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Does your dog have separation anxiety?

Posted on: May 18th, 2011 by

A dog with pet health insurance waits for his owner to return.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

Nobody likes coming home to a mess their dog has created while they were away. Sometimes destructive behavior is due to boredom, but occasionally it goes deeper than that. It is estimated one in six dogs suffers from separation anxiety, a disorder causing dogs to panic when left alone, often vocalizing, destroying areas of escape, such as doors or windows, and house soiling. Some pet insurance companies, like Pets Best Insurance, offer limited benefits for behavioral conditions, like separation anxiety.

Dogs are under great stress with separation anxiety, and can even injure themselves while trying to escape. Recognizing this disorder is the first step to helping your dog overcome this, in addition to protecting your home and belongings.

What is separation anxiety?
Dogs are pack animals; it isn’t surprising being alone can trigger anxiety. True separation anxiety driven behaviors will occur shortly after the owner has left and classically will involve some type of ‘escape attempt,’ or destruction around exits. A severely affected dog may create a large amount of destruction by chewing, clawing or digging, whereas a mildly affected dog may only pant excessively, pace, whine or excessively groom.

House soiling generally occurs shortly after the owner leaves and should be distinguished from house soiling that occurs from being left for long periods of time. Often dogs suffering from separation anxiety are hyperattached to their owner and will follow them around or beg to be held. Many pets with separation anxiety will also have noise phobias as well and become fearful or even destructive during thunderstorms or fireworks on the Fourth of July.

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What causes it?
Separation anxiety can occur anytime, at any age. It tends to start after a stressful event, like a move to a new home, or after a change in the owner’s schedule. Dogs in single person households versus having more than one owner are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from separation anxiety. Sometimes there are no known triggers.

Can I prevent it?
Ideally, preventing separation anxiety begins in puppyhood. Crating can be a wonderful way to create a safe and comfortable routine for your new puppy. Dogs like small ‘den-like’places, and crates can instill a sense of security and assurance. It is important to NEVER use a crate as a source of punishment. Pets that are crated and enjoy their crate are far less likely to have destructive behaviors.

Never leave your dog in a crate for an inhumane period of time. A general rule of thumb for puppies is the maximum amount of time they should spend in a crate should equal their age in months plus one hour. For example, 3 hours for a 2 month old, 5 hours for a 6 month old. Never exceed 8 hours, even in an adult dog.

Can separation anxiety be treated?
Separation anxiety can’t be ‘cured.’ It can be successfully managed, and generally takes behavior modification on your part, and for your pet as well. Occasionally pharmaceutical intervention can be helpful as well. Some pet insurance companies will offer limited coverage for these kinds of medications.

What should I do?
Never punish your dog if you come home to a mess. This will only add to their anxiety and will not prevent them from doing it again. A ‘guilty’ looking dog is likely picking up on the fact that you are angry and is trying to appease you, versus feeling actual remorse.

Figure out which ‘cues’ your dog perceives that indicate you are leaving, such as picking your phone or keys, packing a lunch, etc. Try doing these cues without leaving, or perform these cues and then reward your dog with a treat. Try doing your departure routine, then leave for just a few minutes and return. Praise good behavior.

Enrich your dog’s environment. Provide interactive toys, like Kongs with the inside pre-filled with canned food and placed in the freezer first.

Crating a dog that has never been crated and has separation anxiety can be tricky, but done right can help in some occasions. Sometimes being confined can ‘fuel the fire’ and make your dog more anxious. Go slowly with introduction to a new crating situation. Feed your dog in the crate, keep his or her toys in it, have it out in the common area where you spend most of your time. Close the door to the crate with the dog in it when you are home with him or her first. Gradually increase the amount of time they stay in it, provide lots of praise and rewards.

Try to downplay your comings and goings. Try to be unemotional when you are leaving, do not coddle or give excessive attention as you are leaving. Try to be aloof when you come home. It can be very hard to resist your dog’s excitement and joy when you have returned, but try to ignore them until the excitement passes, then lavish them with praise.

Spend more time with your pet. Make sure you are allowing them regular exercise. Create a day-to-day routine and try to stick to it.

When should I try medication and what is available?
If you have worked with your veterinarian with a behavior modification program and haven’t reached your goals, adding medication in the mix may be helpful. Medication is NOT a substitute for behavioral modifying techniques and must be used in conjunction.

Most medication is aimed at reducing anxiety levels, currently clomipramine and fluoxetine are the only FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of separation anxiety in the dog; however, other human anti-anxiety medications have a long history of use for this purpose.

Pet health insurance can cover behavioral treatment at limited amounts, and is generally a good idea to consider regardless of whether your pet has separation anxiety.

Any Dog Can Bite at Any Time

Posted on: May 17th, 2011 by

Posted by: H.M.
For Pets Best Insurance
A dog with pet insurance prepares to bite.
One of the most recent cases of a dog bite to make the national and international news didn’t involve a breed with a bad reputation or considered “vicious.”

An elderly woman was charged and ordered to pay a fine, according to the Toronto Sun, after her Shih Tzu bit a woman’s nose at a Home Depot store. The Home Depot employee will need multiple surgeries to repair her nose, and she wants the dog euthanized.

This issue goes to show that any dog can bite at any time. The terrible situation possibly could have been prevented with some knowledge and care on both sides. That is the point of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 15-22. In order to be successful, dog bite prevention tips need to be recognized by dog owners as well as the general public.

When Good Dogs Bite
Any dog can bite and cause injury out of fear or surprise. As much as we love them, dogs bite more than 4 million people in the United States every year, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Most of those bites are from familiar rather than strange dogs. Responsible pet ownership, supervision, and educating children on how to treat their pets are all important aspects of preventing dog bites.

• Dogs should be adopted with care, not on impulse. Breed selection tools such as the one at selectsmart.com/dog/ can help determine the best fit for a home’s family members and energy level. All family members should meet a dog prior to the dog being adopted.

• Just as a dog should never be left alone with easily accessible food, a dog should never be left in a room with a baby or small child, not even for a minute.

Pet insurance coverage ensures responsible pet ownership by allowing dogs to be cost-effectively spayed and neutered, thereby decreasing a dog’s aggressive tendencies. Pet health insurance often covers regular vaccines and helps pet owners keep track of Rabies shot schedules by way of regular vet visits.

• Training, socialization, exercise, and obeying local leash laws are all basic dog owner responsibilities that help with pet safety.

When Strange Dogs Bite
Doggone Safe is a non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention through education and dog bite victim support. The organization runs be-a-tree.com, a website and educational program that teaches dog bite prevention tips and dog body language reading skills.

Be A Tree presenters are available nationwide to teach the program to school-age children. The program teaches with fun rather than fear that becoming a “tree”—standing perfectly still—when approached by a strange dog is the best way to keep from being bitten.

Snake Bite Vaccinations and Sunscreen for Dogs

Posted on: May 17th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m answering some questions from Pets Best Facebook page today.

The first question comes from Lee, who asks, “I heard recently about a local vaccine clinic holding a snake vaccination clinic for dogs. What’s this about? I’ve never heard of it. Is it new?”

This is a great question. The vaccine that you are referring to is the rattlesnake vaccine. The way that this vaccine works is it helps keep your dog safe if it were bitten by a rattlesnake. If you live in an area or have the type of lifestyle where you may come in contact with a rattlesnake while you’re hiking or that type of thing, it’s a good idea to think about this vaccine.

It’s given yearly. After the initial dose it has to be given a month later. It is not a substitute for veterinary care if your dog was bitten by a rattlesnake and has had this vaccine. You still need to seek treatment. It just helps them to ensure that they would get better from a rattlesnake bite.

The next question has to do with sunscreen. It comes from Jasmine and the question is, “Is it safe to use sunscreen in the summertime on my dog?”

This is a great question. Dogs with fair skin or with white hair can absolutely get sunburned, just like people can. They can even get skin cancer, just like people can. Sunscreen is safe. You’d probably want to use one that is meant for children or is a more gentle formula. Sprays are really nice, rather than the lotion which can kind of gum up the hair a little bit. Be sure to avoid getting it in the eyes. You want to apply it just like you would for yourself before you go out into the sun.

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Keeping pets healthy

Posted on: May 16th, 2011 by

A dog with pet insurance selects healthy foods.

Pets are wonderful companions and considered members of the family. As a responsible pet owner, your job goes beyond feeding, sheltering and ensuring they have pet health insurance. Your pet relies on you to make good decisions as a key component of good pet health care.

Proper Feeding
Your vet can advise you about proper nutrition for your pet, but other resources and your own common sense can guide you, too. Feeding human food to pets is not a good idea. Their digestive systems are not made to deal with our diet. Certain foods like chocolate are toxic to pets, so being diligent about what goes in your pet’s mouth is extremely critical for their safety. Having pet health insurance is also a good idea, in case of accidental ingestion.

Pets also have different water consumption needs than we do. Make sure your pet has clean, fresh water several times daily if necessary. This is especially important if your dog or cat will be outside for any length of time.

Proper Handling
It should be a no-brainer that dogs need to be leashed at all times when outside on walks unless they have access to a fenced dog park. An unleashed dog can disappear in an instant if an interesting distraction, like a squirrel, runs by.

Statistics tell us that cats that have outdoor access have a high rate of injury and death. It’s a myth that cats need to go outside to hunt for food. If properly fed, there is no nutritional value to hunting.

Be Prepared
Regular vet care is important for healthy pets. But vet healthcare costs can be hard on pet owners’ budgets. Considering a pet health insurance plan can help defray some of those costs.

Is your dog in pain?

Posted on: May 16th, 2011 by

A Poodle with pet insurance relaxes on a blanket.

Posted by: H.M.
For Pets Best Insurance

When dogs go gray around the muzzle and start slowing down, it’s easy to brush off a lot of things and attribute them to the aging process. But did you ever stop to wonder whether these senior dogs are uncomfortable, or even feeling pain? I’m sure no one wants to think, especially after providing top-notch dog health care his entire life, that he might be in pain every day.

One of the great things about dog health insurance is that pet owners who have it are more likely to take their dog in for annual or bi-annual check-ups.

These owners know that almost anything that is found will be covered, which makes each visit less intimidating. And the wonderful thing about these vet visits is that tests and x-rays can tell us things about pet health that our dogs can’t.

Arthritis is often spotted in x-rays. When the vet tells you your dog is likely in pain due aching joints, hip dysplasia, or a fused spine, then you might realize why he’s been climbing the stairs less often or has been reluctant to go outside in the morning. Your vet might prescribe a pain killer like Rimadyl®, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) made specifically for dogs.

According to the Rimadyl® website, one in five dogs are diagnosed with arthritis, and there is no cure outside of joint replacement. A dog that is suffering from arthritis will be less active and could gain weight, either of which may only worsen arthritis.

When common ailments like arthritis keep your dog from living comfortably and happily, the best pet insurance can help you pay for medications that could make a big difference.