Original article by Elizabeth Gigis, DVM, West Chester Veterinary Center
The sun is shining and the temperatures moderate. It’s a great time to take man's best friend out for a day at the park. You put Buddy’s leash on and head down to the local dog park. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon. There is nothing better than watching Buddy making new friends at the dog park. A few days later, however, you notice Buddy seems irritated. He can't sit still! He is biting all off the hair off his back end and scratching like crazy. You inspect closer... little black things are climbing all over him...what in the world? Oh no, Buddy has Fleas!
The foe of all dogs and dog owners and the most common external parasite of dogs is the flea. How do we rid Buddy of this common infestation? First we need to know our enemy.
The most common flea that we find on our pets is the actually the cat flea, Ctenocehpalides felis. Most people think of fleas as a nuisance, however in some cases, fleas can actually be deadly. Fleas cause several diseases, such as tapeworms, flea allergy dermatitis, and even can transmit the bubonic plague! Severe flea infestations in young, old or debilitated animals can lead to life-threatening anemia (low red blood cell count).
There are four stages of the flea life cycle, and it is important to break the life cycle in more than one place. The more stages of the life cycle you can affect, the more effective you will be at getting rid of and preventing flea infestations. One single adult female flea lays up to forty eggs per day. These eggs fall off of the pet and land in the pet’s environment-your carpet. Eggs incubate best at temperatures above 65 degrees and in high humidity (like Ohio in the summertime). Eggs hatch anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on the environmental conditions. As the eggs hatch, they become larva, resembling little caterpillars, crawling around. The larva feed on everything they find in the carpet-such as digested blood from adult flea feces, dead skin, hair, and feathers. This is the stage that fleas can pick up tapeworm eggs, which can later be transmitted to your pet. The next stage is the pupal stage, where the little flea caterpillar spins itself a cocoon, where it will develop into the adult flea. Fleas in cocoons are very hardy, and can last several months, including over a hard winter, to emerge and hatch in the spring. Pupae are especially protected in carpet, and will remain there, hidden, until stimulated by a nearby pet to emerge and feed. The mature pupae will be stimulated by movement, light, and even carbon dioxide from your nearby pet. Then it will emerge, ready to eat.
A common history may be that you take your dog to a boarding facility and go on vacation for two weeks. You come home, and after a day or so, you find your dog eaten up by fleas. You think, ”That boarding kennel gave my dog fleas!” Actually, what happened was the pupae, stimulated by a returning host, quickly emerged, hungry and ready to feed. This is why pets need constant and continual flea protection, not just spot treatments when adult fleas are seen. It’s for the part of the flea life cycle which lays in wait, hibernating for months, protected until they decide to emerge. The adult flea will emerge, find its host, feed, and then begin to produce eggs 24 hours after feeding. The adult flea will lay eggs continuously until dying. The lifespan of the adult flea is four to six weeks. On average, it takes three weeks from egg to adult flea.
Flea control products are a billion dollar industry! How do you know which product is most effective? First, let me explain one small difference between flea control products and other medications you may get from your veterinary clinic. Many flea control products are classified as pesticides and are regulated by the EPA not the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Thus, you can buy lots of flea control products over the counter. However, it is important to discuss your choice with your veterinarian, because these chemicals are not all benign. In fact, some can be very toxic to small dogs and especially cats. Some can cause local reactions on the skin surface, and some may not really be that effective at all. As discussed before, it is important to break the life cycle in multiple places. Products that kill adult fleas are called adulticides, and contain pesticides such as imiticloprid, permethrin, and fipronyl. Thus, when newly hatched adult fleas jump on your pet, from the home or another animal, they will be quickly killed before they can produce a lot of eggs. Many developments have also been made in the way of breaking the flea life cycle, and this is done with an IGR, or insect growth regulator. Eggs and pupae are quite resistant against insecticides, so other products such as as pyriproxyfen or methoprene are used to target these stages. Lufenuron is another IGR which sterilizes the adult female flea, not allowing her to produce eggs.
Since three quarters of the flea’s life is actually spent off the host, it’s crucial to treat the home and outdoor environment. This is where the eggs, larvae and pupae can live. A study done by UC noted that vacuuming can rid the home of up to 96% of adult fleas. It is important to also pay close attention to your pets sleeping area. Wash all bedding in hot water at least once per week. Since fleas survive in a warm humid environment, adding a dehumidifier and running the air conditioning should also help eliminate fleas. After vacuuming, you can use sprays, foggers and carpet powders containing insecticides and IGRs that can be used to treat the carpet for flea infestation. There are also several products that can be used outdoors to control flea infestation. It can be nearly impossible to kill all fleas in the environment. The most important point is to keep treating your pet for at least six months with an adulticide and an IGR (flea sterilizer). If some fleas left are able to hatch, they are quickly killed after jumping on your pet and are not allowed to reproduce.
Healthy oral hygiene is important for our pet for multiple reasons. Clean teeth are not only cosmetically pleasing; they also promote good smelling breath and better long-term health.
If poor oral health causes an infection in our pet’s teeth or gums, it can spread to their kidneys. This is especially true in cats. Older cats often suffer from kidney failure, which can be caused by an oral infection spreading to kidneys. Valvular heart disease can also be caused by poor dental hygiene. Bacteria from a pet’s mouth can travel to its heart valves, causing them to change shape and become leaky.
Original article by Marybeth Bittel, Tails Magazine
When I was a young music student growing up in Chicago’s western suburbs, my family adopted an Airedale puppy we named Beethoven. I picked Beethoven out at the shelter because all the other puppies rushed forward to greet me, while he hid shyly in the corner. Most trainers agree that’s not necessarily the ideal benchmark for selecting a furry friend, but we got lucky. Beethoven matured into an outgoing, even-tempered, fun, and affectionate family member who sternly guarded our front yard one minute, and romped through our sprinkler the next.
But then came the Fourth of July. Fireworks went off at random intervals around the clock. We discovered that when it came to loud noises and ear-popping explosions, Beethoven was absolutely terrified.
At first we wondered how this could have happened. After all, we’d never left our beloved boy outside while pyrotechnics peppered the sky. He hadn’t been exposed to extreme noises as a puppy. In all likelihood, Beethoven’s fireworks aversion, like so many pet fears and phobias, was just one of those things that took hold when his sensitive hearing encountered a sudden trigger he could neither see nor anticipate.
So we did what numerous pet parents do when their cherished companion is struggling: we cuddled him, coddled him, and cooed comforting words of reassurance. We also sat, feeling helpless, watching him cower and hide as the problem held steady each year. In fact, through all the years of Beethoven’s life, he never overcame this disabling sense of distress, no matter how soothing or supportive we attempted to make his surrounding environment.
When my husband and I began working with abused rescue dogs, we noticed that most arrived with an array of deep-rooted anxieties acquired over time. One Bichon was terrified of rotary fans. A Shih Tzu mix became a jittery mess during thunderstorms. A sweet and docile Foxhound routinely hid from houseplants. These fears ran the gamut, but they had one thing in common: They were exceedingly real to the dog, and they had a great impacts on the entire family.
We began working with local animal behaviorists, and that’s when we learned an invaluable truth: The way we, as caregivers, react to our pet’s anxieties can actually perpetuate the patterns.
Why would this be? As Abe Mashal, owner of Marine Corps Dog Training in St. Charles, explains, “Dogs form extremely solid bonds with their humans. That means most canines are highly attuned to any type of interaction with their human ‘pack’ members.” So when something a dog is doing earns our attention—whether that attention takes the form of praise, pampering, or peevish irritation— the behavior is often unintentionally reinforced.
“Reinforcement,” a common term in the world of animal behavioral training, is really just another word for strengthening. In reality, a reinforcer can be anything that strengthens a behavior.
So for those of you thinking, “I never reinforce my dog’s non-stop barking! I scold her on the spot,” see if these examples sound familiar:
“Every interaction with your dog has the potential to teach and reinforce, merely because you’re paying attention,” explains Sara Swan, owner of Narnia Pet Behavior & Training in Plainfield. How can you tell if this is happening? Simply observe over time. Dogs continue to engage in behaviors that provide some sort of payoff. If you’re dealing with a fear or anxiety response that’s ongoing—such as Beethoven’s abhorrence of fireworks—some kind of inducement is likely contributing to the pattern. In Beethoven’s case, his reactions earned him almost round-the-clock nurturing.
Fortunately, we as dog parents can leverage these same dynamics when it comes to re-programming undesirable behaviors. Let’s say your 80-pound “lap dog” excitedly jumps on you whenever you come home from work. When you withhold the coveted attention—immediately going back out the door, or turning your back on him—many pups gradually begin to seek out a different behavior.
The same thing can work with a fear response. If your pet is terrified of your Swiffer mop, for example, try propping it against the family room couch and just leaving it there. Then, simply act like it’s no big deal and go about your daily routine, even if your pup exhibits an unsettled reaction. Very gradually, over time, as your furry friend begins to approach the mop with quiet but tentative curiosity, reward that calm behavior with brief praise or a small treat. Keep it up, and eventually your dog can learn that “mop = calm = good.”
Helping your dog manage his stress is one of the keys to having a happy and healthy pet. If your animal companion has specific challenges beyond what you’re comfortable handling, always reach out to a certified animal behaviorist who can help you develop targeted interventional techniques that will work on your pet’s unique needs. It will not only help with unwanted behaviors, but strengthen your bond, as well.
Safe, Drug Free Ways To Soothe Your Pet’s Stress
The Thundershirt. The ThunderShirt leverages the age-old principle of swaddling an infant to promote calming reassurance. Simply fasten this snug, stretchy shirt around your pet’s ribcage. During anxious episodes of panting or hyperventilation, it provides ongoing sensory feedback that suppresses this common panic response. ( Thundershirt.com )
Music or ASMR. As a musician, I can attest firsthand that deep, resonant tones often work wonders on a nervous pup. You can also try leveraging something called ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), which is promoted by many hypnotists and human sleep therapists. ASMR is a subjective, perceptual phenomenon characterized by a distinct calming or scalp- tingling sensation in response to quiet, seemingly mundane sound triggers. Certain pets appear especially receptive, and may even be lulled to sleep. To gauge effectiveness, try playing low, calming music or ASMR audio with your dog in the room. Use a meditation CD, or visit YouTube to access ASMR recordings by reputable “ASMRtists” such as The Waterwhispers.
Calming Sprays. Help create a relaxing environment for your pet by using a calming spray on their bedding or by plugging in a calming spray diffuser. Many cats and dogs experience reduced anxiety and stress after being exposed to these non- sedating sprays, which use soothing scents such as lemongrass, cinnamon, and lavender to encourage relaxation.