats either staying inside or only going outside in enclosed cat runs. Many people let their cats out during the day, and in quiet streets with unadventurous cats this is usually OK. It does seem that most (but not all)  accidents occur at night.

However, being outside without supervision also puts cats at risk of FIV infection (cat AIDS). Please ask us about vaccinating against this extremely common disease.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Dog Is Dragging His Bum

scooting dogs

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

Why Dogs Rub Their Bottom

  1. Two very common causes of scooting are skin allergies and anal glands
  2. Other causes include skin diseases, diarrhoea, worms or excessive hair
  3. All dogs scoot occasionally, but if it starts happening more often, it’s time to see a vet

Now dive deeper.

dog riding scooter
No, not like this.
dog scooting bum
Like this.

Scooting. This wonderfully picturesque word describes what all dogs do at times.

It’s not pleasant, or nice to talk about., but it’s VERY common, and can have serious causes.

Thanks to Dr Google, by the time I see them most dogs rubbing their bums have already had several doses of worming. In my 20 years as a vet, I’m still waiting for the dog with worms who scoots!

Why Do Dogs Scoot Their Bottom?

Here are the REAL reasons a dog drags his bottom on the ground from most to least common.

1. Pruritus.

Pruritus is just another name for itchiness.

In Adelaide this is the number one cause of scooting, but you won’t often find it mentioned online. Local knowledge counts!

Dogs in Adelaide have a very high incidence of atopy or allergic dermatitis. When canine skin gets inflamed, it’s always worse in the folded areas: armpits, groin, between the toes and under the tail.

Although a dog can lick and chew under the tail, it’s more effective to give it a good itch on the grass or carpet. And in the process making it worse.

To treat dermatitis well requires a balanced approach of natural home skin care and veterinary skin medication options. Also visit our page on good bathing for dogs.

2. Anal Glands

Dogs have two grape-sized glands just inside the anus, which commonly get overfull and impacted. Dogs clearly find this very uncomfortable, especially when the glands get infected.

As many scooting dogs have impacted anal glands AND itchy skin, it’s sometimes very hard to tell these two apart. The treatment is for the vet to empty both glands, which can be quite tricky. Let’s just say it’s a job for gloves.

Read our Guide To Anal Gland Problems for more information.

3. Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is just the name for abnormally watery or soft faeces. When this happens for more than a few days, the excess moisture causes a rash to form. It can get quite severe, like a bad nappy rash, if not dealt with quickly. A dog will usually rub this on the ground.

Dogs on a stable diet should have consistently formed stools. If this isn’t the case, read our guide to diarrhoea in dogs and contact your vet. Hair on the bottom, like in Poodles, makes any soft faeces more likely to cause irritation.

4. Perivulval Dermatitis

This is really just a special case of itchy skin that happens to female dogs. Risk factors include allergies, obesity and having a recessed juvenile vulva. If weight control and skin care don’t fix the problem, we sometimes perform minor vulvoplasty surgery to create better ventilation.

When we see a puppy at risk, we will recommend deferring desexing (neutering) until after one season.

5. Just Because They Like To

As dog owners know, all dogs scoot a bit. If it’s just once every week or two, it’s probably normal, especially after having a poo or when Aunt Doris is visiting.

6. Worms

I’ve added in worms just in case I’m wrong. Besides, it’s never a bad idea to worm a dog but most dogs with worms have no symptoms at all. If worms fascinate you as much as they do us, visit our page on the worms of dogs. There are pictures too!

As for itchy bottoms, I think this myth comes from humans getting itchy bottoms from worms. Dogs don’t have a worm like our pinworm.

Horses do however, so if you see a horse scooting …

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Pet Ate Poison

dog cat toxins

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

What To Do If A Dog Or Cat Eats Poison

  1.  Vets can remove poisons by vomiting or adsorbents if less than two hours
  2. Don’t try to cause vomiting at home unless no vet is available
  3. Many poisons cause delayed damage so see a vet even if your dog appears healthy

Now dive deeper.

Have you ever looked at online lists of poisonous plants for pets? If you did, you were probably shocked to discover how many of these are in your garden. Time to find out which ones are the greatest problem.

We researched our patient files from 1999 to 2015 and to our surprise found plants were a very uncommon cause. Here is the full list of all pet poisonings from most to least common. We’ve included every known plant poison we’ve seen. Also visit our page on poisonous foods for pets.

Causes Of Poisoning In Pets

Remember, if your pet eats any of these, a vet inducing vomiting within 30 minutes plus administering activated charcoal should prevent any adverse effects.

Chocolate (80 cases)

Chocolate is the number one poisoning we see, mainly in dogs, and deaths do occur. Chocolate is tasty, poisonous and commonly left around the house. Read all about chocolate poisoning in dogs here.

Rat Poison (66)

Did I just say tasty, poisonous and commonly left around the house? Take care when visiting other people’s homes; dogs will find it! Rabbits are also poisoned by rat baits. Read what to do if your dog eats rat baits here.

Onion (18)

Most onion, leek, shallot or garlic poisoning is caused by feeding inappropriate leftovers. Onion toxicity is probably more common than we realise as the symptoms of anaemia are often missed. Read more about onion poisoning in dogs here.

Snail Bait (13)

Thankfully snailbait poisoning which used to be the most common and fatal poisoning is almost unheard of these days. Signs start with muscle tremors that progress to seizures. If we see them in time, we put dogs into an induced coma until the toxin is passed.

Grapes & Sultanas (12)

Both Dr Claire’s and my dogs have taken potentially fatal doses. There’s no doubt many dogs are poisoned by grapes and sultanas without owners realising. The kidney damage can show up months to years later.

Read here how many grapes are toxic to dogs.

Compost (12)

Did you know how toxic garden compost can be? Signs are very similar to those seen with snail bail (above). All those lovely moulds on spoiled food produce toxins which (just like toadstools) can kill quickly. Keep it secure!

Fertiliser (10)

‘Blood and bone’ and other fertilisers can easily kill by severe toxic damage to the gut lining. Spread it thinly and water or dig it in well, but there is no guarantee they won’t eat it.

Toadstools (9)

Typically only puppies are silly enough to eat these. Quietly dispose of them
when puppy isn’t looking to avoid making it a game.

Ibuprofen (8)

All human medications are usually toxic to pets. Ibuprofen (Nurofen etc) is the most common but most human antiinflammatories cause kidney damage and stomach ulcers. These drugs often have flavoured coatings.

Lily (3)

cat lily poison

Lilies are truly bad news around cats. Tiny nibbles from leaves can kill by kidney damage. If you have indoor cats, offer them Cat Grass and never allow access to lilies.

Macadamia (3)

Signs of macadamia poisoning are usually muscle tremors, trembling or shaking. Its rare for the poisoning to be more serious due to the volume of nuts required to be eaten.

Since macadamia nuts are usually coated in chocolate, they truly represent a dog poisoner’s dream. Eat them before the dog does.

Cannabis (3)

We’ve noticed a large reduction in cannabis poisoning in pets since the early 1990s. Exposure occurs when people make it into edible forms like butter or biscuits.

White Cedar (3)

melia azedarach dog


Melia azedarach, often called the white cedar, is a very common street and garden tree in Adelaide. It produces toxic yellow berries which the occasional dog will eat.

Oleander (1)

oleander dog poison


This single poisoning was a puppy chewing on the garden plants. Poisonous plants usually taste terrible and I’m sure oleander is no exception.

Ivy (1)

toxic ivy berries


Only one crazy puppy has been poisoned by Ivy berries. My puppy.

As you can see, plant poisonings are very rare in Adelaide compared with other household pet poisons. However, we also see a lot of unexplained gastrointestinal upsets which we suspect in many cases to be caused by eating something stupid. Therefore some of these could be caused by nibbling garden plants. The good news is that these dogs and cats usually make uneventful recoveries.

yesterday today tomorrow

Young puppies are the most likely pets to chew up plants; for this reason we don’t advise you leave them outside alone. However, as you can see from our list, the risk isn’t great. It’s good to know most poisonings occur when animals are given access to toxins in a flavoured form.

Other Poisons

Outside of Adelaide, South Australia there are likely to be other dangers your vets can warn you about. Examples include Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Brunfelsia) which grows better in more humid areas, antifreeze poisoning in colder areas, sea hares washed up on Yorke and Eyre Peninsula beaches or 1080 foxbaits near farms and national parks.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Dog Has Kennel Cough

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Essential Facts

What Is Kennel Cough?

  1. A persistent infection of the throat with a bacteria and a virus.
  2. Causes a dry, repetitive, choking cough and fever.
  3. Mild cases often have sneezing, runny eyes and noses.
  4. Highly contagious wherever dogs meet. Incubation is usually 7 days.

Now dive deeper.

Recently we saw a 9 week old puppy who came from the breeder 7 days earlier. The day before we saw her she had started coughing, and by that night it had become very bad. Being a Boxer puppy, she wasn’t letting it get her down but you could see she wasn’t her normal self.

She has kennel cough. She hasn’t been around other dogs so where did she get it from?

Continue reading “Help! My Dog Has Kennel Cough”

Help! My Dog Has Separation Anxiety

sad dog

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Essential Facts

How To Treat Separation Anxiety

  1. Separation anxiety causes severe physical and mental trauma
  2. Consult a force-free professional ASAP to avoid worsening
  3. Gradual desensitisation is used for departures and brief separations
  4. Don’t write off medication- it can relieve suffering and improve results

Now dive deeper.

You probably already know a dog with Separation Anxiety. After all, it’s one of the most common mental illnesses of dogs. Here’s how to recognise and treat separation anxiety and how to help avoid your puppy from ever suffering its effects. At the end we also talk about how to help a dog with bereavement when their companion dies.

What Is Canine Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety refers to displays of anxiety or distress caused by the absence of a particular person or persons. Dogs are social animals; is it a surprise that not all of them cope with being alone?

The signs can vary from mild to severe but you should see at least one of the following behaviours. For true separation anxiety, these are usually at their worst just after you leave your pet.

chewed door frame
Note even metal can be chewed

Destruction is usually not random but focuses on digging and chewing at entry and exit points to the house and yard. Some dogs in their distress are capable of chewing through doors or removing wooden window frames. I have even seen galvanised iron fences torn open and holes chewed right through hollow walls. Obviously they can get badly injured in the process.

Crying, Howling, Whining and Barking also occur. Vocalisation may go almost continuously throughout the day but you may not even know until your neighbours alert you.

Pacing is usually obvious from a worn track in your grass or blood marks on paved areas where your dog’s nails and feet have been bleeding.

Escape attempts can be frequent and determined, often causing injury.

Abnormal toileting such as faeces smeared and trodden around the yard or house suggest extreme distress.

More subtle signs can just be trembling, shaking, hypersalivation, depression or not eating, especially as you prepare to leave.

Dogs prone to separation anxiety often ‘shadow’ their owners when they are at home.

If you aren’t certain what is happening, how about pretending to leave just like you always do, parking the car and sneaking back? Or set up a camera to record video during the day.

What Else Could Be The Cause?

  • Boredom and ‘normal’ puppy behaviour can both involve vocalisation, digging and chewing.
  • Barking can be ‘normal’ if there is a stimulus such as a cat or possum, or a busy footpath. Read about the causes of barking here.
  • Escape is always tempting for a male dog still in possession of his testicles.
  • Incontinence is complex. Peeing inside is more often a medical disorder.
  • Other anxiety disorders such as noise phobias or canine OCD can mimic separation anxiety.
  • Health problems such as liver disease or chronic pain and neurological disorders are easily confused with behaviour disorders. A good clue is that most behaviour problems start before a dog turns 3 years old. If the problem has a later age of onset, be suspicious of something else.

Always see a vet to confirm the diagnosis.

Which Dogs Are More At Risk Of Separation Anxiety?

These dogs will benefit from extra early help.

Dogs with single adult owners, those not desexed & possibly those from rescue shelters are at a higher risk (Flannigan & Dodman, 2001). Dogs acquired from pet shops (vs friends/family) & older dogs are also more likely to show separation-related distress (McGreevy & Masters, 2015).

How To Prevent Separation Anxiety

At Walkerville Vet we obsess over teaching puppies to be strong and resilient. Here are our goals:

Puppy preschool gives you and your puppy an advanced puppy toolkit to prevent behaviour problems from starting. We only use positive, Delta Society-approved methods.

Crate training is an excellent strategy to teach independence and settling. Read our guide to crate training!

Controlled separation to teach your puppy to also enjoy their own company, as well as the company of not just one owner. To do this, gently introduce time apart to teach your puppy they can be happy away from you.

Dog training run by Delta-accredited instructors to give you skills to enhance your dog’s confidence.

Other good advice includes teaching puppies to sleep separately from their owners. This will be easy if you have already completed crate training.

Finally, an excellent tool for teaching puppies to be independent is ‘Nothing in life is for free’. All this means is that for any positive reward, attention or cuddles, ask your puppy to do something first, like ‘sit’ and then reward. This small act subtly reinforces the bond between you and your puppy and appears to make them more relaxed and confident.

How To Treat Separation Anxiety

The sooner you recognise and treat separation anxiety, the easier it will be to help. It’s not going to go away by itself. Young dogs who haven’t been allowed to develop longstanding habits have the best prognosis for recovery.

See your vet as soon as possible. We will be able to make sure it’s really separation anxiety, quickly see what we can do to help, and see whether we need to bring in a dog behaviour expert or specialist. We have several excellent recommendations we can make.

Safety first. Many dogs get seriously hurt so make the environment in which you leave your dog as safe as possible.

Reduce your dog’s attachment by teaching them to be apart from you while you are at home. Do this slowly and patiently, building up from very short periods apart without your dog becoming distressed. Use rewards and distractions as much as needed until your dog can be comfortable in a different room, or happily be outside while you are indoors.

Reduce departure anxiety. Most dogs ‘wind up’ their distress as they see you preparing to leave. If your dog can keep calm up to the first 30 minutes after you go they will probably be OK for the whole day or night.

  • Always take your dogs for a walk or run before you leave. This establishes a healthy pre-departure routine and reduces some of their excitability.
  • Be calm, confident and don’t make a fuss as you leave. We no longer recommend that you ignore your dog for 15 minutes before departure.
  • Provide activity such as treat dispensers, food puzzles, food scattered in the yard, buried objects to keep your dog busy as you leave.
  • Make it hard for your dog to tell when you will leave by frequently doing the things you normally do when you leave. Pick up keys, turn off the lights, put things away etc and repeat these several times each day until your dog doesn’t react.
  • Practise ‘dummy departures’ where you leave as per the usual routine, but come back within minutes. Do these several times each day, keeping the absence short enough that your dog does not get visibly anxious. Slowly increase the time away if your dog remains calm without every provoking anxiety.

Avoid exaggerated welcomes. When you come home, greet them without making a fuss, and only play with them when they have calmed down. Don’t make your homecoming the highlight of their day.

Don’t punish. These dogs are already anxious and distressed. Punishment will always make it worse. Using an anti-bark collar is also a form of punishment and should not be tried. See the ‘joke’? This dog isn’t guilty, she’s scared of her owner’s reaction.

Getting a second dog won’t help. A dog with separation anxiety caused by the lack of a person is not helped by another dog. In fact, the second dog may even learn to do the same thing.

Be flexible. If all your dog wants to do is get to a safe zone such as the couch or your bed, why not just let them do that? As long as they’ve been for a walk before you leave and toileted, they can usually sleep all day without needing to go out until you get home.

Use dog training. Just like for prevention, dog training adds confidence and security to most dogs who attend regularly.

Create predictable routines. Dogs are always happier if they can predict their day, and even more so with anxiety. Try to provide meals, walks, training, day care, play, bones, treat dispensers in as structured a way as possible.

Reward calm behaviour. Don’t forget to notice when your dog is coping well! But at the same time don’t listen to people who say you will ‘reward’ bad behaviour if you comfort your dog when they are showing signs of anxiety. They aren’t doing it for your benefit!

Leave an audiobook on when you go out. A study by Brayley & Montrose (2016) has shown audiobooks are superior to classical music in increasing resting behaviour and reducing barking & vocalisation in shelter dogs.

Get expert assistance. There are excellent and caring dog behaviourists who would love to help you and your dog. Just a warning though: you should get your dog a checkup with a vet to rule out other health problems first, and many behaviourists will insist upon it. Ask us for our recommendations!

DAP is a pheromone which can create a calming sensation in affected dogs. We sell it as sprays suitable to use on a bandanna, plug in diffusers or impregnated in collars which last one month.

Thundershirts are tight fitting jackets modelled on the concept of swaddling an infant. They do seem to help some dogs.

Medication can really make a difference. We want you to do other things as well, but we find the careful use of short-term medication can dramatically improve response rates. Read more about anxiety medication for dogs here.

And finally, it’s OK to Give up! If it works, there’s nothing wrong with taking the path of using doggy day care or dropping your dog off at a friend or relative’s place while you’re out. Many older people would benefit from the companionship; why not ask around?

Related: Storm and Firework Anxiety in Dogs

What if your dog is grieving the loss of a partner when his companion dies?

  • Be patient. Most mourning dogs adapt, but it can be slow, just like for us.
  • Give your dog more of your time for walks, play and attention; even go back to dog training classes!
  • Keep up the consistent routine that your dog expects.
  • Allow special treats and access to favourite places.
  • Use doggy day care or borrow a friend’s dog if it helps
  • Consult your vet to confirm the diagnosis, referral advice, medication and pheromone therapy

When should you get a new dog?

Firstly, make sure you’re ready, but then how do you know when your dog is ready for a new buddy? Some dogs’ symptoms of grieving go away as soon as another dog is on the scene, whereas other dogs will need time just like humans. Probably the only way to know when your dog’s ready is to stage trial introductions. Many shelters will allow you to take dogs on trial; don’t feel bad if you have to take the dog back the first or second time you try. You’re looking for behaviour like tail wagging, play bows, following around whereas aggresssion or just ignoring and avoiding the dog suggest more time is needed.

Brayley, C., & Montrose, V. T. (2016). The effects of audiobooks on the behaviour of dogs at a rehoming kennels. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 174, 111-115.

Flannigan, G., & Dodman, N. H. (2001). Risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 219(4), 460-466.

McGreevy, P. D., & Masters, A. M. (2008). Risk factors for separation-related distress and feed-related aggression in dogs: additional findings from a survey of Australian dog owners. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 109(2), 320-328.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Dog Is Shaking Her Head

dog ear shake

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

Why Dogs Shake Their Head

  1. The most common cause is due to the pain from an ear infection
  2. Other causes include grass seeds in the ear, insect bite and allergies
  3. All dogs shake occasionally, but if it starts happening more often, it’s time to see a vet

Now dive deeper.

What do you think is the most common disease of dogs in Adelaide?

Head shaking is often the only clue to an ear infection. If owners miss the signs, which can be subtle, a dog can live in pain for years without anyone realising.

Why Do Dogs Get Ear infections?

Ear infections happen in dogs for many reasons. These include:

Sometimes head shaking can occur without an infection, but the same causes are usually responsible.

Dogs have a long, deep and bent ear canal which seems to make it a natural weak point. Any disease affecting the skin of a dog will usually be worse in the ear. For example, mild skin allergy elsewhere on the body can cause much more dramatic redness, heat and moisture buildup in the ear, leading to secondary infection with yeast or bacteria.

Byron’s Story

left infected ear

That’s why I was happy when Byron’s owner brought him in last week. He had been shaking his head more than usual in the past week or two but it wasn’t obvious that there was a problem at all.

This is his bad ear. There isn’t a lot to see on the outside but you may notice it a little red and has a small blood spot from scratching.

However, once we looked inside it was a different matter. The left ear canal was painful, swollen, narrow and obviously infected. We collected some pus or discharge and stained it to identify the cause of the infection. The picture shows what we could see under 100X magnification; these are yeasts called Malassezia pachydermatis

malassezia pachydermatis yeast

Due to his infection being caught early, a short course of an antifungal ear ointment should fix the problem. However, ear drops are fiendishly difficult to use correctly, and infections can be hard to treat in such convoluted ears (watch the video we took below!). Therefore, we always check the ear after a week to make sure the infection is resolved. To leave an ear infection rumbling away will result in permanent damage.

How Do Vets Treat Ear Infections?

So what can you expect when you visit the vet because your dog is shaking their head? We will gently check both ear canals starting with the good one. Then we will perform a cytological smear to identify any infectious agents such as Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas or Malassezia. Depending on what we find we may then need to:

  • send a bacteriological swab to the lab for culture and sensitivity testing
  • take samples for ear mite identification
  • schedule an ear clean under anaesthetic

We are also going to consider your dog’s skin health as a whole.

Most dogs like Byron can be prescribed an appropriate ointment, and scheduled a revisit in 1 week. As ear infections are always caused by something else, we will also take the time to discuss prevention such as cleaning.

How do you clean dogs’ ears? Watch the second video but remember this is only done once an ear has been checked by a vet. Otherwise you can cause pain or permanent hearing loss.

How To Tell If Your Dog Has An Ear Infection

An ear infection causes:

However, the best way to find an ear infection early is the smell. Sometimes it can be foul, sometimes a bit like smelly feet.

Ears should smell no different to the rest of your dog’s coat. As our clients can attest, you’ll often find me taking a sneaky sniff at each ear during a routine examination.

I remember seeing a guide dog with an ear infection. The (blind) owner knew there was a problem but in my early inexperienced days, I thought it looked pretty good. However, I got out the otoscope and peered inside to find a hidden, deep ear infection which my eyes had tried to tell me didn’t exist. The owner knew from the smell alone that something was wrong.

Now read: The last resort treatment for closed ear canals and middle ear infections

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Dog Has Heat Stroke

heat stress dog

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

How To Treat A Dog With Heat Stroke

  1. Move the dog from the hot area and provide water if the dog can drink
  2. Wet the dog with cool water and apply cold packs to the neck and groin
  3. Travel to your vet as quickly as safe to do so; call them on the way

Now dive deeper.

Every dog owner needs to know how easily heat stroke can harm their dog.

Heat exhaustion is caused by excessive body temperature. Anything over 39C is abnormal but heat stroke typically occurs at over 41C.

Why are dogs at risk of heat stress?

Continue reading “Help! My Dog Has Heat Stroke”

Help! My Rabbit Is Sick

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Rapid Care

What To Do When A Rabbit Is Sick

  1. When rabbits get sick they tend to hide serious illnesses until very late so if something is suspected to be wrong it’s best to get it checked by a vet
  2. Common causes of illness in rabbits are gastrointestinal stasis, kidney stones and traumatic injuries

Now dive deeper.

Caring for rabbits is an increasingly large part of our daily workload. Here are three of our recent cases which show the complexity and variety of rabbit diseases, and the need to treat them with special care. One story does not end well; the owner has requested we included this as a warning to other rabbit owners.

Mr Poppy

Mr Poppy is over ten years old, and still healthy and happy even if he sleeps a lot these days. Like most rabbits of his age, he needs daily treatment for arthritis, but he’s still an active bunny. As you can tell by what happened.

He came in from playing outside with his mate holding up a hind leg. When he came to us, it was clear he had multiple fractures of his metatarsal bones. Without surgery, he would be in serious trouble as a rabbit’s hind leg must be fully functional, and it wouldn’t ever heal by itself.

We scheduled surgery for the next day. Rabbits can’t and don’t vomit, so we don’t starve them before surgery. This is also to help prevent gastrointestinal stasis (see Hunny Bunny later).

We placed a drip for intravenous fluids in a marginal ear vein, and gave him a normal gas anaesthetic via endotracheal intubation, just like dogs or cats (or people!). His X-rays showed three fractures; the two central bones needed pins but the third (arrow) would heal once we aligned the other two. It may look logical from the xray but trust me: there is nothing more fiddly and needing more patience than pinning such tiny bones.

His whole anaesthetic took two hours but we are very happy with the result. At suture removal yesterday he’s looking great, moving well and even starting to ‘thump’ again. In the meantime his owners found the cause of the injury; his mate had knocked a loose brick off a pile and he was probably in the wrong place.

Hip Hop

Hip Hop was a well-loved bunny who we not only saw for regular check ups, but would even go to board with Rachael’s bunny at times. All seemed well until Hip Hop started losing weight and going off her food.

Just like in any species, we took blood which showed tragically advanced kidney failure. Hip Hop’s x-rays showed large nephroliths (kidney stones) which were considered to be the cause of the problem. Our opinion was that he was unlikely to survive the disease, very likely to get worse, and so we recommended euthanasia to prevent suffering. Her owner was devastated.

On investigation, it was discovered that her diet contained a high percentage of lucerne hay. Her owner knew the importance of hay in a rabbit’s diet (see Feeding Rabbits). However, when selecting hay, it is a common and easy trap to select lucerne hay; it’s nicer looking, as you can imagine from the second picture, and rabbits prefer it.

The most important message here is that lucerne hay (identified by its oval leaves; it’s not a grass) contains an excessive amount of calcium. Kidney and bladder stones are a great risk, though until I saw HipHop’s problem I didn’t know just how high that risk was. When selecting hay for your rabbit, make sure to only feed grass hay or meadow hay.

Hunny Bunny

Hunny Bunny came to me one recent Saturday lethargic, not eating and limping on a hind leg. He was clearly in pain. It was also clear that the pain had caused a secondary ‘gastrointestinal stasis’ where his gut had stopped moving. Crucially, he was no longer producing the steady supply of droppings that indicate a healthy rabbit.

To give an idea of how we think, our concern was mainly the fact that his gut had stopped. This is often fatal to rabbits even more than colic can be to horses. Rabbits are herbivores with a complex fermentation process easily disturbed by outside forces. Read more about GI stasis and rabbit digestion here.

Seeing he was not too bad, and hoping it would be a short-lived problem, I prescribed pain relief. He did improve over the weekend but deteriorated again so that several days later it was clear he needed to be hospitalised. We placed a drip and started medications to control pain and stimulate his gut, combined with syringe feeding a critical care mix. It was touch and go for several days and his full recovery was only possible when we could send him home to the continued care of his owners.

He’s back to normal now, and his owners have since found what is likely to have been the cause. A goshawk is hanging around their yard, and although they do not usually attack such large prey it does seem to have attempted to take him and caused the injuries in the process. Goshawks are one one of the rarer native species in Adelaide. I always get a thrill when I see one so I hope the two can live in peace and harmony.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.