Crufts 2018; My Thoughts

Being a veterinary surgeon, I’m a very big dog lover. Despite this, over the years, I’ve avoided Crufts.

I vividly remember when the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” was released in 2008, my third-year of vet school. This documentary brought to light issues facing several pedigree dog breeds.  It was also a precursor to the BBC no longer showing Crufts.

2008 was the last time that I properly watched Crufts. I have caught certain moments over the more recent years on Channel 4 but I definitely haven’t watched much of the show and have turned over when watching the showing classes.

 

For many years I have believed Crufts should not take place as I don’t agree with showing dogs.  I have also struggled to understood why other veterinary professionals go. This year, however, with trepidation, I booked tickets and went yesterday, Saturday 10th March 2018. I decided to go because I didn’t want to judge something I hadn’t personally seen. Though, having said that, I still have strong beliefs that breed showing and ring craft are poor practices for animal welfare and therefore decided, for the most part, to avoid these parts of the show.

 

Throughout the rest of this blog I discuss my experiences of Crufts and how I felt.

I want to state that my comments are not based upon issues with any single individual but more upon the show, activities surround it and commonplace practices.

 

Trade Stands

On entering Crufts, the first thing I came across was a hall filled with trade stands. There were five halls in total. These sold everything you could want, not only for both show and dogs, and occasional cat items. Most large animal-related charities were also represented, especially those related to dogs, alongside displays of the many veterinary and animal health products.

 

My plan was to talk to many of the representatives at these trade stands; get an understanding of their products and services and discuss potential collaborations. Sadly, it was too busy to have an in-depth business-related conversation with anyone, so I decided to contact people at a later date.

 

I’m aware this doesn’t affect dog welfare whatsoever. I note that many of these stalls had reduced prices due to it being a show which is quite common in these sorts of occasions. This is really good value for anyone wanting to buy anything.

 

From looking around, I can safely say my prior belief that you could buy anything for dogs at Crufts is true. Therefore, if anyone wants to buy many items for their dogs at a reasonable price, I recommend Crufts for the trade stands.

 

Discover Dogs

An English Mastiff at Discover Dogs

Hall three housed Discover Dogs.

On arrival, the ring contained a woman discussing Bloodhounds, along with two bloodhounds and their handlers. The surroundings were very loud and the speakers were unclear leaving me struggling to hear what was said. I was horrified to notice that one of the Bloodhounds in the ring was obviously lame on one forelimb. No one else seemed to have noticed or, potentially worse, cared.

 

I moved on to the Discover Dogs breed stands. All of these stands contained pens approximately 1.5 x 3m in size.

The was occupied by three Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are large dogs and, therefore, need more space than something such as the Yorkshire terrier. I noticed many of the stands for large dogs had no more space than those for small. However, the pens appeared to be a standard regardless of the breed.

This was disappointing.

The area for Rhodesian ridgebacks had three dogs in one pen. One of these dogs was obviously stressed, standing with it’s ears back and head down in the far corner where no one could get. It obviously was unhappy and there it was potentially busier around the trade stands.

Many of the dogs on display at Discover Dogs were for hours on end, sometimes for several days. None of the stands I saw had areas for dogs to get away from the crowds.

I believe each pen should have a dedicated area big enough for a dog to safely and comfortably enter to get away from the crowds. This should be covered on both the top and sides to give the dog(s) privacy and any dog in this space should be left alone.

In many cases owners or handlers constantly interfered with their dogs. A Great Dane laid on his very comfortable large mattress appeared to not want to be on show. When I approached, the owner decided I wanted to stroke her dog; she kept telling the dog to get up, encouraging it to walk to me. The owner did this for a couple of minutes until the dog, appearing to have little choice, followed through with this.

I had a similar experience with the Dobermanns.  These were lively and interesting in their surroundings but the owner was making sure they jump up so their paws were resting on the top of the pen.  He especially instructed this when I was there.

The owner also held his sandwich straight in the faces of the Dobermanns. I appreciate he needs to eat but I believe this should have been done away from the dogs, at least outside of their pen given their little space. They were obviously tempted by this sandwich. A woman at that stand was also obviously taunting a dog with her sandwich.

There were other stands that were empty or the dogs were left to their own devices but these were in the minority.

Getting ready for flyball

The Arena

 

Just after lunchtime, we headed to the arena.

This was an approximate 45-minute wait which people unhappy. The exhibitors and dogs entrance was shared with that for the wheelchair users. This became very crowded with the dogs having to walk through a narrow path with people on either side and often got stuck amongst crowds.

Crowded spaces are stressful for dogs who cannot speak up for themselves and may accidentally get bumped into or even stood on.

Personally, I feel a dedicated lane should have been provided for the dogs and handlers to walk along to achieve paramount canine welfare and comfort. As Crufts has been going since 1891 and at its current location since 1991, arrangements should have been made to ensure dogs entering the arena area were given space.

Setting up for international agility
Agility

I watched two international agility classes.

All the dogs competing in these classes were very fit with owners who obviously cared for their welfare.

Whilst the vast majority of owners made a fuss of the dogs once I completed the course, I sadly noticed a few occasions where owners appeared to just take all the glory themselves, raising their hands to the audience and clapping whilst ignoring their dogs. I understand that doing well in an event at Crufts is huge, however, your dog should definitely be acknowledged.

The vast majority of owners were, however, incredibly interested in praising their dogs.

The agility winner just starting the course

I am glad to report I saw no punishment whatsoever for refusals, falling poles, or wrong lines.

These dogs are what I think of as “fit for purpose”, something Crufts kept quoting. I don’t, however, believe all dogs there “fit for purpose” though; for example, the previously mentioned lame Bloodhound.

 

Flyball

I watched a couple of classes of flyball one including youth teams.

Whilst the older competitors acted very calmly around their dogs, I noted young competitors were often winding their dogs up beforehand. I realise increases the dog’s adrenaline and therefore their speed, however, this can cause behavioural issues in other situations as well as anxiety.

About to start flyball

I noticed the new designs of the boards of flyball. No longer do the balls fly out as was the case a few years ago. But now, dogs picked balls out of holes within these boards.

This reduces the chance of injury and strain on the dogs joints and therefore leading to dogs being fitter for longer. Both dogs and competitors appeared to enjoy the event and, in the whole, I have no issues with Flyball whatsoever.

 

West Midlands Police Display

The best event I saw was the display by the West Midlands police.

Though this was heavily scripted, the dogs were acting as they would in a training session.

There was a lot of mention of the positive reinforcement methods used during the training along with a lack of punishment.  I’m hoping many of the dog owners watching this took note of that.

Despite being working dogs, these police dogs were obviously having fun and the display incorporated a lot of play.

The West Midland Police Dog Display

All the dogs looked at the peak of health and, very relaxed in the surroundings despite the spotlights.

This display was very the exciting yet informative showing many of the skills these dogs and handlers have which they use on a daily basis. The scope of these dogs is very wide-spread and all the duties were well explained.

 

Good display West Midlands Police!

 

Heelwork to music

Displays of Heelwork to Music and not only a crowd favourite but show a very high level of skill and obedience with very athletic and lively dogs.

I’m going to admit, it isn’t my favourite of disciplines. I personally just find it a bit bizarre. However, I can understand why people would like it.

The Heelwork To Music Display in Full Swing

When I saw was not the competition but was a display done by the winner of the international competition. The dog was very enthusiastic and often worked at the distance. Due to this distance between handler and dog, there was no way the dog was forced to do many of the exercises so always had the choice to run away if desired.  This demonstrated the skill of the owner and enthusiasm of the dog.  However, I wonder how many hours of training goes into this and whether this is too much for the dog.

I am unable to pass judgement on this without knowing each individual case and speaking to the owners.

 

International Junior Handling Final

I was less impressed by the International Junior Handling Final. As mentioned previously, I am not fan of ring craft. I stayed to watch this as the person I was with want to watch it. I also wanted to see what occurred and was looking forward to Scruffts, timetabled for after this event.

The top 3 Junior handlers

When I heard these were the best junior handlers representing each country I had high standards for them to meet.

These handlers were given three unknown dogs throughout the day. I only saw them with their final one.

Handlers didn’t exhibit their own dogs and only had half an hour to get used to the dogs before showing them. This is a good way of examining handling skills as it doesn’t demonstrate any training in place and looks at how these handlers can deal with an unknown dog.

I saw a lot of use of treats. At first, I believed this to be positive. They were using them as lures to get the dogs looking in the right direction and following commands. I noted many of the handlers, however, appeared to be taunting their dogs.

In a lot of cases, whatever these dogs did they didn’t receive a treat.

 

[Edited] I saw some handlers whose methods of training I didn’t necessarily agree with.  The methods used included what I believed to be excessive holding back of treats.  I noticed this appeared to wind up some dogs which then, due to what I believe as to be frustration in the dog, caused the dog to jump up at the handler.  This behaviour is not something I believe to be bad behaviour of that dog, in fact, I believe all of the dogs in the ring had really good behaviour.  Another handler also appeared from the view I had to place her hand around the muzzle of the dog and turn their head when going around a corner when presenting the dog for the judge.

I feel these skills should be looked upon, more so across the whole of showing rather than just individual cases, or even just the juniors.

Alongside this, I recognise these handlers are still growing and developing and therefore will be learning from each dog they come across.  Getting used to and presenting a dog for showing is a very difficult take especially given the stress of the situation and the short time period. [End of edited portion]

The winner of the class was obviously very proud. He plans to become a professional handler. He was very proud to win and became incredibly emotional at his success. However, I noticed how on the lap of honour the leads on none of the dogs were slackened. I realise not slackening the lead is probably standard with showing and the same was true of all the dogs. Personally, though, I feel at the end a class when celebrating a win, giving your dog space to and enjoy your surroundings as much as possible would be worthwhile.  Laps of honour in the agility as well as in show jumping are done with slackened reins/ leads.

 

I also noticed several competitors wanted to not only become veterinary surgeons alongside professional handlers and I’m wondering whether the two careers are compatible. With many breeds having an array of health issues wouldn’t being a vet and handling these, often overbred, animals be conflicting.

 

Scruffts

Amazing!

 

Finally, a display of how dogs and their owners normally interact.  Real bonds were clearly visible.

A Scruffts Competitor with his owner

Not only were these crossbreeds and therefore not overbred, the dogs and owners were much more relaxed.

All the dogs were given plenty of space when they wanted but also fussed and given reassurance throughout.

All of these were walked on a slack lead with natural postures and all the owners seemed to be truly enjoying the experience which would have contributed to how relaxed the dogs were.

 

The inclusion of the class for crossbreed dogs in Crufts is an excellent start.  A lot of people don’t realise just how rewarding these dogs are and not only pedigree dogs are worth investing in.

Some Scruffts competitors

Given these dogs are not trained in ring craft, they were often much calmer than the actual show dogs. This tells you something about the handling style which I believe some show dog owners need to take on board. Do dogs really need to be stood in often of unnatural position just to enhance breed standards?  Also maybe the handlers should relax a bit and they may achieve better results.

 

Well done to all competitors in this class, you did great!

You should be proud of both yourselves and your dogs. You clearly show demonstrate what dog ownership means to the majority of the general public.

 

Other Observations

I want to end this by discussing my thoughts whilst walking around. Though only dogs within the show or exhibitions, and assistance dogs, were permitted within the grounds, I saw several examples of becoming aggressive.

At points, I was seriously worried there was going to be fights. On such occasions, nothing was done to redirect these behaviours. Dogs being show dogs doesn’t necessarily mean they are well trained. Not only that but it was a very busy and stressful environment so many will act out of character towards each other. I, therefore, wondered whether it was in the dog’s best interests to be at the show when not being exhibited.

 

Many dogs were sat in small stalls with very little space waiting to be exhibited. These are on show much of the time and therefore have no space to themselves or the ability to walk around.

In my opinion, this is unfair for the dogs.

They had nowhere to go for a rest, are constantly surrounded by crowds looking at them and are unable to exhibit normal behaviour or move around freely.

Exhibiting normal behaviour and having space are key factors to the Animal Welfare Act (2006) (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/contents). I wonder whether some areas of Crufts potentially go against the Animal Welfare Act (2006) or whether the relatively short time period precludes this.

Breeding of extreme features is currently a huge problem even though the kennel club advised judges to not pick dogs with these features the best of breed this year many were still present.

Many features of pedigree dogs impact upon their welfare. This causes issues the dogs not only during the show, but in the long-term.

Some of these conditions affect the breathing. I didn’t visit the Pug stand at Discover dogs however, I saw several pugs walking around show. These weren’t assistance dogs so I presume they were, in the most part, show dogs.

At one point I was outside in a noisy area. Two pugs walked past approximately 20m from me. their Even from that distance I could clearly hear the on furthest from me breathing really clearly and they were only walking. They sounded to be wheezing and snorting, signs of potential Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), a syndrome in brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds impacting upon their breathing.

There is currently a British Veterinary Association campaign, #BreedToBreathe, for this syndrome. #BreedToBreath aims to raise awareness of BOAS, mainly affecting Pugs, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs, amongst others. A recent study showed 77.6% of show Pugs are affected by BOAS.

I did not see any of the judging for these dogs, though, as said, I saw several examples of extreme features throughout this display.

 

Something also bothered me with show dogs being transported in metal cages. I believe transporting dogs in such a way will be stressful for the dog.

All show dogs should be fit enough to walk and therefore, I believe this should not be done.

If your dog is unable to walk the distance is needed are they really fit enough to be shown?

I understand the need to keep them clean however with areas indoors for them to toilet, getting wet outside is not a factor, getting rid of the need for these sorts of cages.

Walking dogs gives plenty of exercise which then allows them to calm down and therefore would’ve reduce the stress on such an occasion. However, as stated before, I do feel that more needs to be done to separate the crowds from the dogs to ensure that the dogs are not walked over or bumped into.

Work needs to be done by the organisers to ensure the dogs can freely and safely without stress or risk of injury.

 

In summary

Many aspects of Crufts were good but it was very busy and some aspects are far from what I’d like.

The key elements of the show I’ve disagreed with for many years are the ring craft and breed showing elements. I did avoid these to limited amounts which is why I’ve said less regarding this.

I felt the displays for the West Midlands Police alongside the Agility, Flyball and Scruffts were very good overall. However as stated, I had issues with both Discover dogs and the junior handler events.

 

Will I go again?

To be honest, I am unsure. I don’t know if I want to give the organisers my money once more. However, I feel spending the day mainly around the trade stands may be worthwhile and informative as I could talk to a lot of the businesses to see what they offer and learn quite a bit.

 

Whilst it was a good day it was infuriating in equal measures.

I feel the most important thing should be the welfare of the dogs and, as it currently stands, I’m not sure this show abides by all aspects of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This is very worrying and more needs to be done by both the Kennel Club and Crufts to ensure improved welfare not only with the breeds and altering of the breed standards, but throughout the four days of the show including maximum time periods when dogs should be displayed at Discover dogs.

What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

Spaying in veterinary surgeries is classed as a routine procedure.  Vet students spay cats and often spay bitches before qualifying.  Spaying your dog is definitely not a simple surgery. You should weigh up the pros and cons to decide the best choice for you and your dog.

I know of experienced vets who are anxious when spaying bitches but why is that the case?

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female animals.  It involves removing both the ovaries and usually the uterus.  In women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy and it’s not a routine procedure.  In fact, in human medicine it’s avoided whenever possible and is usually only performed by Gynaecologists with several years’ experience post-graduation from Med School.

Broken down, Ovariohysterectomy means; “Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries.

In humans, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie the ovaries are not removed) whereas if vets are spaying your dog the ovaries are almost always removed.  Women without ovaries have low Oestrogen (a female sex hormone) levels.  People’s need Oestrogen for their bones to absorb sufficient Calcium. Without Oestrogen, the bones poorly absorb Calcium.  Naturally post-menopause the levels of Oestrogen in women put them at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) and removal of the ovaries causes this to occur sooner.

In dogs, however, this doesn’t appear to happen.  The relationship between Oestrogen and Calcium is unknown.  This means the removal of the ovaries causes fewer problems in our pets.

Oestrogen does cause issues.  Along with other sex hormones, oestrogen leads to bitches coming into season (“on heat”), makes them fertile and increases the risk of some diseases (eg mammary cancer).  These factors together demonstrate why vets spay bitches.

Normal Bitch spay
A normal bitch spay showing the anatomy of the female reproductive tract which is removed via spaying.
Why is Spaying Your Dog a Big Surgery?

Spaying isn’t an easy surgery, especially not with larger breeds or overweight dogs. With these, it’s harder to get to the ovaries and sufficiently cut off their blood supply.

If blood supply isn’t sufficiently cut off it leaves a blood vessel close to the Aorta (the biggest artery in the body, coming straight out of the heart into the tummy) open leading to blood pulsing out which, in severe cases and when not immediately dealt with, can lead to death.

Dogs also have a large amount of fat around the ovaries making them harder to find and cut off the blood supply, risking future bleeding.

This surgery can be incredibly stressful for the veterinary surgeon and whilst most bitches are fine, especially those who are young and a healthy weight, there are occasional complications.  The complication rate is around 17-22% but most of these are related to issues with the wound healing rather than complications in the surgery (6% of spays).

Spaying your dog is usually done by open surgery where a cut is placed down the centre of the tummy and both the ovaries and uterus are removed through that hole.

To have bitch spay
A young female YorkieX puppy who will be spayed in a few months.  Instagram; @TenaciousTilly

Otherwise, some practices do it via keyhole surgery.  Here, several small incisions are made and usually just the ovaries are removed.  Even if the uterus is not removed, with the ovaries gone the bitch can’t get pregnant or get a condition known as a pyometra which is partially caused by female sex hormones.

Spaying requires the vet to close your bitches muscle layers with dissolvable stitches.  These do not need removing. They then close the skin with either the same material or stitches which need to be removed seven to ten days later.

After the op your dog will be sore so will usually go home with several days worth of painkillers.  You should try to keep them quiet for the first few days and prevent them jumping up.

After a week has passed treating them like normal is fine most cases.  However, your dog’s muscles still won’t be fully healed so you should not let them run off the lead for around three weeks.

 

What are the Positives to Spaying
  • Stops your dog going into season.
    • You don’t have to worry about not taking them for a walk or to doggy day-care when in season in case there are any males around.
    • The mess involved with bitches bleeding when in season no longer occurs.
  • Birth control.
    • Pure and simply once they are spayed they cannot breed.
    • The UK dog population exceeds the demand (with rescue centres completely full) puppies are difficult to sell and may end up in a shelter
  • Pyometria = “Pus in Uterus”
    pyometra bitch spay
    The pus-filled uterus of a pyometra being removed in surgery
    • This is a life-theratening condition killing approximate 5% of treated cases meaning 1% of entire female dogs older than 10 years die from it.
    • There are two main treatments for Pyometra’s;
      • Emergency or urgent spaying; main treatment most vets use.
        • This involves the removal of the whole uterus which also removes all the infection.
        • Dog’s will also be put on a drip and needed large amounts of antibiotics to kill the bacteria in their bloodstream.
      • Medical Treatment
        • Giving the bitch with two or three different medications, to open the cervix (sometimes it’s already dilated), expel pus from the uterus and antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
        • This is often successful however in 80% of cases bitches will go on to develop a pyometria after their next season.  Bitches should be spayed once they’ve recovered.
        • Spaying is a big operation and riskier in ill animals. The advantage of this approach spaying your dog when they are healthier to reduce the risk of surgery.
        • I have seen this method not be fully effective leading to the bitch needing to be spayed urgently when unwell.
        • Though Prometra’s most commonly occur when bitches are over 10yrs old, 2% of bitches get this within any year when they are younger.
  • Mammary cancers (breast cancer in dogs)
      • The risk of dogs getting mammary cancer if they are spayed before their first season is virtually nothing, 0.5% meaning 1 in 200 bitches will get it.  However, the risk rises with each successive season they have, being at 8% if spayed after their first season and 26% after their second.
      • Mammary Tumours are grouped into two main types, benign ones which spread (malignant) with chances being 50:50.
      • If it’s benign it can usually be removed by surgery and if all of it has been removed there should be no further problems.
      • In malignant cases, tumours are likely to spread throughout the other mammary glands and elsewhere; most commonly to the lungs.
        • These are harder to treat and once they’ve spread to the lungs further treatment may only extend/ improve your dog’s life rather than cure them.
      • Studies have shown spaying a bitch once she has mammary cancer will not improve their survival times.
  • Ovary and Uterine Cancers
    • These are less common and can mostly only affect animals who haven’t been spayed.
      • Uterine cancers are seen in only approximately 0.3-0.4% tumours in dogs whereas Ovarian cancers are seen in 0.5-6% of dogs.
      • If they’ve only had their ovaries removed they can still get uterine cancer though the chance is low.
    • These are often diagnosed quite late and are difficult to treat.
What Are the Cons?
  • Urinary incontinence when older associated with a loss of hormones they would’ve had if they weren’t spayed.
    • Most cases caused by spaying the bitch would have incontinence to some degree prior to their first season.
      • With these bitches if you still want them to be spayed it is recommended that you wait until after their first season as often the hormones leading to this help stop the incontinence from continuing.
    • Generally even if they had no issues when young, being spayed after their first season reduces the risks and severity of spay-associated urinary incontinence when older, however, it still occurs in approximately 20% of spayed bitches.
  • Obesity
    • Neutered animals need approximately 30% fewer calories than entire ones so it is easy for them to quickly gain weight once spayed.
    • It is recommended you put them on a lite/ low calorie or “neutered dog” diet post-spaying. These have all the nutrients in normal diets but fewer calories.  As opposed to feeding them less of a normal diet where they’ll also receive fewer vitamins/ minerals/ proteins that they need.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • A disorder where the metabolism is slowed.
    • It can also cause hair loss, lack of energy, mood changes, aggression, obesity and make the dogs feel cold much of the time
    • It needs lifelong medication, usually in the form of tablets, to improve your dog’s symptoms
  • Vaginal Dermatitis
    • Swelling, pain and infection of the vagina, vulva and some of the areas around them.
    • Signs of this are hair loss and thickening of/ discharge from the skin around the vagina and vulva. She will often be licking the area a lot and making it really sore and reddened.
    • This usually starts before a bitch hits puberty and is due to a lack of sex hormones
    • The first surge of hormones prior to their first season usually resolves this
    • If affected dogs are spayed prior to their first season this will worsen rather than resolve and may affect them for life and can be very uncomfortable.
  • Osteosarcoma
    Xray showing Osteosarcoma; a bitch spay risk
    Xray with arrows showing suspected osteosarcome. See the increased bone an the “fuzziness” in it indicating some of the bone has been eaten away.
    • This is a really nasty bone cancer
    • It tends to affect big breeds of dog, especially Rottweilers
    • It causes huge swellings most commonly around the elbow which are excruciatingly painful and solid.
    • They are very quick to come up and this cancer causes much of the bone to be eaten away often leading to the bone fracturing. It also spreads to the lungs very quickly can affecting your dog’s breathing.
    • Most cases will be diagnosed with XRays. A vet will not only xray the leg but also the chest to look for spread.
    • The biggest chance of survival is to amputate the leg or at least remove all of the affected part and replace it with bone grafts (bits of bone taken from dead animals) or metal plates.
      • With Rottweilers being such heavy dogs, along with other breeds prone to this, these interventions often aren’t very successful
    • In the majority of cases there’s already spread to the lungs before amputation is performed, thus the chances of them surviving longer than a year or two even with intensive treatment are very small. If chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not attempted in these cases the dog often has weeks to live, if that,
      • To avoid this it is often worthwhile delaying neutering Rottweilers and other large breeds until at least after their first season.

 

In Summary

Spaying your dog has several positives and negatives.  Firstly it prevents them getting pregnant as well as reduce the risk of mammary cancers and prevent ovarian and uterine cancers and Pyometras.  These can all be fatal.

The downsides, however, are the increased risks of obesity, incontinence, Hypothyroidism, Vaginal dermatitis and Osteosarcoma’s, especially in Rottweilers.

Most of the positives are aided by early neutering before bitches have their first season and having puppies does not reduce the risk of problems; in fact there’s the risk of her having health issues during the pregnancy, birth or afterwards.  However, the opposite can be said for the cons; these may be reduced with later spaying.

Whether you choose to spay your dog early, later on, or not at all is up to you but you should definitely have a think about it and discuss it with your veterinary surgeon.

 

If you found this useful then please subscribe by placing your email in the box in the right sidebar.  Also, if you want to discuss anything raised here please feel free to comment below or contact me directly.

Twelve Signs Your Dog is In Pain

Whilst working as a vet I constantly treated animals in pain.  My MSc dissertation was then on detecting pain in rabbits and rodents.  So detecting pain is an interest of mine.  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and think I have a morbid fascination with pain. The reality, animals can’t speak for themselves so making sure they are as pain-free as possible should be a top priority.

 

Dog’s don’t always cry out in pain

Contrary to popular belief, if your dog is in pain it may not make a sound.  Only when pain shocks a dog or if in severe pain do they yelp and they still may not.  It’s just like when you’re in pain you don’t always scream.

So, when looking for pain in dogs you should look for other signs.  This is the mistake owners make.  Owners presume because their dog isn’t limping, is eating and not crying they’re not in pain and don’t need treatment.  However, this may not be the case.

So what are these signs?

  1. Hiding or laying more
    1. Dogs may hide behind sofas.  They also often go and stay where there aren’t many people or other pets.
    2. Like people dogs want to be alone and not to be messed with when in pain so retreat to somewhere quiet.
    3. They may stay close to a radiator, heater or fire as heat can often help those achy joints and be soothing.
    4. Dogs spending more time in bed may be in pain
  2. Stop Jumping or won’t jump as high
    1. Jumping often increases pain so they just don’t jump as high or as often and sometimes they stop jumping altogether
    2. If they usually jump up at you when you come home they may stop greeting up by jumping up.
  3. Walking Stiffly
    1. They may walk more stiffly and slower.  Their movement tends to improve the more they move.
    2. If the pain is in their hips they may also drag their feet along the floor a bit too.  However, if they do this be careful and get them checked by a vet as it may be a sign of nerve or spinal damage.
  4. Limping
    1. The exception to this rule is if they have a condition or previously injury which means they can’t walk normally.
    2. If your dog starts limping out of the blue there is an almost 100% chance that the leg they are limping on is painful.
    3. Not all dogs who limp but the majority of them are in pain.
  5. Different Posture
    1. Walking with their back more bent
    2. Their back may be arched and remains like that as they are walking
    3. This can be due to pain in their back legs, hip or spine.
    4. This can be more common with older dogs
    5. If they have belly ache they may also stand with their back arched
  6. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring and walking with it is more tiring
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.
  7. They may become more aggressive
    1. Just like people, your dog won’t want people doing anything which may cause pain so they do all they can to stop this.
    2. This may mean your dog becomes more aggressive and may even bite.
    3. you or other animals especially if they are touching a sore area.
    4. Moving and playing hurts, even stroking may hurt

      In pain?
      Painful dogs can be aggressive
  8. They may not want to eat
    1. Sometimes pain can reduce appetite
    2. Pain can also cause your cat to feel nauseous.
    3. Tooth problems may cause pain when eating.
    4. All these lead to many dogs not eating as much though this is not seen in all cases; some dogs will still eat normally even with have excruciating dental pain.
  9. Changes to Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Now most owners don’t go checking their dog’s heart rate constantly but when dogs are in pain you may notice their chest going up and down more as they breathe quicker
    2. With severe pain some dogs may start panting, however, remember panting is often because they are anxious, excited, hot or because they have just been running around.
    3. If you are very observant, and depending how much hair your dog has, you may also begin to see their heart beating faster just behind where their elbow is when they’re laid on their sides.
    4. A vet is likely to pick up on this change during an examination of your cat so may then look more specifically for something causing pain.
  10. Yelping
    1. This may be seen when dogs are in severe pain or when pain surprises them.
    2. This can sometimes be used to track down where it hurts if a dog yelps when you touch an area however it isn’t fair to purposely do this.
    3. Even if a dog is yelping it may be difficult to tell where the problem is so usually your vet will have to look for other signs of pain along with your dog crying.

      A stethoscope can be used to hear a raised rate caused by pain
  11. The Praying Position
    1. This is a very specific sign of pain and isn’t seen in most cases
    2. The praying position is where your dog is stood up fully on their back legs but their front ones are parallel to the floor as if they are laying so together it looks like they are praying.
    3. This is seen in some, though not all, cases of pancreatitis, a condition where the pancreas (an organ in the front of their abdomen) is very swollen and painful.
    4. Most types of pain do not show this sign.
  12. Licking/ Grooming Excessively
    1. Your dog may be excessively licking or biting one area of their body
    2. This is most commonly seen in the leg joints or feet
    3. Biting the skin over a joint may be a sign that they have a problem in that joint causing pain.
    4. If they are nibbling the feet check there’s nothing stuck in there like stones in the hair or thorns.
    5. Whilst this is good at helping you to find where the pain is it can quickly lead to skin damage and infections which causes your dog even more problems.

I think my Dog is In Pain, What do I do Now?

The first step is recognising pain.  The next step is helping your dog deal with it.  Now you have to think about taking your dog to see a vet.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your pet but they are the only way for you to find out exactly what is wrong and to find the best ways to treat it, not only for your furry friend but also for you.

Don’t worry, some of these treatments may not involve forcing tablets into their mouths as some are liquids but work with your vet to find out what is wrong and the best way to treat it.

 

Quick Recap

The main signs of pain in dogs are them yelping or crying, eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, being quiet and having difficulties walking or jumping.  Sometimes their posture changes too with their back arched or, in rare cases such as Pancreatitidemonstrate demonstrate the praying position.

If you’re not sure take them to the vet and they can help find the problem and advise what else to do.

 

If you enjoyed this blog or found it informative I would be grateful if you could share this.  Also, if you found this useful feel free to subscribe by typing your email address into the box in the sidebar.

Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or discussion points.  Also feel free to get in touch with me to find out more about this topic.

The Problem with Pugs (and other Brachycephalic Dog Breeds)

I’m going to touch on a subject which I believe is very important and currently, there are several media campaigns raising awareness on it.  This campaign is related to Brachycephalic (flat-nosed/ flat-faced) breeds of animals.  My intention of this blog is not to cause offense to anyone, nor state all brachycephalic animals have poor health/ welfare but to raise awareness of the general issues facing these breeds.  I want to state that I personally do not believe the breeding of brachycephalic breeds should be banned.  Instead, I feel breeding associations such as the Kennel Club (KC) and American Kennel Club should carefully reconsider their breed guidelines to reduce the health problems facing these breeds.  Failing a change in breed standards, the development of health programs for issues facing brachycephalic breeds (similar to hip scoring done in Labradors and German Shepherd Dogs) should be considered.

 

What is a Brachycephalic Breed?

Brachycephaly describes animals that have flat-faces with a very short nose which may be almost flat against the face.  Brachycephalic animal breeds are where the breed characteristics include brachycephaly as a feature.  People usually associate the term brachycephalic breeds with dogs however, brachycephalic cat and rabbit breeds exist.

Rabbits and Cats can be Brachycephalic too

Rabbit and cat breeds are often overlooked by their canine counterparts when it comes to this issue.  This means the public/ owner awareness of brachycephaly in rabbits and cats is even lower than with dogs.  Brachycephalic cat breeds are as follows;

  • British Shorthair.
  • Exotic Shorthair.
  • Himalayan cat.
  • Persian cat.
  • Scottish Fold.

Whereas brachycephalic rabbit breeds are;

  • Netherland Dwarf
  • Lionhead

both of which are very popular.

Persian cats are brachycephalic too
Brachycephalic Breeds are just Pugs and French Bulldogs, right?

When you mention brachycephalic breeds of dogs, the ones which come to mind are Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs.  However, many more breeds are brachycephalic including;

  • American Bulldog.
  • Boston Terrier.
  • Boxer.
  • Bullmastiff.
  • Cane Corso.
  • Dogue de Bordeaux.
  • Mastiff breeds.
  • Japanese Chin.
  • Pekingnese.
  • Rottweiller.
  • Shih Tzu.
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier is considered brachycephalic too.

Some of these breeds are more commonly affected by brachycephaly associated health conditions more than others explaining why many breeds on this list are not highlighted in campaigns.

 

So What Are The Problems with Brachycephalic Breeds?

Brachycephalic breeds have shorter, sometimes almost non-existent muzzles with their nose almost completely flat to the face in severe cases.  Breathing becomes more difficult in brachycephalic dogs for a number of reasons best explained by comparing the x-rays of a Labrador (non-brachycephalic) with a severely brachycephalic English Bulldog.

NB; On x-ray, Air is black, bone is white and soft tissue (eg skin or the throat) is grey.

I am going to work down from the front of the face to the lungs to highlight the issues on this xray (used with the kind permission of Cat The Vet, a UK veterinary surgeon and vet/ animal welfare campaigner and blogger).

Facial/ neck anatomy Comparison xray
Comparison of a Labrador’s head and neck anatomy compared to a Bulldog’s

 

  1. The nose. There is a drastic difference between the length of the muzzle in the Labrador compared to the Bulldog.  The muzzle and internal structures of the nose contained within both these dogs contain the same number of organs and amount of soft tissue but in the Bulldog this is greatly compacted.  One function of the nose is to allow air to pass through when breathing; when there’s too much soft tissue present, less air can pass through easily making breathing more difficult as is the case with the Bulldog.
  2. Between the nose and circular eye socket of the Bulldog, you should be able to detect darker grey areas which aren’t present in the Labrador. These are the skin folds above the Bulldog’s nose where the skin originally designed for a dog with a longer nose is still present but there isn’t enough space for it to lie flat.  Whilst skin folds don’t affect the dog’s breathing, can affect their quality of life.  This skin becomes hot and irritated and the hot, moist, and greasy area is a perfect place for skin infections to start.  As a result, the skin becomes inflamed and painful before an infection develops.  Many brachycephalic dogs resist you touching their face and one reason for this is their irritated skin.
  3. The teeth. Again, this is not an issue with their breathing, but both the Labrador and the bulldog have the same number of teeth.  In the Labrador, these all have plenty of space but in the Bulldog, they become crowded due to the maxilla (“upper jaw”) being smaller.  The maxilla is also much further back than the jaw so the teeth don’t meet as they should.  The teeth not lining up not only causes problems with dogs picking up food but them not lining up with those on the lower row means teeth can contact the lower gum and vice versa leading to lifelong painful sores or holes in the gum which potentially become infected.  Finally, with a Bulldog’s mouth being too small for its teeth these often either turn and overlap or don’t erupt from the gum.  Them not erupting means they stay within the gum causing pain and potentially leading to an infection requiring the tooth to be extracted whilst it’s within the bone (which the gum covers); a complex surgery requiring bone to be removed.
  4. The back of the mouth/ the throat. Here you see the black airway in the Bulldog is very narrow in comparison to the Labrador. Extra tissue lies in the back of the mouth/ throat, partially blocking the airflow and creating the characteristic snoring or snorting noise when the dog breathes which many people feel are cute. Also, some brachycephalics struggle with their soft palate, a fleshy tissue in the throat, being too long and also blocking the airflow.  These structures reduce the amount of air getting through and cause turbulence in that airflow resulting in the air all flowing in different directions so less air enters the trachea (windpipe).
  5. Finally, you will notice the black trachea running from the throat to the lungs is much narrower in the Bulldog. This means once the Bulldog has used a lot of energy and adapted it’s breathing to force air past all the obstacles before the trachea, there is even more obstruction to airflow.  This means brachycephalic dogs have even more issues getting air to their lungs than if their problems only affected their noses.

Dogs need plenty of oxygen from their lungs to be both physically and mentally active.  If their airflow is restricted they will become easily stressed when active as they will be unable to breathe in enough air to feel comfortable.  In worse case scenarios they can faint or even have seizures (fit) when exercising because the oxygen in their blood is too low to adequately supply their organs including their brain and heart.  In fact, many brachycephalic dogs are very quiet purely because them doing any exercise can be both very difficult and uncomfortable.  Imagine you’re breathing through a straw whilst out on a run; being able to keep on running will quickly make you tired, uncomfortable and you may even begin to feel dizzy; this is how a brachycephalic dog with breathing problems feels.

This Bulldog’s nostrils are so closed they will struggle to breathe at all
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Together, the breathing problems mentioned above alongside a narrowing of the nostrils create BOAS.  This syndrome is diagnosed in brachycephalic breeds whose features cause the breathing difficulties difficult and affects up to 85% of Pugs and 45% of French Bulldogs.  This syndrome severely affects many dogs lives, reducing their welfare as they are unable to act like dogs and struggle to go for walks or even playing. There isn’t a magic pill that helps BOAS, the only effective treatment is surgery. This surgery, or collection of surgical procedures, could cost thousands of pounds and, more importantly, in the short-term, may be painful and dangerous for your dogs to go through.  However, in the long-run, these procedures will massively improve your dog’s energy levels, health, and quality of life.  In fact, surgery changes their lives so much that one of the most common complaints is how their dog has become bouncy and difficult to handle.  The surgery itself has not changed the dog behaviour, or what it wants to do just now they can act in a way in their health was preventing them from doing.  Thus, if your dog is more bouncy and boisterous after BOAS surgery it is a sign they really needed surgery and that it’s been effective.

 

Some brachycephalic dogs do not need surgery at all and live normal healthy lives with few problems.  However, for those that need surgery some may only need one procedure whereas others may need several done together as one big operation.  The simplest procedure, and therefore the most common, is to widen the nostrils.  This allows more air into the nose thus, to some degree, increasing the amount of air getting to the lungs but it doesn’t help with any narrowing or obstructions past the nostrils which is often the bigger problem.  To increase the success rate, along with widening the nostrils, a dog may have its soft palate shortened, and tissue near the tonsils removed.  These procedures together greatly increase the amount of air a dog can breathe in, often completely resolving any breathing issues.

Do Brachycephalic Breeds have other Problems?

Brachycephalic breeds have a large number of health problems and I am only touching on a few here.

Brachycephalic dogs, especially the bull breeds, have very wide heads and relatively narrow pelvises.  This doesn’t affect them unless they are pregnant females.  The vast majority of Pugs and Bulldogs cannot give birth naturally as the bitch’s pelvis isn’t wide enough for the puppy’s head to pass through. Their dogs often need caesareans with each pregnancy with over 80% of Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and French Bulldogs requiring caesarians to give birth.  If they don’t get a caesarean on time, both the mum and pups can die.  The risks of a caesarean are;

  1. The anaesthetic risk (higher due to their breathing problems) which affects both the mum and the puppies),
  2. Infections and problems with wound healing
  3. Rejection of the puppies. When a bitch doesn’t naturally give birth they often don’t recognise the puppies as their own so refuse to let them suckle.  The only way for them to survive is for the owner to hand-rear them, feeding them every two hours newborns.

Finally, caesarians are also very painful. This pain may worsen when nursing, making it more likely for her to reject the puppies.

The Kennel Club guidelines state that bitches from accredited breeders can only have two litters by caesarean section due to the risks and pain that this causes.  However, if the bitch is in labour and the puppies are stuck they NEED to have a caesarean otherwise both the mum and litter will die.  When performing a caesarean, vets will usually offer to spay the mum.  This doesn’t take much longer or increase the risks much but prevents further pregnancies.

 

Some Bulldogs/ Pugs have issues with their spine.  This malformation is related to their curly tail whereby one or more of their vertebra is a triangular shape (called hemivertebra) rather than a rectangle.  This causes their spine to develop a bend called Kyphosis.  This can be incredibly dangerous as well as painful.  If the affected vertebra is in the thoracic part of the spine it may cause the spine to be mal-aligned over the ribcage altering the shape of the chest cavity which can cause breathing problems.  In other areas, kyphosis or lordosis (a similar curved of the spine) may affect the nerves leaving the spine causing reduced the coordination of the legs and, in severe cases, causing paralysis.

This pugs eye is protruding from it’s socked. It also has damage to the cornea (the surface of the eye).

Brachycephalic breeds often have very prominent eyes.  Their squashed faces also cause their eye sockets to be shallower so their eyes to stick out more and are not held in place as securely.  As they are more prominent there is less tissue there to protect them.  As a result, it is more likely that brachycephalic dogs are more at risk of both eye infections (eg. conjunctivitis or uveitis) or, corneal ulcers (scratches to the surface of the eye) which may be difficult to treat.  Many brachycephalic animals have scars on their corneas from previous poorly healed ulcers.  They are also more prone to their eyes coming out of their sockets, something called exophthalmos.  Exophthalmos can happen with trauma to the head or the muscles holding the eye in place becoming weak.  If they get this, they must see a vet immediately.  If taken quickly, their vet may be able to put them back into place with minimal damage caused, though it may recur.  However, if this is left, not only will it cause excruciating pain, it can affect the vision potentially leading to blindness.  Also, without treatment, the eye will also become incredibly infected and damaged so the only available treatment is the removal of the eye.

So Why All the Media Attention and Campaigning?

Due to a large number of Pugs and French Bulldogs, in particular, being in the media, and kept by famous people, the numbers of these kept in the UK has sky-rocketed.  French Bulldogs are soon to overtake the Labrador as the breed with the most dogs registered with Pugs are not far behind (In 2016 French Bulldogs (21,470 registered dogs) were the 3rd most popular dog with numbers increasing by massive 147% from 2015 with Pugs (10,408 registered dogs) being the fourth behind Labradors (33,856 registered dogs) and Cocker Spaniels (21,854 registered dogs)).

However, Pugs and French Bulldogs are not just bred by KC-accredited breeders or from KC-registered dogs leading to a problem.  Many of these dogs are bred by people who don’t know what they are doing and may not realise the problems associated with breeding these dogs, potentially causing them to be in labour longer than they should prior to taking them for a caesarean.  As well as this, many are born in squalid conditions on registered or unregistered puppy farms in the UK and then sold in pet shops or from households where they weren’t born and without their mother but with a stooge dog.  Though these houses often appear nice, the early life of the puppy has been very traumatic and they have been placed in high-risk situations for a disease.  Finally, to meet demand, many Pugs and French Bulldogs are imported or smuggled into the UK from primarily Eastern Europe and Ireland.  These dogs may not have had their full vaccinations, not only putting them at risk but also risking introducing a nasty disease to the UK that isn’t already (eg. Rabies).  Their puppies have been through large amounts of stress which increases their likelihood of becoming ill.  Not only this but they often haven’t been socialised thus leaving them more at risk of developing behavioural disorders and phobias throughout their lives.

This shows the degrees of severity of brachycephaly based on the skull anatomy

 

A normally proportioned dog skull

The use of brachycephalic dogs in ads only adds fuel to the fire.  It keeps them in the public eye, thus increasing the number of people who want them when they otherwise may not have. Not only this, it glamorises the breed and makes it seem like they have fewer problems than the reality, leaving people who buy them unaware that their dog may be suffering and need expensive surgeries just to have a normal.  Ideally, the KC needs to try and alter the breed standards for these dogs and try to encourage breeding only from those without BOAS and with a longer muzzle.  This type may not be to everyone’s taste but it reflects how the breeds were only a century ago and will greatly improve their health, making these friendly dogs happier and healthier for future generations to enjoy.

 

 

I hope you found this blog both interesting and educational.  As mentioned earlier I am not against these dogs and do not want to see these dog’s, or the breeding of them, banned.  However, I feel that the way these are bred should be changed and more importantly, I want to raise awareness of the problems facing brachycephalic dogs to ensure they live healthier and happier lives.  In order to try and get the message across regarding brachycephalic breeds and improving their welfare, it would help if you could share this blog far and wide.

 

To check out more about the issues Brachycephalic dogs are currently facing check out the British Veterinary Association’s website and the Brachycephalic Working Group.

Dealing with Firework Fear in Dogs

Around New Year’s Eve or Bonfire Night, many dog owners worry about how their dogs will react to fireworks.  There’s a huge spectrum of how dogs react to fireworks; some happily watch them out of the window whilst others remain in their beds shaking due to fear.  In this blog, I will look the causes of firework phobia and different ways to help it.

Dog stood up
Dogs have sensitive ears, eyes and noses.
Dogs Ears and Nose are VERY Sensitive

People in the UK know the weeks surrounding bonfire night are filled with people setting off fireworks, sometimes from as early as mid-September.  Over the last two decades letting fireworks off at midnight (or before children go to bed) on New Years Eve has become very popular. People are aware of these traditions and every year we know it will happen.  Our dogs, on the other hand, aren’t aware of these patterns and don’t know what fireworks are.  To them, a bang is not supposed to be there, a sudden noise which is out of the ordinary which may be due to danger.  Their ears are more sensitive than ours and they can hear a much wider range of noises.  This means that to them fireworks will not only be much louder but they may also sound different as there may be pitches the dog can hear but a human can’t.  Dog’s can hear sounds that are four-times farther than with humans so they can hear fireworks that we can’t.

Fireworks also create a smell.  The smell of explosives and burning is unpleasant and one which dog’s, like people, do not enjoy.  To them, this is magnified as their noses are at least 1000 times more sensitive than our own.

Along with dogs smelling fireworks more clearly and hearing them louder and possibly different to us, they will hear ones which we cannot.  Therefore, if you dogs are terrified around bonfire night but you don’t hear any fireworks, that may still be the problem.

Farm Border Collie
Bring dogs inside when there are fireworks
Dogs Don’t Know What Fireworks Are

If something behind you made a loud bang or smashes, you’d jump and turn around.  You were startled and momentarily surprised so looked around to see what happened but relaxed when you found out you were safe.  If this were to start happening over and over again though you’d probably get a bit anxious.

 

Well, dogs are the same.  Loud bangs from fireworks, which are louder to them than us, do not make sense to them.  They don’t know what fireworks are or that they won’t hurt them so they become anxious or scared.  Dogs evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to react to loud bangs and horrible smells as they may be dangerous.  They believe this is the case with fireworks so their natural reaction is to become stressed and anxious with some developing phobias.

 

Multi-coloured firework
Fireworks look pretty but sound quite scary
Signs Your Dog is Scared of Fireworks
  1. Your dog is much quieter than usual and/ or they’re hidden.
  2. They’re shaking in their bed.
  3. They’re urinating when in the house when they wouldn’t normally.
  4. They are running around like mad rapidly looking around each time there is a bang, often panting and possibly shaking.
  5. They have stopped reacting to you when you’re shouting or looking at them.
  6. They are whining and crying.
  7. They have been scratching around a door as if they want to go out or chewing on something when they wouldn’t usually.
  8. They won’t settle, play or eat.
Firework distraction
You can put the TV to distract your dog from the fireworks
What can Help Your Dog Get Used to Fireworks
  1. Stay with them when there’s a lot of fireworks.
  2. Make sure all the windows and doors are shut; reduces the noise and smell.
  3. Closing the curtains reduces the flashing.
  4. Keeping the TV or radio on; the noise disguises the fireworks and helps them focus on something else.
  5. Keep an area where they can retreat and be undisturbed. Covering their bed to create a “fort” will give them space to relax.
  6. Provide at least one resting place/ bed per animal, plus an extra. They can all relax at the same time without any fighting to get into a quiet spot.
  7. Reassure and talk to your dogs to make sure they are OK.
  8. Do NOT act like overly concerned or fussy.  Though this may seem like it will help your pet will sense there’s something to fear.  They may become more
  9. anxious and this may continue into the future
  10. Don’t walk them when fireworks are set off; the noise will be louder and the area will smell more so your dog will be more likely to react.
  11. Keep children away from your dogs.  If a dog is messed with when they are scared they are more to bite whoever is messing with them.
  12. Stick to a Routine.  If your dog usually gets fed at six O’ clock then keep to that time even if there are fireworks.  Stable routines will help them relax even if the situation is otherwise stressful.  Leave their food dog; if your dog doesn’t eat they can come back for their food later.
  13. Socialise your puppies and expose them to different sounds when young; around eight to sixteen weeks.  This is the easiest time for them to adapt.  Sounds Scary (see later) may be used for this.
  14. Be Prepared.  Find out where and when local firework displays.  Talk to your
    neighbours and see if they will be setting any off and discuss with them whether they can use quiet ones.

These tips only help with dogs who do not have a phobia of fireworks. The information below explains how to help dogs who are fearful or phobic around fireworks.

Relaxed Tess in Bed
Only put Sounds Scary on when your dog is calm; see below

 

Firework Phobia CANNOT Be Solved Overnight

Over the years, hoards of people have brought their firework phobic dogs to me just before Bonfire Night or on 30th December.  These owners hoped I’d just give them something to stop their dogs being scared of the fireworks.  Many of these also want to go out to see the fireworks, leaving the dog alone.

In reality, this doesn’t work.  Yes, vets may be able to sedate dogs so they don’t react to fireworks but that’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem.  Dogs being sedated once will not stop them being scared of fireworks the next time.  Fears take a lot of time and work for both humans and animals to get over.  It can take weeks of training for dogs scared of fireworks to remain calm around them and it doesn’t work with all dogs.  Helping dogs requires the owner to spend their time helping and reassuring their dog and putting things in place to help them.  Also, dogs whose firework fear improves may still be scared of them and, over time, their phobia may come back.  Keeping their fear at bay is a long-term commitment where they may need training on and off forever.

Quite a few different ways of helping dogs with their firework phobia exist.  Not all methods work for all dogs or owners so if you try one and it doesn’t help then try another.

Speaker
You can play Sounds Scary through a Bluetooth speaker
Sounds Scary

Sounds Scary is a method of systematic desensitisation or habituation.  It is a number of soundtracks of firework noises to play when your dog is relaxed.  You should first play the tracks very quietly so they can hardly be heard, and with time you gradually increase the volume ONLY if your dog is calm.

The aim of “Sounds Scary” is for your dog to get used to the sound of fireworks and recognise that there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Over time they shall remain relaxed with the soundtrack so will no longer fear real fireworks.

This process takes time and every dog reacts differently.  The soundtrack shouldn’t just be put on for five minutes at a time but for longer periods and the volume raised only when your dog is COMPLETELY relaxed.  If the volume is increased too quickly or when your dog is stressed it can overwhelm or scare them.  Developing a fear of the soundtrack will worsen their anxiety requiring you to start Sounds Scary from the beginning again. Sounds Scary should be used daily, often needing to be played for a number of weeks until your dog isn’t affected by loud firework sounds.  Even when your dog is unaffected by loud firework sounds it is still worthwhile to play the soundtracks every so often to ensure they still remain calm.  If your dog your dog appears anxious with the soundtrack or real fireworks at any point, restart the training.

Sounds Scary is available for download, along with a guide explaining the program, from the Dog’s Trust website.  I strongly recommend reading the guide before training with Sounds Scary.

Tess at the kitchen door
Scared or playing? Definitely not calm
ThunderShirt

A ThunderShirt is a dog coat which applies a constant pressure to the skin. This constant pressure affects the sensory receptors in the skin and calms your dog down.  This either works by giving your dog something else to upon or the release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals).

ThunderShirts work for a large variety of fears and behavioural issues.  They are similar to autistic people becoming calm when under weighted blankets.    ThunderShirts reduce stress in up to 80% of dogs without the use of medications/ supplements.  Though they don’t need to be worn for a specific time period, I’d recommend putting it on your dog before fireworks start.  I advise this as once your dog is stressed it may not be possible to put the ThunderShirt on safely and calmly.

Stereo
Sounds Scary can be played on a stereo or music/ radio can be played when fireworks are being lit elsewhere

 

Adaptil

Adaptil is a chemical similar to Dog Appeasing Pheromone.  Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is a pheromone (a chemical animals release to send messages to others through smell) produced between the teats of dogs when puppies are suckling. DAP calms the puppies down.  Adaptil is so similar to DAP it also calms dogs when it is released into the air.

Adaptil is sold either as a spray, a diffuser fitting into an electrical socket or a collar.  All forms work in the same way but some take longer to work than others.  The spray, for instance, when sprayed around a room spreads quicker than DAP released from a diffuser but it doesn’t last as long.  The collar is good if only one needs DAP.  The collar constantly releases DAP around that dog but it doesn’t diffuse around the room.  It, therefore, wouldn’t affect other dogs unless they are constantly next to each other.

Like all products, Adaptil doesn’t work on all dogs and doesn’t work instantly.  I’d recommend using it for a few days before fireworks are expected.  This will allow it to fully diffuse and affect your dog(s).

For DAP to be rapidly effective you could combine a spray and a diffuser.  It will cover a room quickly with spray and whilst lasting longer with a diffuser.  However, if you have only one dog, a DAP collar will also work rapidly.

Dog with toy
Rocky playing with his toy; toys can be a distraction from fireworks
Supplements

A number of supplements may be bought to calm your dog down.  Every dog’s body works differently so some supplements may work well on one dog and not affect others.  There are quite a few supplements available but I’ll only mention three here.

Zylkene appears to works very well on some dogs but doesn’t help others.  It is similar to a calming chemical in the mother’s milk and calms dogs when they take it.  Zylkene doesn’t work straight away. You should give it to your dog for 7+days before fireworks are expected and every day whilst fireworks are going on.  Zylkene, therefore, may have to be taken for over a month.  Whilst it is impossible to know whether it will work on your dog before using it, it is very safe and doesn’t cause side effects.

Nutracalm is only available from veterinary surgeries but doesn’t need a prescription.  Like Zylkene, this supplement is safe and effective for many dogs, but it doesn’t work with them all and it isn’t a sedative. Unlike Zylkene, it acts quickly, calming your dog within an hour and it doesn’t need to be given daily.  Whilst Zylkene contains one active ingredient, Nutracalm contains several including; L-Tryptophan causing sleepiness and GABA, a calming chemical in the brain.  These and other ingredients in it are naturally within the body.  Nutracalm containing several active ingredients means it doesn’t rely on a dog responding to just one.  Dogs only need to respond to one of the ingredients in it so it may help more dogs, however, it doesn’t help everyone.  It also isn’t a sedative.  Nutracalm should be given an hour before fireworks as it’s less effective if given whilst your dog is stressed.

YuCalm, like NutraCalm, helps calm dogs using several ingredients.  YuCalm contains L-theanine helping the body produce more Serotonin (a relaxing chemical in the brain), Lemon Balm to increase GABA in the brain (calms dogs) and finally fish proteins which alter GABA and dopamine levels (two brain chemicals which calm the dog).  However,  similar to Zylkene, YuCalm does not work immediately.  It needs to be fed to your dog this daily for 3-6weeks before your it helps to calm your dog.  Due to this, you would have to start giving this ideally six weeks before fireworks are expected.

Sedatives

If you’ve tried training, supplements and ThunderShirts but your dog is still very fearful of fireworks, the next step is trying sedatives.  These should NOT be the first thing option as they can be dangerous due to side effects.  Sedatives also don’t phobias, the just calm dogs down whilst they are effective and won’t help in the long term.

 

The main sedative prescribed is Diazepam.  Diazepam acts on the brain to calm your dog down but may slow the heart and breathing.  It can also cause dogs to be sleepy and wobbly.  Diazepam cannot be used all the time as it is no longer effective and can cause them a physical addiction.  Though Diazepam is very effective in a lot of dogs, they don’t work as well in some dogs.  It can also cause confusion potentially causing dogs to become aggressive around people.  Diazepam works very quickly, often within 20minutes and lasts between three and twelve hours depending on the dog.  If your dog is prescribed these you need to stay with your dog after they have eaten them, at least the first time.  This is to make sure that your dog doesn’t become ill and to check they help.  If diazepam causes bad side effects or is ineffective you need to speak to your vet about what to do.

ACP (AKA Acepromazine) used to be used for phobias though it is no longer recommended. ACP is purely a sedative and affects the heart, lungs and brain, causing dogs to seem calm and they no longer react as much.  However, ACP doesn’t reduce the fear dogs experience (whereas diazepam does).  This means when a dog is on ACP they will still be as scared of fireworks but won’t look concerned and so their owners will believe they are not scared.  Treating phobias with ACP, therefore, is a welfare concern and can worsen the phobia over time.  Finally, every dog acts differently to ACP; some dogs stop breathing whilst it causes Boxers to faint.

Other medications (eg Fluoxetine or Clomicalm) may be advised for anxiety.  Describing these in more detail isn’t necessary here.  They aren’t useful as sedatives as they must be used for several weeks before they help and they cause other side effects. I’ve mentioned these purely because they are great options for some dogs with severe anxiety/ phobias. So, if your dog is really fearful and nothing else will help discuss this with your vet to see if anything else may help.

 

If you don’t know where to turn and have problems with a pet and want further advice then feel free to check out the services I offer or contact me for further info.