Friday, July 8, 2016

How to Care for Your Dog’s Painful Inflamed Skin Sores…

Dr. Karen Becker discusses the causes, treatment and prevention of a common health problem in dogs – hot spots. 

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Hot spots are also known as pyotraumatic dermatitis or superficial pyoderma. Those tongue-twisters are just scientific labels for inflamed, infected skin.

How Hot Spots Develop

Hot spots are created when your dog’s natural bacteria overpopulates parts of his skin. When an infection arises from a dog’s own bacteria, there is almost always a root cause. Hot spots often occur in dogs with underperforming immune systems.
Hot spots can come on very quickly. You might leave your perfectly healthy pup one morning to go to work, and by the time you return home that evening, she’s completely preoccupied with an area of skin that is irritated, inflamed and oozing. Hot spots can be very painful for your dog and quite sensitive to the touch.
Any dog can develop hot spots, but they’re much more common in dogs with thick coats, dirty and/or moist skin, and dogs with allergies, including fleas.
Let’s say your dog jumps into a pond of dirty water on a hot, humid summer day, then gets out and lays in the grass under a tree for a nap.
This activity has created a dirty, damp, warm, very hospitable environment for your dog’s natural skin bacteria to overgrow. It’s a set-up for a potential full body allergic reaction, including multiple hot spots, on your pet’s skin.
If your canine companion develops a hot spot, you’ll need to do two things:
  • Treat the wound
  • Identify the underlying cause

Treating Hot Spots

Hair removal. To treat the wound, the first thing you need to do is remove the hair on, in and around the affected area.
You may not want to do that, because, for example, you show your dog in the ring.
But if you don’t remove the hair, it will become trapped in the wound by the pus and you’ll have a much harder time healing the hot spot. In fact, hair in and around the affected area can create a perfect environment for the wound to get bigger and the infection to get worse.
I recommend you shave the area of the hot spot, and then mark the edges of the lesion with a Sharpie type pen so you can tell if the infection is expanding.
If the infection appears to be spreading, you know you’re not treating it effectively at home and you should get your pup to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Some hot spots can result in fever and serious underlying skin problems, so if you see the wound growing rather than improving after a couple of days, it’s time to seek veterinary care.
Disinfecting the wound. Once you’ve shaved the area and identified the margins, clip the hair back until you see healthy skin. Then you can begin gently disinfecting the wound with a solution that will remove bacteria.
I recommend using povidone-iodine, which is often sold by the brand name Betadine. It’s an organic iodine with has no side effects and does a good job controlling most skin bacteria. You can buy povidone-iodine at most pharmacies and some health food stores.
Dilute the solution with purified water until it’s the color of iced tea. Apply it to the wound using a soft wash cloth or gauze.
In the beginning – at least days one and two of the disinfecting routine – while there’s a lot of oozing from the wound, you’ll want to repeat the disinfecting procedure as often as necessary to keep the area clean, dry and pus free.
Your goal in managing your pup’s hot spot is to keep the area clean and dry at all times, so the first couple days you might need to disinfect the wound as often as every two hours.
Depending on the severity of the infection and the amount of pus the wound is producing, disinfecting two times a day should be an absolute minimum. Remember – a consistently clean and dry wound is critical to healing the infection.
Applying a topical solution. After you clean the wound you can apply a topical solution like colloidal silver, or raw aloe, or a thin layer of manuka honey, which is a raw honey made from the tea tree plant. You can also use a cool chamomile tea bag against the wound to provide a soothing effect.
Don’t use anything with stinging or astringent properties on an open, raw wound. Solutions like vinegar or tea tree oil, while anti-microbial, are really painful when applied to an open, raw wound, so I don’t recommend you use those types of aggressive solutions when you are treating an infected hot spot.
Repeat the disinfecting procedure and application of a light, natural topical soothing gel afterwards until the wound shrinks in size, the infection clears and your pet is no longer bothered by the hot spot.
Keeping your dog away from the wound. Insuring your pet leaves the hot spot alone is critical to healing. You’ll probably need to put an E collar on her (one of those lamp shade shaped collars that are so annoying to pets) to prevent her from licking and biting the affected skin.
If your pup continues to re-traumatize the wound, the infection won’t clear up and the hot spot will get bigger.
As an alternative to the E collar, you might be able to manage the wound by applying a light wrap or putting a t-shirt on your pet, as long as you are sure she is leaving the wound alone.

Finding the Root Cause of Your Pet’s Hot Spot

The second step in managing hot spots is to identify why they happen.
Allergic sensitivity. Allergies, both food and environmental, can cause hot spots. If you notice that each time your dog eats a bit of your wheat bread crust she gets a hot spot, there’s a very good chance she has a grain-based allergy. If that’s the case, you’ll want to evaluate the content of the food you feed your pet and make adjustments as necessary.
Environmental allergies can also cause hot spots.
Ragweed, grasses, pollens and molds are typical allergens, but it can also be polluted water or even toxic air that causes a secondary hot spot on your pet. You’ll need to evaluate not only your dog’s diet, but also her environment to search for sources of allergens that could be causing hot spots.

Besides food and environmental allergies, flea allergy dermatitis is also a major reason why animals get hot spots.
You might not even be able to see the fleas, but if your dog is sensitive, the bite of just one flea can cause a raging hot spot. Check your pet with a flea comb for fleas and flea dirt regularly.
Underlying painful conditions. If your dog has a painful spot on his body and he starts digging and chewing at the area, he can create a hot spot. For example, if you have an older dog that has never suffered from hot spots but suddenly starts bothering the skin over a hip joint, it could be a response to underlying pain.
If your pet has neuralgia or perhaps sciatica -- which is an irritated, tingling nerve pain similar to how your foot feels as it wakes up after falling asleep -- you might notice him chewing on an ankle or a toe.
This can bring on a secondary infection that your veterinarian may label a hot spot. In this case there’s no underlying allergic condition, but rather an underlying muscle, nerve or bone problem.
Emotional or mental causes. Sometimes there are underlying mental or emotional causes for your dog’s hot spots, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, or even boredom.
These behavioral issues can cause licking and chewing which creates hot spots.
Behavioral causes of hot spots are unfortunately the hardest to successfully treat. If your pet is obsessive about licking certain parts of his body and it leads to open wounds, the problem can be very difficult to fix long term, even using behavior modification techniques.
Hopefully I’ve helped you today to identify the root cause of your dog’s hot spots, along with an effective plan for wound treatment.

This pet-friendly article was brought to you by Dr. Karen Becker, Mercola Healthy Pets resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. For more pet care tips and to stay up to date with her latest recommendations, visit where you can also get your FREE Homemade Treats for Healthy Pets E-book today!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

5 Ways Your Pet Could Start Your House on Fire

By Dr. Becker

July 15 is “National Pet Fire Safety Day,” a day devoted to helping reduce the estimated 500,000 pets impacted by home fires every year. Most pet owners (88 percent) consider their pets family members,1 which means they should definitely be included in your fire escape plan.
You don’t have a fire escape plan, you say? Make today the day you create one – it could literally save your life, and that of your pets.

A Pet-Friendly Fire Escape Plan

If fire is spreading rapidly through your home, you could have as little as two minutes to get out safely. This is where your previous fire safety drills will be life-saving, as you won’t have to think about what to do in the middle of a crisis, you’ll already have your plan in place.
Start by identifying two ways out of each room (such as a window and a door), and establish a meeting location outside where all family members should gather. The best way to protect your pets in the event you have to evacuate is to bring them with you. Keep a collar on your dog, and leashes and cat carriers in an easy-to-access spot near an exit point so you can grab them on your way out.
Pets will probably panic at the smell of smoke and sight of fire, so secure dogs on a leash and put your cat in a carrier if at all possible. Otherwise they may bolt once you get outdoors. Having a few “kennel slip leads” (those thin nylon leashes with a metal ring on the end that you double back through the nylon rope to create an easy-on, easy off collar and leash, in one) are invaluable in emergency situations.
You probably already know your pet’s favorite hiding spots, but if you don’t, make it a point to locate them now. If a fire starts, your pet will likely make a bee-line for her ‘safe’ spot as soon as she hears the alarm, so check there first.
If you have birds or other caged animals, decide ahead of time who will be in charge of taking them to your outdoor meeting spot – assuming you can safely do so, of course.
It might not always be possible for you to find or reach your pet before you evacuate. In this case, leave an outside door open and call your pet’s name. Hopefully he will hear your voice and make his way out to you. Be persistent and loud … and don’t give up. It may take time for your pet to work up the courage to come to your voice.

What if a Fire Starts When You’re Not Home?

Pets can’t let themselves out if a fire starts, which is why a bit of pre-planning can be life-saving if a fire starts when you’re away from home. You may even want to consider using a monitored smoke detection service, so firefighters can be called at the first sign of smoke (even if you’re not home).
When you’ll be leaving your pets home alone it’s a good idea to secure them in rooms near entrances. You can do this using your dog’s crate or with the use of gates to close off a certain room, for instance.
This will be more challenging with cats, but if your home allows you to close off a front room or section of the house to contain your cats while you’re away, it will be easier for firefighters to locate them in an emergency.
Another simple life-saving trick? Affix a pet alert window cling to a front window, in an easy-to-spot location. This decal includes the number of pets in your home so rescuers know who to look for when they enter your home. Firefighters are trained to look for these stickers, so be sure to keep it up to date if you add another pet to your family.

Pets Start 1,000 House Fires a Year

According to the National Fire Protection Association, pets cause more than 1,000 house fires every year,2 so aside from knowing how to keep your pets safe if a fire starts, it’s essential to pet-proof your home against potential fire hazards.
Pets accidentally start fires more often than you might think. The American Kennel Club (AKC) reported one such story of Chris and Kay Wardlow of Oklahoma:3
“Their curious dog Lucy was home alone and spied a cake on the stove top. As Lucy tried to get a taste, her paw accidentally hit the stove knob and turned on the gas burner that was under the cake pan.
Within minutes, the house was filled with smoke, triggering the Wardlow’s … monitored smoke detector. Firefighters were called to the scene, the house was saved and Lucy was rescued.”
To help prevent your pet from starting a fire, be sure to use these tips from the AKC:4
  • Extinguish open flames: Don’t leave pets unattended around any open flame – candles, cooking appliances, your fireplace, etc. And, of course, be sure to thoroughly extinguish open flames if you’re leaving your home.
  • Remove stove knobs: A stove or cook top is the most common piece of equipment involved when pets start fires. Removing the knobs (or protecting them with child- and pet-proof covers) when you leave home is the simplest way to protect against this.
  • Choose flameless candles: Candles are another common trigger of pet-caused fires, especially if you have cats (who can easily knock over a candle with their tail). A flameless candle gives you the ambience you’re after without an actual flame.
  • Avoid using glass water bowls on a wooden deck: If it’s hot outside, the sun‘s rays can heat up the bowl enough to actually ignite a wooden deck. A stainless steel or ceramic bowl for your pet’s drinking water won’t cause this problem.
  • Pet proof your home: Other potential fire hazards include electrical wires and power cords, which should be secured out of your pet’s reach.

Does Your Local Fire Department Have Pet Oxygen Masks?

Smoke inhalation is a major cause of death from house fires (for pets and people alike), which is why having access to oxygen can significantly increase your pet’s chances of survival after being rescued from a burning home. Fortunately, oxygen masks designed especially for pets are available and becoming more widespread at fire departments across the United States.
In the short video above, first responders in Texas demonstrate use of a pet oxygen mask, which can be lifesaving. They can be used both on conscious pets who are suffering from smoke inhalation and pets who have lost consciousness and need to be resuscitated.
How can you find out if your local fire department carries pet oxygen masks? The best way is to give them a call and ask. If they don’t and you’re interested in getting involved, ask them if they’re interested in carrying such kits and, if so, how many they would need and in what sizes.
Wag'N O2 Fur Life5 offers oxygen kits for pets that cost $75 each, with three different size masks that can be used on dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and more.
You can purchase kits for your local fire department that does not have the budget for the masks or has been unable to find a local sponsor to attain one. Alternatively, you can join a fellowship program online and receive donations from others to help provide the kits.
Either way, donating pet oxygen mask kits to your local fire and/or EMS department is an outstanding way for pet lovers to give back to their communities.

This pet-friendly article was brought to you by Dr. Karen Becker, Mercola Healthy Pets resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. For more pet care tips and to stay up to date with her latest recommendations, visit where you can also get your FREE Homemade Treats for Healthy Pets E-book today!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Must-Know Tips to Keep Your Pet's Ears Healthy

By: Dr. Karen Becker
Dr. Becker's Comments:
Taking care of your pet’s ears is easier than you might think. A few simple steps will help you prevent otitis externa, which is simply the medical term for inflammation of the outer ear.

There are two reasons for your pet’s ear canal problems: chronic inflammation and infection. Inflammation, if left untreated, often leads to infection.

How can you tell if your dog or cat has ear inflammation or infection?

If your pet has hot, red, swollen or itchy ears without a lot of discharge, he most likely has inflammation, whereas if those symptoms are present with significant discharge, he probably has an infection.


There are three main reasons for ear inflammation:
  1. Allergies
  2. Moisture
  3. Wax
The most common reason for inflammation is allergies. Allergic responses to foods or agents in the environment cause inflammation throughout your pet’s body—eye/nose/throat inflammation, skin inflammation, bowel inflammation--just about any body system can be affected, including ears.
Allergies are quite common in dogs and cats. If your pet has ear inflammation, it could be he’s allergic to something in his environment or his food. Dogs with this condition will sometimes run their heads along furniture trying to relieve these miserable symptoms, scratch their ears incessantly, or shake their heads more frequently If your pet is exhibiting any of these symptoms you should examine his ears for the telltale signs of redness and swelling.
The second reason for inflammation in your pet’s ear is moisture, also known as “swimmer’s ear.” This often occurs in the summer when dogs enjoy being outside, playing in lakes, ponds and pools where they get water in their ear canals. If your pet enjoys being in water, this additional source of moisture, in combination with his warm body temperature provides the perfect environment for inflammation and/or infection to develop, unless you take steps to dry out his ear canals.
Even dogs that don’t swim, but live in high humidity areas, are susceptible to these ear conditions, just from the ambient moisture in the air. Other less obvious sources of moisture in your dog’s ears are playing in the rain or snow.
Similarly, when dogs go to the groomer, they are susceptible to getting water in their ears at bath time. This is another common cause of ear inflammation.
The most important thing to remember in preventing ear moisture issues is to keep your pet’s ears dry, clean and free of debris. In fact, the third major reason for ear problems is the buildup of wax.
Wax is normal in mammalian ears, but dogs and cats have varying amounts of it, just as humans do. Some dogs need their ears cleaned of wax daily. Others never have a buildup. Certain breeds produce more wax than others, such as Labradors and retrievers who are, by nature, swimmers.
If you have one of these breeds, you should get your pet accustomed to having his ears cleaned early on--from the time he is a puppy. Some breeds, such as bulldogs, cocker spaniels and poodles, can also produce an abundance of wax that needs attention daily.
It is important to determine how often your pet needs his ears cleaned so you can prevent this waxy buildup, which could lead to inflammation or infection. The only way to know is through observation.

Kitties are not immune from wax buildup. You should regularly check your cat’s ears for inflammation, as well as wax buildup. Some cats have dry ear canals that never need cleaning, and others should be cleaned regularly.

Outer Ear Infection

There are two types of organisms that infect the outer, or external ear: bacteria and fungi.
The primary fungal culprit is yeast. Yeast are opportunistic pathogens, meaning they are present on the bodies of humans, dogs and cats all the time. It is only when the animal’s health is out of check that the yeast overgrows, causing an infection. So, if the immune system is functioning properly, yeast is not ordinarily a problem.
If your dog is having chronic yeast infections, he probably has an overly warm, moist ear environment that you need to remedy. If you have been keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry and he still has chronic yeast infections, or an infection that just won’t go away, you need to look for an underlying immunological reason this is happening.
He could have an endocrine (glandular) problem, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, or even some sort of immunosuppressive problem.
The most common cause of ear problems in dogs is bacterial infections. Veterinarians classify bacteria into 2 groups: pathogenic and nonpathogenic.
  1. Pathogenic bacteria are not normal inhabitants of your pet’s body. They are bacteria your dog could catch from, say, contaminated pond water. That is, they are not normally present on the animal. The dog goes splashing through a pond, water splashes into his ear, and then an infection results.
  2. Nonpathogenic bacteria are the dog’s normal bacteria (typically staph species) that start to take over the ear canal, growing out of control. Dogs have a normal, healthy layer of good bacteria all over their bodies, which prevent pathogenic bacteria from taking hold, just as you and I are covered with normally helpful bacteria that can cause an infection if our immune system becomes compromised.
How do you know which type of bacterial infection your pet has?
You don’t. The only way to find out is with an ear culture.
An ear culture is a lab test where your veterinarian swabs your pet’s ear and sends the sample in to a lab, which actually determines what organism is growing in there and what medication will treat it.
If your pet has a one-time ear infection and your vet treats it with a medication without culturing, and it gets better, that is fine. But if it comes back, or if the infection becomes chronic, then you really need to insist on an ear culture.
It is very important to finish the medication, even if your pet seems better. Failing to finish the full medication regimen can lead to regrowth of resistant organisms, a much more serious problem.
Any time your pet is being treated for an infection, it is important to properly clean the ears and remove all sticky debris so the medication can reach the infected tissue. Ointment that builds up in the ear canal is nothing more than warm, sticky “goo” for the infection to grow in.

Ear Cleaning 101

I am not a big fan of using alcohol to clean the ears because it can cause burning and irritation to already inflamed tissues. However, there are many easy to obtain preparations that are appropriate.
My favorite cleaning agents are:
  • Witch hazel
  • Organic apple cider vinegar and purified water, mixed equal parts
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Green tea infusion (using tea that has been cooled, of course)
  • Tea tree oil greatly diluted in purified water (but NOT for kitties)
You can use a cotton swab to clean the outside ear area, but never use them inside the ear canal. Use cotton balls instead, since they cannot be inserted too far into the ear. Cotton swabs can damage to your pets eardrums, whereas cotton balls don’t.
If you’ve never cleaned your pets ears before, ask your vet for a quick “how to” lesson next time you’re in for a visit. If your pet has recurrent infections or significant inflammation (if the ears are very painful when touched) it’s important your vet examines the canal before you begin a cleaning regimen. Some dogs may have ruptured ear drums, and special cleaners and medications are required for these pets.
The best way to clean the ear canal is to saturate the cotton ball with your cleaning solution and repeatedly swab out the inside of the ear, until you see no residue on the cotton ball. This may take one swipe or dozens—it completely depends on how much buildup is present in your pet’s ears. You might need to do this daily, weekly, monthly, or maybe even never, if you’re lucky.
Alternately, you can use a small squirt bottle to flush the animal’s ear, then use a cotton ball to wick out the solution. The problem with this method is, usually it causes the animal to shake his head, flinging the solution all over you, your clothing and your bathroom wall. So make sure you are not attempting this while dressed in your favorite duds.
As you can see, taking care of your pet’s ears isn’t as difficult as you might have thought! Just a few simple steps to keep his ears clean and dry will go far in preventing many of the outer ear conditions that most commonly afflict our precious companions.
Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian of You can learn holistic ways of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to, an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for FREE to Mercola Healthy Pet Newsletter.

Do Summer Thunderstorms Send Your Dog Into a Panic?

By Dr. Becker
The spring and summer months bring thunderstorms, and if you have a storm-phobic dog, I'm sure you're not looking forward to them.
Depending on your pet's experience with storms, as well as the force of any given storm, your dog might simply find a place to hide.
Or he might have a more dramatic reaction (for example, running away or trying to chew his way out of his crate or through a door).
Some reactions are more unsettling than others, but regardless of your dog's response to a storm, it's difficult to know your pet is feeling terrified and you don't know what to do to calm him.

Dogs with Storm Phobia Often Have Other Related Conditions

In a Cornell University retrospective study of over 1,644 dogs presenting with behavior problems over a ten-year period, 2.3 percent were seen for storm phobia.
Research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association looked at a possible link between storm phobias, noise phobias and separation anxiety in dogs.
The study revealed there is a high probability (0.88) dogs with noise phobia also have separation anxiety.
The vast majority of dogs with thunderstorm phobia also had separation anxiety.
In dogs with separation anxiety, there was a 0.63 probability they also had noise phobia, and a 0.52 likelihood they suffered from storm phobia.
Dogs with thunderstorm phobia had a 0.90 chance of having noise phobia, but dogs with noise phobia had only a 0.76 probability of having storm phobia. Another interesting conclusion was the response to noise is different than the response to thunderstorms, likely due to the unpredictability of thunderstorms, according to study authors.
The researchers recommended that dogs with any of the three conditions should be checked for the other two, and that the interaction among the conditions is important for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Storm Phobia Symptoms

Storm-phobic dogs will typically display one or more of the following symptoms, which can be mild to extreme:
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Trembling
  • Staying close to their human
  • Vocalization (whining, howling)
  • Destructive behavior
  • Potty accidents in the house
  • Self-harm

Since dogs with one type of phobia tend to have others, it can be difficult for your veterinarian to immediately determine if the phobia is only in relation to thunderstorms.
The first thing your vet might ask is whether your dog also reacts to other loud noises and/or to being left home by himself.
Typically, dogs with a combination of phobias experience more extreme symptoms than dogs with just one condition. Also, the intensity of the phobia tends to impact the dog's response to treatment.

Storm Phobia is Distinct from Other Phobias

While there are often co-existing phobias in one dog, storm phobias actually differ quite a bit from other conditions.
If your dog has separation anxiety, she'll be triggered by activities leading up your departure, and the departure itself. A dog with noise phobia will be triggered by the sound of the specific noise(s) she's bothered by. Storm-phobic dogs can react to any number of storm-related triggers, including:
  • The boom of thunder or the crack of lightening
  • The sound of wind or pouring rain
  • Darkening skies
  • Changes in barometric pressure
  • Smells that precede or accompany a storm
Your storm phobic dog will know bad weather is coming long before you do.
Another peculiarity of thunderstorm phobia is it often escalates. Dogs that have been mild to moderately upset by storms can suddenly experience a significant increase in anxiety.
This jump in anxiety level can often be linked to a particularly severe storm and perhaps a static electric shock the dog is exposed to during the storm. Many storm-phobic dogs seem driven to find areas where electrical grounds can protect them from static charges – places like sinks, bathtubs, shower enclosures, under toilet tanks, or next to metal radiators or pipes.
It's a fact that static electricity fields build up during storms and some animals become statically charged.

Treating Dogs with Thunderstorm Phobia

Every storm-phobic dog's response is different, so therapy should be customized to the individual animal and the intensity of his or her response.
  • Make a "safe room." This is a place your dog can escape to when a storm is approaching, and it should be available to her at all times – especially when you're not home. The idea is to limit her exposure to as many aspects of thunderstorms as possible. The room would ideally have no windows, or covered windows so the storm can't be seen. If necessary, sound-proofing wallboard can muffle the noise of a storm. Put a solid-sided crate in the room with the door left open, along with a bit of food, water, treats and toys.
    As part of your dog's therapy, get her used to the room before she needs it by associating it with fun activities, food treats and gentle, soothing massage. Some owners use a head collar to calm the dog and more easily put her into a relaxed down position.
    As the storm approaches, turn on the lights in the safe room so lightening flashes won't be extremely obvious, and turn on calming musici,ii
  • Pheromone diffusers. Species-specific pheromones are chemical substances that can positively affect an animal's emotional state and behavior. Dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) is a synthetic form of a pheromone secreted by the mammary glands of nursing dogs. Studies have shown DAP diffusersiii are effective therapy for dogs with firework phobias and separation anxiety.
  • Behavior modification. One type of behavior modification for storm phobias is to engage your dog in a behavior that earns a reward. Ask your dog to perform a command he's familiar with and reward him if he does. This technique distracts both of you – the dog from his fear of the storm, and you from the temptation to inadvertently reinforce your pet's phobic behavior by petting and soothing him while he's showing anxiety.
    Another type of behavior modification involves trying to get your dog busy with a more pleasant activity than storm watching. Play a game with him or give him a recreational bone to gnaw on. Be aware that if your pet's response to storms is intense, you may not be able to engage him in another activity early in his treatment program.
  • Desensitization. This therapy involves using a CD with reproduced storm soundsiv to attempt to desensitize your pet. It's best to do this during times of the year when actual storms are few and far between.
    Unfortunately, desensitization isn't always as effective with storm phobias as it is with other types of anxiety disorders. That's because it's difficult to mimic all the various triggers that set off a fear response in a storm-phobic pet – in particular changes in barometric pressure, static electricity, and whatever scents dogs notice with an impending change in the weather. In addition, desensitization has to be done in each room of the house, because a new coping skill your dog learns in the living room will be forgotten in the kitchen. These problems make desensitization more of a challenge in treating storm phobias.
  • Storm jackets. There are a number of different brands of storm jackets to choose from these days, and they have proved very helpful for some dogs with thunderstorm phobias. Storm jackets are designed to be snug-fitting to mimic the sensation of being swaddled, a feeling that is comforting to dogs. You might also consider a calming capv.
  • TTouch and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). TTouchvi is a specific massage technique that can be helpful for anxious pets. EFTvii is a tapping technique that can be used to deal with a wide variety of emotional and physical problems.
  • Natural supplements and remedies. Talk to your holistic vet about homeopathic, TCM and other natural remedies that may help relieve your dog's stress. These should be used in conjunction with behavior modification. A few I like are the nutraceuticals l-tryptophan, valerian, GABA, homeopathic Aconitum and the TCM formulas that Calm the Shen.
A U.K. study evaluated a treatment program that used two self-help, CD-based desensitization and counter-conditioning programs, plus DAP diffusers, plus a "safe haven" for dogs with fireworks phobia. The severity of the dogs' phobias was significantly improved, as was their generalized fear.
If nothing you attempt seems to help your storm-phobic dog, don't despair. Talk to your vet about a temporary course of drug therapy (usually with anti-anxiety meds or anti-depressants) in conjunction with behavior modification and some of the other recommendations outlined above.
You can also consult an animal behaviorist in your area through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Alternatively, you can look for a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist at the Animal Behavior Society.
By combining a few different therapies (and trying several to see which have the most impact), you increase the likelihood of bringing your dog's phobia under control.

Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian of You can learn holistic ways of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to, an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for FREE to Mercola Healthy Pet Newsletter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why Do Dogs (and Cats) Eat Poop?

By Dr. Becker

In this video Dr. Karen Becker discusses a really disgusting but very common problem for many dog owners -- coprophagia, also known as the habit of eating poop.

Today I'm going to discuss a totally disgusting topic, coprophagia.

Coprophagia is a pleasant term for stool eating.

Although the idea of this activity is totally gross, there is actually one stage in a pet's life when coprophagia is expected.

When mother dogs and cats have litters, they deliberately consume the feces of their puppies or kittens to hide their scent while the litter is vulnerable and sheltered in the den.

Beyond that, stool eating -- although a very common complaint among pet and especially dog owners – is just plain gross.

Reasons Behind Coprophagic Behavior

Pets eat poop for a variety of reasons. Medical problems are a common cause, including pancreatic insufficiency or enzyme deficiency. Intestinal malabsorption and GI parasites are also common medical reasons that can prompt a dog to eat his own poop.

This is why I recommend dogs have their stools checked by the vet's office every six months to make sure they're parasite-free. Healthy dogs can acquire intestinal parasites from eating feces, so twice-yearly stool analysis is a great idea for all dogs.

The pancreas of dogs does secrete some digestive enzymes to aid in the processing of food, but many dogs don't secrete enough of these enzymes and wind up enzyme deficient. Since the feces of other animals are a source of digestive enzymes, dogs with a deficiency will 'recycle' by eating the enzyme rich poop. Gross, I know, but true.

Rabbit poop is one of the richest sources not only of digestive enzymes, but also B vitamins. Many dogs, if they stumble upon rabbit droppings, will scarf them right up to take advantage of those nutrients.

And dogs on entirely processed, dry food diets, who eat no living foods at all, will intentionally seek out other sources of digestive enzymes to make up for their own lifelong enzyme deficiency.

Cats with enzyme deficiencies, malabsorption, or who are fed poor-quality diets can provide litter box temptations for dogs in the family. Many cheap dry foods contain ingredients that are not bioavailable, so ingredients are passed out in the stool undigested, providing scavenging dogs with the opportunity to "recycle."

Feeding your pet a diet containing human-grade protein, probiotics and supplemental digestive enzymes can sometimes curb the urge to find gross sources of free enzymes around the yard or in the litter box.

Coprophagia Can Also Be a Behavioral Problem

Another cause for coprophagia in dogs is behavioral.

Some dogs, especially those in kennel situations, may eat feces because they are anxious and stressed.

Research also suggests dogs who are punished by their owners for inappropriate elimination develop the idea that pooping itself is bad. So they try to eliminate the evidence by consuming their feces.

Another theory that seems to hold some weight is that coprophagia is a trait noted in all canines – wolves, coyotes and domesticated dogs – and arises when food is in short supply.

Sadly, I see this most often in puppy mill dogs. Puppies who go hungry, are weaned too young, have to fight for a place at a communal food dish, or are forced to sit for weeks in a tiny crate with nothing to do, are at high risk of developing habitual stool-eating behavior that becomes impossible to extinguish.

Coprophagic behavior can also be a learned behavior. Older dogs with the repulsive habit can teach it to younger dogs in the household.

Like a dysfunctional game of 'monkey see, monkey do,' one dog can teach the rest of the pack that this is what you do while wandering around the backyard.

When Poop Eating is Compulsive

Some scientists believe dogs eat poop simply because it tastes good to them.

I disagree with this.

Some dogs have weirdly strange 'standards' about the poop they eat. It's strange to think any standard is applied to poop as a food group, but for example, some dogs eat only frozen poop (we affectionately refer to these as poopsicles at my practice).

Others consume only the poop of a specific animal. Still others only eat poop at certain times of the year.

So some dogs who stumble upon feces occasionally decide to sample it, while others become completely obsessed with eating certain specific poop.

Tips for Curbing Your Dog's Revolting Habit

What we do know for sure is dogs don't eat poop because they have a poop deficiency!

Fortunately, there are some common sense ways to reduce your dog's coprophagia habit.

First on the agenda is to pick up your dog's poop immediately, as soon after he eliminates as possible. Don't give him the opportunity to stumble across old feces in his potty spot.

Next, if you have cats, get a self-cleaning litter box or place the box in a location in your home where you dog can't get to it.

I also recommend you improve your pet’s diet as much as possible, and add digestive enzymes and probiotics at meal time.

Offer toys to your dog that challenge his brain and ease boredom.

Sufficient exercise is also crucial in keeping your dog's body and mind stimulated. Bored dogs tend to develop far stranger, disturbing habits and behaviors than dogs that get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.

Lastly, consider trying one (or more than one) of the many over-the-counter coprophagia deterrent products. These are powders you either sprinkle on the stool itself or feed with meals to create an unpalatable stool. But keep in mind these powders contain MSG, including most of the remedies you can buy online.

Also, you may have heard you can add a meat tenderizer to your dog's food or stool to discourage poop eating, but most meat tenderizing products also contain MSG.

I recommend you look for a non-toxic deterrent than doesn't contain MSG.

If your pet's coprophagic behavior seems to be going from bad to worse, make sure to talk to your vet about your concerns. You definitely want to rule out any underlying medical reason for this very gross, yet very common behavior problem.

Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian of You can learn holistic ways of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to, an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for FREE to Mercola Healthy Pet Newsletter.

Friday, May 6, 2016

If Your Cat Does This, Always Assume There's a Problem

By Dr. Becker
At some point in their lives, many kitties do something their humans find quite repulsive – they pee outside the litterbox. (Some cats also poop outside the box, but this is a much less common problem.) Even worse, for reasons known only to them, some kitties turn their owner's bed into a second bathroom.
And let's face it - there are few things as unnerving as waking up in a puddle of piddle left by Mr. Whiskers or Miss Fluffybottom.
But all joking aside, feline house soiling is such a widespread problem that it is the number one reason cats are banished to the outdoors, dropped off at animal shelters, or even euthanized. That's why it's important to address a litterbox issue as soon as it occurs.

If Kitty is Relieving Herself Outside the Litterbox, There's a Reason

Cats adapt quickly to using a litterbox because their natural instinct is to eliminate in a substrate (earthy material) that allows them to bury their urine and feces.
Domesticated cats descended from African wildcats for which the desert served as a giant cat box. Modern-day felines are probably attracted to litter because it's the closest substrate to sand they can find inside a house.
It's also the nature of cats to bury their feces in their urine, and wet desert sand is the perfect substrate. This is likely why most domesticated kitties prefer clumping litter to other varieties.
Since it's entirely natural for your cat to seek out her litterbox to eliminate in, you should immediately assume something is haywire if she chooses another location to relieve herself.
It's misguided to suspect your feline companion has suddenly developed anger issues or an attitude problem. There's a reason she's doing what she's doing, and it's your job to sort it out.

First Stop: Your Veterinarian's Office

Any behavior change in a cat is the first sign (and often the only sign) of a medical condition, so if your kitty has started relieving himself in inappropriate places, you'll want to rule out a health problem first.
Urinating outside the litterbox is one of the primary symptoms of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which is a very common condition in cats. Other signs your pet might have this problem include:
  • Frequent or prolonged attempts to urinate
  • Straining to urinate
  • Crying out while urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Excessive licking of the genital area
Any kitty can develop a lower urinary tract disorder, but it's most commonly seen in cats who are middle-aged, use an indoor litterbox exclusively, eat a kibble only diet, don't get enough exercise and are overweight, and who are stressed by their environment.
If you suspect your cat might have a lower urinary tract infection, it's important to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
If your cat isn't passing urine, a situation more commonly seen in males than females but can happen to either sex, this is a life-threatening medical emergency and you should seek immediate care.
Once a kitty's urethra is blocked, the kidneys can no longer do their job. This can lead to uremia, a ruptured bladder, as well as organ failure and death within just a day or two.
Besides lower urinary tract disorders, other medical conditions that can contribute to inappropriate elimination include diabetes, cognitive dysfunction, and hyperthyroidism.

Is the Problem Actually Urine Marking?

Another common reason cats pee outside the litterbox is to urine mark. Kitties who urine mark generally use the litterbox normally, but also perform marking behaviors. Some cats do both house soiling and urine marking.
It's easy to tell the difference between the two once you know what to look for.
Urine marking, when it takes the form of spraying, happens on vertical surfaces.
Urine marking can be hormonally driven, but more often it's the result of a natural system of feline communication, or stress. Examples of common kitty stressors include:
  • The addition or loss of a pet or human family member
  • Changes in the daily routine brought on by a change in work hours, illness, etc.
  • A neighbor's cat or a stray in your yard or around the outside of your home
  • Illness of another cat in the home, or a change in the relationship between cats
  • Aggression between cats
Both male and female cats spray, as do both neutered and intact cats. However, neutered cats spray less, and neutering can reduce or eliminate spraying in some cases.
But some cats urine mark on horizontal surfaces, which can make it more difficult to determine whether you have a marking problem or a house soiling problem.
Where your cat marks can provide clues, for example:
  • If he marks under windows or on baseboards, he may perceive a threat from animals outside – usually other cats
  • If he marks on or near furniture or doors inside your home, he might be having problems with other cats in the household
  • If your cat marks personal belongings – clothes, bed linens, a favorite chair or a computer keyboard – he may have some anxiety about the human who owns those things

Tackling Urine Marking

Resolving urine marking involves identifying and addressing the source of your cat's stress. When did the marking begin, and what was happening in her environment at that time? Just as cats favor certain scratching surfaces, they also return to the same spot to urine mark. You'll need to use an enzyme-based product for clean ups to remove stains and odor.
You might also want to spray a synthetic pheromone called Feliway on kitty's favorite marking spots. Cats also "mark" by rubbing their cheeks against objects, and Feliway may encourage your cat to mark with his cheeks instead of his urine. Cases of urine marking can be quite difficult to manage, as often the root cause, if determined, can't be resolved completely. And sometimes despite addressing all possibilities, cats still mark.

Litterbox Aversion

A third very common reason for inappropriate elimination in cats is distaste for the litterbox. Kitties who are comfortable with their bathroom arrangement typically approach and jump or climb into the box without hesitation; take a little time to poke around and choose a good spot; dig a hole; turn around and do their business; inspect the result and then cover it up with litter.
Cats who are unhappy with their litterbox may approach it tentatively. They may balance on the side of the box or put only two feet in. They may actually use the litter, but immediately leap from the box when finished. Worst case they may walk to the box, sniff it, turn, walk away … and jump up on your bed to urinate.
Pooping outside the box, but very close to the box, is almost always a litterbox aversion problem. Kitties develop litterbox loathing for a number of reasons. Perhaps your cat's box isn't being cleaned frequently, or frequently enough to meet her standards.
Maybe she's sensitive to a chemical used to clean the box, or perhaps she's not fond of a box with a hood. The box may be in a noisy or high traffic location, or where another pet in the household can trap kitty in there.

How to Cure Litterbox Aversion

If you have multiple cats, you may need to add more boxes. The general guideline is one box per cat, and one extra. If your house has more than one floor, you should have at least one box per floor.
It could be kitty doesn't like the type of litter in the box, or it's not deep enough (four inches is recommended). You can discover your pet's litter preference by buying the smallest amount available of several kinds of litter (unscented, different particle sizes, and made from different materials), and several inexpensive litterboxes.
Place the boxes with different litters side by side and see which box gets used most often. Once you've discovered your cat's litter preference, you can donate the remaining litter and extra boxes to your local shelter or cat rescue organization.
Find locations for litterboxes that are somewhat out of the way, and away from noisy household machinery and appliances. Choose warm locations in the house rather than the basement or garage. And make sure boxes aren't close to kitty's food or water bowls.
Boxes should be kept scrupulously clean. They should be scooped at least once a day and more often if you're dealing with a potential litterbox aversion situation. Dump all the used litter every two to four weeks (I recommend every two weeks, minimum), sanitize the box with soap and warm water, dry thoroughly and add fresh litter.
Plastic litterboxes should be replaced every year or two.

Dr. Becker is the resident proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian of You can learn holistic ways of preventing illness in your pets by subscribing to, an online resource for animal lovers. For more pet care tips, subscribe for FREE to Mercola Healthy Pet Newsletter.