Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

Dogs love to munch away on grass, and some even make it part of their daily routine. Fortunately, most experts believe it isn’t something you should worry about. So why exactly do they gobble up that green stuff in your yard?


Dogs, unlike their catty counterparts, are not carnivores. But they’re not like your garden-variety omnivores, either. For tens of thousands of years, these opportunistic scavengers have devoured anything and everything, as long as it fulfilled their basic dietary requirements.

The modern dog, partly because of evolution and domestication, is no longer like its ancestors, which frequently ate their prey entirely, including the stomach contents of plant-eating animals. Instead, dogs today seek out plants as an alternative food source. Most commonly the plant is grass — since that is what is closest at hand — but wild canines are known to eat fruits, berries, and other vegetable matter, too.

Clearly, dogs can find their nutrients in a wide range of plant foods, but that doesn’t explain why Fido usually throws up after eating grass.


A dog will seek out a natural remedy for a gassy or upset stomach, and grass, it seems, may do the trick. When ingested, the grass blade tickles the throat and stomach lining; this sensation, in turn, may cause the dog tovomit, especially if the grass is gulped down rather than chewed.

Although dogs don’t typically graze on large amounts of grass like a cow, they may nibble on grass, chew on it for a while, and not throw up (an unwell dog will tend to gulp the grass down in big bites and then throw up). This may be because they find the texture of the grass palatable, or just because they need to add a little roughage to their diet.


Whatever the reason may be, most experts see no danger in letting your dog eat grass. In fact, grass contains essential nutrients that a dog might crave, especially if they’re on a commercial diet. If you notice that your dog has been munching away on grass or houseplants, then you may want to introduce natural herbs or cooked vegetables into their diet. Dogs aren’t finicky like cats, but they’re not too fond of raw veggies either. They’re kind of like big furry kids that way.

So, when you think about it, grass munching isn’t that bad at all. However, watch out for a sudden increase in grass eating; it could be a sign of a more serious underlying illness that your dog is trying to self treat, and that requires immediate veterinary assistance.

You may also want to buy a small tray of grass just for the dog, or start an herbal home garden. This will give your poor pooch an alternative to the outdoor grass and landscaping, the eating of which could lead to accidental ingestion of pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals that have been used to treat your (or your neighbor’s) yard.

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372




No, It is Not Your Fault

This week, I saw a post on Facebook that bugged me. The person posted, “Train the owner, not the dog.” This is a commonly used phrase in dog training circles. While I agree that this can be the case with dogs who are unruly — that the owner is a lot of the problem — it most often is NOT the case with puppies and dogs who have serious behavior problems.

In my experience, where serious behavior problems are involved, it is the dog who has the problem, not the owner. Think about it. Most people who come to see me have had dogs before, some all of their adult lives. Yet, their dog is aggressive or has separation anxiety. They haven’t raised this dog any differently than they have raised any of their dogs. Why is this dog so different than the dogs that they have had? If the owner was the problem, wouldn’t the pattern just repeat itself with every dog? Wouldn’t the other dogs in their history or currently in their homes have similar problems, or at least some problem? It doesn’t make sense to blame the owner.

I find myself explaining this to owners almost on a daily basis. Someone has told them when discussing their dog’s behavior that it was their fault. They were too anxious … lenient … fearful … soft … etc. They feel guilty for being such horrible pet parents when really, it is not about them. It is about the conflict, fear, and anxiety within the dog.

For some dogs, they are simply born that way. For some, they have endured some deep trauma from which it is hard to recover. For some, they were not exposed to life — that ever important socialization — when they were still open to receiving it. Some are in pain or have metabolic illnesses which affect their behavior.

So, what is the owner’s part anyway? Well, many owners have done things that make their dog’s behavior worse or at least haven’t helped. I have seen many a fearful dog turn into an aggressive dog through the use of ill-timed shock collar corrections, for example. Again, the owners may have made it worse, but they didn’t cause it.

What can owners do? There is a saying in veterinary medicine: “Recognize and refer.” It means be able to recognize what is normal and what is abnormal, treat what you can within the scope of what you know, and then refer out when you are over your head. This is what I would recommend to owners as well.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my dog’s behavior different than any other dog I have owned?
  2. Is my dog hurting himself because of his behavioral illness?
  3. Is my dog unhappy?
  4. Has this dog failed to respond to the typical training methods that I have used with my other dogs?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your dog may have abnormal behavior. That is when you need to be referred out to an expert. First, speak to your veterinarian about whether or not your dog’s behavior is normal for his age, sex, and breed. If your pet’s behavior is unruly, your veterinarian can refer you to a positive reinforcement dog trainer.

It is probably not your fault.

Feeling guilty doesn’t help your dog.

You are not the problem, but you can be a big part of the solution!

Reach out and get the proper expert help for your dog so that you can both be happier!

Dr. Lisa Radosta

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372



Dog Behavioral Problems – Dealing with Barking

Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, some good, some not so good. Sometimes barking is a welcoming signal, other times not. Sometimes dogs bark briefly, and other times they just won’t quit. And therein lies a problem.

By nature, some breeds tend to bark more than others. Beagles and Shetland sheepdogs, for instance, tend to be very vocal. Greyhounds and basenjis, by contrast, rarely bark.

Barking is a form of communication. When people or other dogs are around, barking can be a statement intended specifically for them. When a sound is used as a means of communication from one creature to another, the rudiments of language exist. Language after all is just a complicated arrangement of verbal/vocal cues. We can communicate with dogs by means of our language, but we are often rather poor at understanding their requests. Phrases such as “come here,” “leave it,” “stop it,” inform the trained dog what must be done, but their barking often leaves us stymied.

Why Do Dogs Bark?

 Barking serves different purposes. Sometimes it is used to repel and sometimes to attract. Some barking tones indicate, “stay away,” whereas others (particularly in the appropriate context) can be interpreted to mean, “I’m over here, where the heck are you?” Even the most inexperienced of dog watchers will notice that dogs have a variety of different types of barking ranging from the muted “woof” of appreciation or alarm to loud angry series of barks indicating aggression.

Barking often serves as an alarm call. Many owners appreciate such alarm barking and some domestic dog breeds have been selected for an enhanced warning system of this nature. When the barking produces the desired result, the “language” is reinforced and perpetuated. But not all of this “language” is wanted or appreciated by friends or family (let alone the neighbors). The key to dealing with barking is to be able to turn it off.

When Barking Is a Problem

In order to deal with a barking problem, you first need to know why your dog is barking.

Barking To Get Attention  Most people get a little irritated when the family dog barks and gets whatever he wants. These dogs are pushy individuals who insist on getting their own way, demanding attention and the limelight. This is the kind of dog that will not allow you to sit peacefully and relax. Instead, he will bark in your face demanding to have a ball thrown, to be allowed on someone’s lap, to be given food from the table, etc.  So what allows a dog to become like this? In a word, conditioning. Although we sometimes don’t realize it, we are training our dogs all the time through our actions. No dog will persist in a strategy that doesn’t work, whether that strategy is barking, whining, or crying. Whatever produces the goods is what is reinforced. A dog that barks to get attention will have been trained to do so by random intermittent reinforcement for barking. Barking for attention, if ignored, will intensify before it dissipates, because the dog will try even harder, at first, to make his point. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with an attention-seeking barker.

Attention withdrawal. Ignore the “bad” behavior and only respond with attention when the dog is quiet. You should not make direct eye contact with the dog, speak to him, or touch him, when he is barking. To the attention-seeking dog, any attention is better than no attention – even if it’s in the form of scolding.

Bridging stimulus. If the attention withdrawal becomes tedious, a bridging stimulus can be employed to hasten progress. A bridging stimulus is a neutral sound, such as a duck call, or even a click, that is made as soon as the dog begins a tirade. It signals that you’re about to withhold attention. This strategy can produce a speedier resolution of attention-seeking barking than simply ignoring the dog’s barking because it focuses the dog’s attention on the consequences of its actions.

Punishment. Audible punishment can be a deterrent. This can be done by issuing a command, such as “No Bark!” and punishing the dog by shaking a “shake can” (a can with a stone inside of it) or by blasting an air horn/fog horn if he does not respond to the command immediately. The technique sometimes works, but audible punishments are only really effective for more sensitive types of dog.

Counterconditioning. Counterconditioning involves training the dog to do something that is incompatible with his previously conditioned behavior, in this case barking. For example, you can train your dog to go to his bed, where he will receive praise from you and perhaps a long-lasting food treat, whenever the stimulus that previously caused barking occurs, such as mealtime or talking with someone on the telephone. The new behavior (eating and lying quietly) replaces and is incompatible with barking for attention.

Separation Anxiety Barking Then there’s barking caused by separation anxiety, which often takes place as you prepare to leave or when you’re not around. There are two types of separation anxiety barking:

The acute, hysterical type of barking that occurs within minutes of the owner’s departure, representing panic – a cry for help.

The more chronic variety of more monotonous barking expressed by dogs that have all but given up on their ability to do anything about their predicament.

The two types of barking have similar causation yet sound different and represent different stages of the same condition. The acute variety a distress barking takes the form of intermittent bouts of “expectant” barking, perhaps interspersed with bursts of whining, designed to attract the attention of the owner (or, in some cases, anyone) to the dog’s miserable plight. The treatment for this problem is the same as the treatment of separation anxiety because separation distress is at the root of the problem. Too many owners fail to recognize their dog’s suffering when irate neighbors complain of being disturbed by the dog’s incessant barking. Instead of viewing the problem as a problem for their dog, they only see it as a problem for them. Punishment of such behavior is an all-too-frequent and misguided solution. Physical punishment at any time, especially after the fact, is not only pointless but is counter-productive and inhumane.

More chronic “stereotypic” barking, with its monotone and seemingly mindless motivation, also derives from separation anxiety. It occurs once the purpose of the dog’s barking has altered to become a simple release for anxious energy – a displacement behavior. Stereotypic barking indicates that a dog has been left alone for extended periods for years and has all but lost faith in its ability to summon anyone’s attention to its plight. In this respect, chronic displacement barking is a barometer of long-term suffering. The humane solution for these dogs is to give them their due by making arrangements to prevent them from having to experience such isolation and futility in the future. Training them not to bark misses the point and will often not work, anyway. Punishment is inhumane. For such characters, much more fundamental issues have to be addressed to bring about resolution of the problem in hand.

Territorial Barking One of a dog’s main duties around the home is to bark and warn off any strangers and alert fellow pack members that an intruder is approaching. This function is very much appreciated by many owners and has prevented many a burglary. Having a dog in the house is as good, if not better, than having an electronic surveillance system. But problems arise when overly enthusiastic dogs continue to bark longer than is necessary to alert its owners of approaching persons.

The trick is to train the dog to stop barking once the warning has been acknowledged. For most dogs this is usually not too much of a problem. A “good dog” or “thank you” is sometimes all that is needed to acknowledge the dog’s warning of a stranger’s approach. It’s good manners, too, to thank your dog for performing his duty. If barking persists following your acknowledgement and thanks, however, a “cease” command, like “stop it!” or “enough!” should be used afterwards to call an end to it.

Training the dog to the “stop it!” command should be performed using positive reinforcement. The reinforcement is provided when the dog has stopped barking for at least 3 seconds. You may have to wait for a while at first, but the dog will eventually get the message if the reward is sufficiently potent. Because you can’t have visitors standing outside the door for 30–minutes, waiting to be let in, you should orchestrate training sessions using a volunteer visitor who has the time and patience to see you through the session.

Typical Sequence of Dog Barking

Stranger approaches and rings the doorbell. Dog barks. Owner says, “Good dog, thank you.”

Dog continues to bark. Owner says “Enough!” Dog continues to bark. Owner remains motionless. Stranger waits.

Dog eventually stops. (They all do, eventually). Owner says, “Good boy!” and the dog is given a delicious food treat as a reward for stopping barking.

Stranger rings the bell again. This sequence is repeated until the dog is responding more quickly.

Training session should always finish on a good note with the dog being rewarded for quiet behavior. The stranger then withdraws. This exercise should be repeated daily for several days until the dog stops barking quickly (less than 3 seconds) on command and remains quiet as the visitor enters the home.

If all else fails, you may need to resort to a slightly more direct method. The preferred technique is using the Gentle Leader® head halter.

First train the dog to wear the head halter without struggling. Fit the device and a 10-foot long training lead before a planned visit from a friend. Your dog will bark as the stranger approaches. Praise the dog for barking, and then issue the command “enough.” If the dog continues to bark, apply gentle, steady upward traction to the training lead, which will cause the dog’s nose to be elevated and will transmit pressure to the dog’s muzzle and nape via the nose-band and neck strap, respectively. Maintain the tension until the dog relaxes and is quiet. Then release the tension and praise the dog for quiet behavior (even though you made it happen!).

If you consistently silence the dog in this way by applying tension to the muzzle (via the head halter) and nape (via the neck strap), the dog will learn that it is hopeless to disobey the “enough” command. It learns that you inevitably intercede and take control of the situation using this powerful, yet gentle, training tool.

Another technique, with or without the assistance of a head halter, involves counterconditioning your dog. As mentioned before, this means training him to do something incompatible with the behavior in question; in this case barking at the door or in the yard, after you have conceded that there actually is someone out there. You could, for example, train your dog to go to an out-of-the-way part of the house and relax whenever strangers appear and reward him (extremely well) for this behavior.

Caveat: One problem most owners face when trying to train their dog not to bark at the door is that they try to manage too many things at once; controlling the dog, opening the door, greeting the stranger, and ushering in the stranger, all at the same time. For optimum success, you need to set up trial approaches from volunteer strangers and apply your concentration to handling your dog.

Finally, the territorial dog that is motivated by fear is a slightly different situation. Although some of the above measures might help with such a dog, the chances of success are more limited. These dogs are actually anxious/fearful around strangers and may never settle down, even after the stranger has been welcomed. Such dogs need to be enrolled in a “total package” program in which they are not only controlled at the door but are also systematically desensitized to strangers, perhaps starting such an exercise on neutral territory at first.

   Reactive Dog Barking

Some dogs don’t just bark at approaching strangers – they bark at anything that moves or alters their environment: a passing car, a falling leaf, an icicle breaking off, and so on. Such dogs are the antithesis of the lazy old coonhound that takes everything in his stride: They are constantly on “red alert” for anything that might happen. This type of dog can be difficult to cohabit with, especially if you don’t need that degree of protection. Highly reactive dogs take their self-defensive and family-guarding responsibilities way too far. Perhaps by nature, perhaps by nurture, these dogs trust no one and regard every environmental change as a threat.

So, how do we persuade these dogs that their mission is pointless when each environmental disturbance eventually stops, thus reinforcing the behavior? The answer is that we can’t. All you can do, with your veterinarian’s help, is to address any medical contributions to such hyper-reactivity, provide adequate exercise, ensure an appropriate diet, and attempt to exercise the best physical control possible. This type of treatment is not too far removed from the program to control territorial barking; only its application may need to be even more intense.

If medical problems like hypothyroidism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) underlie the problem, the fix may be a quick one. If not, then you have your work cut out. Above all, it is important to enrich the lives of such reactive barkers so that they understand what is, and what is not, worth barking about. The innate drive for dogs to bark plus our own mismanagement can produce a dog whose behavior is so ingrained that it takes medication (in addition to behavior modification therapy) to effect even a marginal improvement. It’s far better to act early to prevent such a progression.

Written by: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

Inter-Dog Territorial Aggression

Although some owners appreciate their dog’s warning barks and guarding behavior, territorial aggression can be embarrassing for an owner and potentially dangerous to human and/or canine visitors to the property. When dogs show excessive aggression to other dogs on their home turf but do not respond aggressively to unfamiliar dogs on neutral territory, territorial aggression is the likely diagnosis. There are two different motivations for territorial behavior: dominance or fear/anxiety.

Territorial Dominance Aggression in Dogs True territorial aggression is like dominance aggression, except on a larger scale. While dominance aggression expresses itself between individuals pack members, and serves a “cohesive” function in the pack, territorial aggression is outwardly directed and its function is “dispersive.” With territorial aggression, the resources guarded are those within certain physical boundaries – the territory – and the objects of the aggression are unwelcome visitors to that territory. The shelter and food that the territory provides and the incumbent society, the pack, must be defended against infiltrators and usurpers. In the wild, responsibility for this function rests squarely with more dominant members of the pack. It is their duty to alert the others and repel interlopers, as the need arises.

Similar behavior occurs in domestic dogs of a dominant disposition, though the circumstances are somewhat different. First of all, the pack comprises members of their human family as well as other dogs. Secondly, the territory that they protect includes the house and yard plus areas like sidewalks that the dogs regularly patrol and vehicles in which they ride. Finally, these dogs do not just defend the territory against canine invaders: They also guard against unwelcome human visitors. See Territorial Aggression toward People.

As one Border collie herding trainer once said, “Dogs are territorial animals. If you allow them to live in your home but fail to make it absolutely clear that you are the leader, they will take over the territory, protecting it against all comers, and will condescend to let you live there because you supply their food.” Although an extreme view, it makes the point. Dogs that are overly dominant, both in absolute terms or with respect to their human family members, can provide a serious obstacle for canine and human visitors to their territory.

Treatment for dominance-related territorial aggression toward other dogs is best accomplished through strong leadership on the part of the owner (e.g. the owner should engage a leadership program) and they should employ effective physical methods of control.

Territorial/Fear Aggression in Dogs Not all dogs that display apparent territorial aggression toward other dogs have a dominant disposition; at least, dominance may not be the driving force behind their aggressive displays. Instead, the dogs may be anxious by nature or have been undersocialized and poorly trained as youngsters. Their aggression is designed to isolate them from another dog’s approach. Although they may not be particularly comfortable around other dogs when away from their territory, once home they have enough confidence to openly express their dislikes. Thus, they only act aggressively toward other dogs in the familiar surroundings because that’s where they have more assurance. We refer to this type of aggression as territorial/fear aggression.

Consider these observations on territorial/fear aggression:

Naturally highly-strung breeds such as German shepherds, Australian shepherds, and Shelties are prone to displaying this type of behavior.

A dog that, as a pup, was nervous around other dogs, and barked at them or hid, is one that, later in life, may well display territorial/fear aggression toward dogs approaching the home or owner’s car.

The posturing during displays of aggression can help distinguish this more anxious type of aggression from the territorial displays of a more confident dog.

Territorial/fear aggressive dogs frequently show ambivalent body language the same as fear aggressive dogs, including approach-avoidance behavior, tucked or semi-tucked tail, slinking gait, averted eyes, and an indirect approach. Territorial/fear aggressive dogs do not resolve their differences by means of a simple dominance-deference routine with the other dog and often will not settle down in the presence of a canine visitor.

The only distinguishing characteristic between territorial/fear aggression and overt fear aggression is the level of confidence that the dog possesses. Fear aggressive dogs have enough confidence to be aggressive to other dogs on or off their own territory, i.e. they display a higher level of dominance. Territorial fear aggressive dogs have a low level of dominance, permitting the expression of fear aggression only on the home turf or from within the safety of the owner’s vehicle

Facts Concerning Territorial Aggression and Dogs

Territorial behavior begins when a dog is young and “amplified” by learning.

Dominance-based territorial aggression is easier to manage than fear-based territorial aggression.

Both forms of territorial aggression may be controlled reasonably well by taking appropriate managemental measures.

Treatment for Dogs with Territorial Aggression

The treatment program includes general management adjustments (plenty of aerobic exercise, a low protein diet, regular obedience training, use of a head halter for control, appropriate application of muzzles) plus specific behavior modification techniques (Nothing in Life is Free, Counter conditioning, Systematic Desensitization).

Owners of territorially aggressive dogs should keep doors secured to ensure that no dog can enter the property without warning. Territorial dogs should never be left outside unsupervised and unrestrained.

Electronic fences pose a particular problem for dogs with territorial aggression. The dog knows where HIS territorial boundaries are but other dogs do not, and may unwittingly cross the boundary. In general, territorial dogs are more aggressive when they are behind a fence of any kind – because a fence allows them to know exactly where the boundary of their territory lies. They will thus patrol and protect what is now well-defined turf. It best to install a solid fence. Solid fences insure that no passing dogs fall foul of territorial zealots and provide owners peace of mind … and freedom from lawsuits.

Written by: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

Seasonal Allergies in Pets Peak in August

It’s no secret that allergies hit humans hard in the spring, but did you know your pets are affected by allergies at a different time of the year? Our data shows that pet allergies peak in late summer—specifically August. The combination of allergic responses with the increase in dry, warm temperatures adds to the discomfort and expression of seasonal allergies.

Pets can be allergic to almost all of the same allergens as people—even pet dander. Some breeds are more prone to allergens than others, especially flat-faced breeds. According to our data, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and West Highland White Terriers top the list for dogs.

Allergy symptoms in pets are similar to human symptoms, they include itchy or irritated skin, eyes, nose, or ears, coughing or sneezing, and a swollen throat or paws. Keep an eye out for excessive licking or chewing and take your pet to the veterinarian if they start to show symptoms.

There are many things you can do to relieve your pet of allergy symptoms and your veterinarian can provide the best options for your pet. Our on staff veterinarian, Denise Petryk, DVM, suggests not to give your pet any over-the-counter medications without consulting your veterinarian. “To help your pet at home, give them frequent baths to remove any surface allergens from their coat and skin, wash their paws to prevent them from tracking allergens into the home, and keep the areas where your pet frequently resides as allergen-free as possible by cleaning the space often.”

Trupanion Monthly Newsletter August 2015

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

3 Medications You Should Never Give Your Dog

Pets are a lot like kids. They depend on you for their safety – and you can never be too careful. Your most important job as a pet parent is to keep your pet healthy. So today, I want to give you some information about toxic medications that could potentially save your dog’s life. Just because a medication is safe for humans DOESN’T mean it’s safe for dogs. I’ve seen cases where pet parents with the best intentions accidentally poisoned their dog with common over-the-counter medications because they didn’t understand the dangers. That’s why you should NEVER give your dog medication without first checking with your veterinarian. Here are 3 common over-the-counter medications that you should NEVER give to your dog:
1. Aspirin – Aspirin interferes with platelets (which help the blood to clot). So if your dog has a wound or laceration, aspirin would make it harder to stop the bleeding. Aspirin is especially dangerous when mixed with other drugs, like steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Dogs may experience gastrointestinal problems, respiratory difficulties, neurological problems, bleeding disorders and kidney failure.
2. Ibuprofen – This over-the-counter medication is a popular way to treat pain and inflammation in people – but for dogs, ibuprofen can easily exceed toxic levels. Well-intentioned owners may give their dog what they consider to be a “safe dose” – but it can easily lead to bleeding stomach ulcers and eventually kidney failure. And, if left untreated, this can be fatal. Symptoms include poor appetite, vomiting, black tarry stools, vomiting blood, abdominal pain, weakness and lethargy.
3. Acetaminophen – Medicating your dog with acetaminophen without consulting a veterinarian is dangerous. (Pets also consume tablets that are dropped on the floor or left around the house.) Dogs are less sensitive to acetaminophen than cats are. For example, a 50-pound dog would need to ingest more than seven 500 mg tablets to suffer toxic effects. For a cat, one 250 mg acetaminophen tablet could be fatal. If you suspect that your dog has ingested a toxic amount of acetaminophen (one pill or more), contact your family veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility immediately. Common brands of acetaminophen include Tylenol®, Percocet® and aspirin-free Excedrin® among others. So remember to keep all medications out of your dog’s reach and NEVER give your dog any medication without first consulting your veterinarian. If you ever suspect that your dog has ingested any of these medications (in any amount), please contact your family veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility immediately. I hope this helps keep your dog safe from common medications that can be dangerous.
We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

Dog Vaccinations

Two years ago, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) canine vaccination task force updated their vaccination guidelines. The task force changed the previous annual protocol for core vaccines to an every 3-year protocol, with the exception of 1-year rabies shots. (In many states you can choose either a 1-year or 3-year rabies vaccine for your pet. If you choose a 1-year shot, or if your state doesn’t offer a 3-year vaccine, the annual protocol is required by law.)
The task force also acknowledged in the updated guidelines that for non-rabies core vaccines, immunity lasts at least 5 years for distemper and parvovirus, and at least 7 years for adenovirus. This means that even the updated 3-year protocol is overkill.
Veterinarians who are vaccine minimalists, and certainly I am one of them, viewed this protocol change as a small step in the right direction. We feel re-vaccinating pets against diseases they are already immune to creates significant and unnecessary health risks

Why Are 60 Percent of Vets Still Doing Annual Re-Vaccinations?

Sadly, despite the new guidelines that are now two years old, members of the traditional veterinary community have been slow to adopt the new recommended protocol for vaccinations for dogs.  According to Mark Kimsey, a DVM who works for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., a veterinary pharmaceutical company, “Basically, what we’re seeing is there’s a gradual trend toward three-year protocols.”
Dr. Richard Ford, a DVM who is on both the AAHA canine vaccination task force and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) feline vaccination advisory panel, agrees with Kimsey. “It’s a slow change,” says Ford. “Most practices still recommend annual vaccinations. All the vet schools are teaching triennial vaccinations.”
Ford believes, based on feedback from vaccine manufacturer sales reps, that 60 percent of veterinary practices are still re-vaccinating on an annual rather than every 3-year basis. “Some acknowledged the reality and changed their protocols, while others, fearing loss of a major source of revenue, argued against anything other than the time-honored paradigm: annual boosters,” said Ford.

It appears there’s no shortage of vets out there willing to openly admit they don’t want to lose the income from unnecessary vaccinations and new, safer protocols be damned.

Hopefully you’re not taking your own pet to a veterinarian with a similarly misguided, dangerous practice philosophy.

Unwilling to Change? Addicted to Easy Money? Or a Bit of Both?

According to Veterinary Practice News, Dr. Gary D. Norsworthy, owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio and a practicing vet for 40 years, is among the 60 percent who aren’t budging from an annual vaccination schedule for their patients.
His rationale is that he has a number of clients who will only bring their cats in for wellness exams if they believe vaccines are needed. Norsworthy says he’s determined not to lose the opportunity to annual checkups on cats in his practice. So he uses only the 1-year rabies vaccine, and tells his clients he must see their cats yearly.    Norsworthy believes “Internet chatter” scares cat owners into believing vaccines are dangerous. He notes that his practice vaccinated 25 percent fewer cats in 2012 compared to 2007. He says he sees only one case of feline vaccine-associated sarcoma for every 65,000 vaccines he injects.  Clearly, Dr. Norsworthy, like many conventional vets, makes no connection between other feline health problems and repeated unnecessary annual vaccinations. Like Norsworthy, many DVMs don’t know or don’t choose to know about the dozens of other health crises that can arise as the result of vaccines, and especially as the result of repeated re-vaccinations.
Rather than figure out how to give clients logical, legitimate reasons to bring their pets in for regular wellness exams, the majority of vets apparently prefer to continue the risky business of re-vaccinating their patients year in and year out.
Could it be this approach to pet care is why veterinary visits have steadily declined in recent years?
Is it really so difficult to explain to pet owners the benefits of bringing their dog or cat in for at least one wellness visit a year?From my experience, it’s not difficult at all. I see the majority of the patients in my practice for wellness visits twice a year, and it is extremely rare that I administer any vaccine to an adult animal, excluding the mandatory 3-year rabies.
Also according to Dr. Ford, there are some DVMs who would like to follow the new guidelines, but are concerned that vaccine product labels include text that reads “annual booster recommended.”
This seems a very strange argument in favor of continuing annual vaccinations, doesn’t it?  If cat and dog vaccinations advisory panels have established new recommended guidelines, why would a vet choose instead to take the advice of the vaccine manufacturer’s product label?
Source: Dr. Karen Becker
We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372


Human Food For Cats

Cats might not be known to beg as much as their canine counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they never snag a special “people food” treat from their owners. And why not? Some human foods are actually good for our kitties. (Just make sure you’ve got the all clear from your vet that the snack you’re offering isn’t unsafe for cats.)

Veterinary professionals also occasionally share their food with their cats. In a recent Vetstreet survey, 153 cat-owning veterinary professionals (including veterinarians, vet techs and office managers) revealed which foods they let their cats eat. They chose from 22 foods in five categories: Fruits, Veggies, Meats, Dairy/Other Protein and Junk Food. See how their answers compare to yours below!

The Top of the List

There were two foods that received far more votes than any others on the list, with 55 percent of respondents saying they let their cats eat chicken, and 50 percent saying fish/seafood is allowed. After that, the numbers fell somewhat dramatically. Interestingly, milk — often considered a common treat for cats — didn’t even make the top five (although there’s a good reason for that). And are we the only ones surprised by the fact that fish/seafood wasn’t No. 1? Tuna, anyone?

Rank and Food Percentage of Respondents Who Allow Their Cats to Eat This Food
1. Chicken 55%
2. Fish/seafood 50%
3. Cheese 29%
4. Beef 28%
5. Yogurt 27%
6. Ice cream 23%
7. Milk 22%
8. Pork 16%
9. Eggs 14%
10. Chips 9%

We didn’t ask for clarification on why these veterinary professionals allowed their cats to eat some foods more than others, so there are many possible explanations for why, say, chicken ranked higher than beef. It could be that the respondents themselves were more likely to eat chicken and, therefore, share it with their cats, or maybe it’s because it’s easy to prepare chicken in a way that’s fairly bland and safe for cats.

How the Categories Stack Up

Given that the top five foods were from just two categories, it’s not surprising that those two categories ranked the highest overall. To determine the category rank, we averaged the “yes” percentages of all the foods in each category. No. 1 was Meats (chicken, beef, pork, fish/seafood) with a 37 percent “yes” average. Dairy/Other Protein (cheese, peanut butter, eggs, yogurt, milk) had the next highest percentage with 20 percent.

However, there were some surprises to be had! Junk Food (chips, pizza, ice cream, cookies) had a 10 percent “yes” average, which was more than Veggies (carrots, green beans, sweet potato, broccoli) with 5 percent or Fruits (apples, bananas, berries, melon) with just 4 percent.

The Bottom of the List

Ten of the 11 least commonly allowed foods all came from the bottom three categories: Fruits, Veggies and Junk Food.

Rank and Food Percentage of Respondents Who Allow Their Cats to Eat This Food
12. Peanut butter (tied) 6.21%
12. Carrots (tied) 6.21%
14. Banana 6.16%
15. Broccoli 5.56%
16. Pizza (tied) 5.52%
16. Sweet potato (tied) 5.52%
18. Green beans 4.17%
19. Cookies (tied) 4.11%
19. Melon (tied) 4.11%
21. Apples (tied) 3.42%
21. Berries (tied) 3.42%

Eating Like Cats and Dogs

We also asked veterinary professionals about what human foods they fed their dogs. The food lists we offered were not identical: Dogs had five extra foods on theirs (zucchini, French fries, peas, oranges and nuts), and cats were the only ones with milk and melon on their list. But the remaining options were the same for both. A few foods were popular among both species: Chicken, cheese and beef made the top seven for cats anddogs. But there were some notable exceptions: Fish/seafood ranked No. 2 for cats but No. 19 (almost at the bottom) for dogs. Peanut butter, which came in at an impressive No. 4 for canines, didn’t fare so well with the felines — it ranked in the bottom half of the chart at No. 12.


We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

Prednisone for Dogs

Prednisone is a powerful synthetic steroid, generally prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation in dogs, and one with potentially dangerous side effects.

What is prednisone?

What is prednisone? Prednisone is a synthetic steroid that mimics the functions of cortisol, but in a much more powerful and concentrated form.

So what is cortisol? Cortisol is a hormone that is produced naturally in the adrenal glands, located close by the kidneys, both in humans and dogs. One of its functions is to break down glucose and convert it to energy that a dog can use in his daily activities. It has important healing and health functions, as well, and these are the focus of prednisone for dogs, as well as prednisolone, its metabolized variant.

What is prednisolone?

Well, when prednisone enters the kidneys, it is activated as prednisolone. If there is weak or compromised liver function, prednisolone for dogs may be administered instead for the same effects. Both prednisone and prednisolone are catabolic steroids. Their primary function in dogs is to relieve swelling and inflammation that arise due to any number of medical conditions. Let’s learn more about prednisone for dogs, its uses, and its potentially dangerous side effects!

What is prednisone used for in dogs?

Prednisone has a wide range of applications for medical treatment in dogs. Usually, it is deployed in treating severe allergies, or other conditions that involve a great deal of swelling and inflammation.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Breathing problems, such as asthma or respiratory infection
  • Joint pain associated with arthritis
  • Skin irritations or itching due to allergic reactions, eczema, or dermatitis
  • Severe allergic reactions, like anaphylactic shock
  • Addison’s disease, in which adrenal function is compromised
  • Cancer, including lymphoma
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Prednisone and prednisolone for dogs are very useful steroids, but very strong, twice as powerful or more than the cortisol naturally produced by their own adrenal glands. It should be administered with great care and precision.

What is the proper dosage of prednisone for dogs?

Is there a standard prednisone dosage for dogs? Not really. For humans, typical prednisone dosages include 20mg, 10mg, and 5mg. Dogs come in so many shapes and sizes that standard human dosages are far too high for them to tolerate. A dog’s veterinarian will take size, age, weight, and overall health condition, as well as the state of the dog’s liver to process steroids, into account before prescribing a dosage that is individually tailored to them.

How is prednisone administered?

Prednisone and prednisolone are versatile steroids, and are available in a number of formats. Prednisone can be given orally, topically, or by direct injection. It can be prescribed for dogs as tablets, pills, eye drops, liquid, syrup, injection, or topical ointment. A dog’s veterinarian will determine which form and what prednisone dosage are best for a given dog, based on the dog’s condition and particular needs.

Prednisone Side Effects in Dogs

Prednisone side effects in dogs are not mild, and can affect multiple internal and external systems, and yield a number of behavioral changes. Unless the situation is dire indeed, prednisone and prednisolone should be avoided when it comes to treating puppies, very young dogs, and dogs that have diabetes or are pregnant. It is particularly dangerous for young dogs and puppies, since long-term use of prednisone can slow or inhibit their normal patterns of growth and restrict their progress toward physical maturity.

In adult dogs, the side effects of a prednisone regimen intensify over time. Behavioral changes can worsen, leading to random aggressive outbursts or periods of depression. In the digestive system, long-term prednisone use in dogs can lead to the development of ulcers, which repeated instances of vomiting and diarrhea will exacerbate. The increased drinking and urination that dogs experience while on prednisone can negatively impact them as well. Over time, long-term effects of prednisone in dogs include the possibility of urinary tract infections.

These side effects of long-term prednisone for dogs are the tip of the iceberg. As an immunosuppressant, over time, prednisone can affect the basic function of a dog’s immune system, making them far more vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Prednisone for dogs can also lead to obesity and diabetes in dogs. Because it mimics and floods a dog’s system with horomones linked to the adrenal glands, long-term prednisone treatments can cause normal adrenal gland functions to shut down completely.

Alternatives to prednisone

We’ve all seen commercials for medications where an announcer with a soothing voice tries to reassure us that “side effects are generally mild,” before launching into a laundry list of serious, or even fatal, side effects. We’re not going to mince words here with prednisone for dogs. It’s a serious and powerful synthetic steroid, and should only to be prescribed by a veterinarian to treat serious medical conditions.

Given the risks associated with prednisone for dogs, it’s logical to ask whether there are any alternatives. For example, is there a generic for prednisone? There are actually several synthetic steroids available for dogs, each with a name longer and less prounceable than the last, such as dexamethasone and triamcinolone. Your dog’s vet will work with you to determine the correct alternative. Is there an over the counter form of prednisone? No. These medications are so strong, they are only available by prescription.

The homeopathically inclined dog owner may ask whether there is a natural prednisone substitute for dogs. It is thought that a number of fruits, vegetables, and natural oils may reproduce the anti-inflammatory effects of prednisone. However, the amount or combination needed to achieve the effects would likely be disruptive to a dog’s normal diet or produce ill effects on a dog’s digestion. If a dog’s condition is serious enough to require steroids such as prednisone or prednisolone, dietary supplements are probably going to prove insufficient.

Has your dog ever been on prednisone?

Another thought that might occur to a dog owner is to give human prednisone from an existing prescription to a dog. This should never be done. As we’ve seen above, human dosages of prednisone are much greater than they are for dogs. Steroids this powerful and that carry this many risks should only be given to a dog under veterinary supervision. Have you ever had a dog on a short- or long-term prednisone prescription? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Melvin Peña

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

Cat and Dog Skin Problems

Cat and Dog Skin Problems

Does your dog (or cat) have skin problems? Is it continually scratching, biting and licking at itself….and you don’t know why? Well, take comfort, you are not alone.

There are really six main reasons why dogs and cats will itch and scratch. The bottom line is… don’t let them suffer! There IS a diagnosis to be made and then you and your veterinarian will be better able to select the proper treatment plan.

Itching and scratching in dogs: One of the most common calls made to any animal hospital in America goes something like this: “Doctor, I’ve got to get this dog in right away. He’s driving us nuts. All he does is itch and scratch, bite and lick and he’s keeping us up all night!”

My thought is that if the pet’s caretakers are being driven “nuts” by the dog’s scratching and licking, how awful must the poor dog feel?

This kind of call to the veterinarian refers to a fairly serious case of pruritus. In reality there is a wide spectrum of causes and severity of itching and scratching in dogs with skin and coat trouble. Some dogs can spend hours romping through fields, digging holes, and rolling in the grass and still have no after-effects at all. Others, kept indoors and fed an excellent diet, may have severe skin disorders.

Let’s see if we can make some sense of this complicated and aggravating situation and try to answer the question “Why does my dog itch-and-scratch-bite-and-lick?”

There are six main categories of dermatitis we veterinarians have to consider whenever a cat or dog skin problem — or “skin case” — is presented. Most skin and coat abnormalities can be defined by or placed in one of these categories:

  • Environmental
  • Nutritional
  • Parasitic
  • Allergic
  • Neurogenic
  • Infectious

Keeping in mind that there are entire textbooks written about these categories, you might understand why veterinarians often take a deep breath before entering the exam room wherein awaits a patient with a “skin problem.” Let’s look at each category, starting with the simplest (Environmental Dermatitis) and finishing with the most challenging (Neurogenic Dermatitis).

1. Environmental Dermatitis

Patients in this category are physically and nutritionally normal, but present with signs of itching and scratching, hair loss and skin irritation. By careful discourse with the owner regarding diet, activity, medical history and environment, and by performing a thorough physical exam, the veterinarian can rule out the other categories of dermatitis. Through the analysis of the patient’s history, the veterinarian will discover that the patient spends time swimming or excavating gopher holes or romping through fields where thistles seem prevalent.

Many dogs are very sensitive to simple lawn grasses. And by matching what is visible on the patient’s skin with a probable environmental irritant — the cause of the cat or dog’s skin problem can be determined and corrective measures taken.

An example is Moist Eczema, often called a “Hot Spot“. These skin lesions often occur as a result of moisture on the skin surface from rain, pond or lake water. Minute scratches on the skin from, for example, a clipper blade, may trigger other cases. Especially in dense coated dogs or dogs where there is an accumulation of mats or shedding hair, moisture on the skin may remain long enough to allow superficial bacteria to reproduce (sort of like an organic soup!) and create an infection.

Some cases of Moist Eczema will spread very rapidly and require rather aggressive therapy to correct. Contact with plastics can also cause environmental dermatitis.

2. Nutritional Dermatitis

When food is the issue, correction of these cases of dog and cat itching and scratching should be a “no brainer,” but even today, many veterinarians and pet owners really believe the “Complete and Balanced” statement on pet food labels.

Unfortunately, many dogs and cats live their entire lives in less than optimum health because their caretaker feeds the least expensive food they can find … and feels secure in doing so because of that “Complete and Balanced” statement.

In my thirty-five years of practice, I have seen hundreds of dogs and cats whose lives changed dramatically, and where the pet’s caretakers were shocked and surprised at the remarkable difference in their pets, by the simple act of providing the pet with a high quality, meat-based diet.

You can read more on dog and cat food protein and overall pet nutrition for some common sense information about sound feeding principles.

Without proper nourishment skin problems in dogs and cats is just one of the possible reactions; the animal’s entire body, not just its skin and coat, will be continuously in a state of stress. High quality meat-based dog foods seldom, if ever, create the kind of skin and coat irritation in most animals.

If you feed dry commercial dog food, be certain that the first ingredient listed is meat such as beef, poultry, lamb or fish. Specialized diets are widely available that are generally better than others in several key categories:

Will supplements help? Absolutely! But if the diet is a high quality, meat-based brand, the need for supplements is much less critical. It has been my experience that supplements such as Omega Fatty Acids, Vitamins and table scraps will always help a dog that is eating a generic, commercial dry dog food; and on occasion, supplements may even show positive benefits in a dog eating a high quality diet.

Many types of cat or dog skin problems are avoided if the animal consumes an optimum diet. In some cases, adding a supplement, such as an omega fatty acid supplement, is the key factor in avoiding repeated episodes of hot spots and other skin problems.

If your dog or cat seems to lack good coat and skin health, consider upgrading the diet to a meat-based ingredient formula and adding a supplement.

3. Parasitic Dermatitis – Ticks and Fleas


The most common response a pet caretaker makes when they see their dog scratching and biting at itself is “I think he’s got fleas”. And sometimes this guess is correct. Dark, copper colored and wingless, and about the size of the head of a pin, fleas are big enough that they can be seen scurrying along the skin surface trying to hide within the sheltering forest of fur.

There are a number of highly effective and safe flea preventatives. Fleas are ubiquitous, but an understanding of their life cycle, where they hide in the dog’s environment, and utilizing modern pharmacology breakthroughs, no dog needs to be “driven crazy” with itching and scratching, hair loss, infections, scabs and other skin problems as a result of flea infestation.

Repeated exposure to fleas can trigger a hypersensitivity (an abnormal, excessive reaction) to the bite of even a single flea. Every veterinarian has been fooled into making a diagnosis of “allergy”, not even suspecting fleas, simply because no fleas were discovered at the time of the physical exam. This is a classic example of a Parasitic Dermatitis (flea bites) triggering a complicated Allergic Dermatitis (due to the flea saliva).

Interestingly, the all-too-common parasite called the tick rarely triggers itching and scratching or allergic reactions, but on occasion will leave an ulcerative lesion that is notoriously slow to heal.

Chiggers, deer flies, and gnats (sometimes called No-See-Ums) can be considered nuisances and generally do not create remarkable systemic skin problems. Local treatment with first aid ointments generally is successful.

Cheyletiella mites look like tiny spiders under a magnifying glass and are often called “Walking Dandruff” because upon close inspection it seems like little flakes of dry skin are actually moving about. Partly because they live on the surface of the skin, these tiny critters can be eliminated easily by using any common flea shampoo. And here’s a creepy thought … Cheyletiella mites can be transmitted to humans where they create, just like on the dog, alopecia (hair loss) with a dry, flaky, slightly pruritic skin surface.

Sarcoptic mites are nasty critters! Also called scabies or red mange, they create very intense itching and scratching, alopecia, and inflamed skin with multiple small scabs often present. Sarcoptic mite infestation, more than any other entity, is frequently misdiagnosed as Allergic Dermatitis by even very competent and experienced veterinarians. There is a good discussion of Scabies here).

Many veterinary dermatology specialists will not accept an uncontrolled “Allergic Dermatitis” referral case unless the referring veterinarian has first ruled out Sarcoptic mites by actually treating the dog for scabies. Do as many skin scrapings as you like, you’re not going to find these little rascals because, unlike most skin parasites, these burrow right down into the skin. (Even ticks simply hold on to the surface of the skin while they feed; ticks do not burrow into the skin.)

Unfortunately, many dogs are treated with cortisone for a supposed allergic dermatitis when in fact these Sarcoptic mites are the cause of the pruritic, inflamed skin… the unnecessary cortisone eventually worsens the situation.

Sarcoptic mites happen to have preferences … certain types reproduce and thrive on dogs, but they do not thrive on other species such as humans. Nevertheless, Sarcoptic mites from dogs can infest humans so if your dog has signs of scabies and you are itching and have little scabs, make sure you see your dermatologist (MD, not DVM)!

Mention your concern about scabies mites. If your physician makes a diagnosis of scabies, your next call should be to the veterinarian to make an appointment to discuss the possibility of Sarcoptic mites in your dog (the one that’s been getting all those cortisone shots for “allergy”).

Then there are Demodex mites — also called “mange.” These little rascals do live and reproduce just under the skin surface in the tiny hair follicles and oil glands of the skin.

Unlike Sarcoptic mites, Demodex mites can be seen on a skin scraping viewed under the microscope. They look like tiny cigars with stubby legs stuck to the front half of their body.

Demodex is most commonly seen in young dogs. In adult dogs, Demodex cases seem to be associated with individuals that are stressed from disease, poor nutrition, immune disorders or a harsh environment.

There is evidence that many cases of Demodex have a genetically transmitted immune protein deficit underlying its manifestation; the dog’s breeder should be informed of any cases of Demodex mites.

If the dog is otherwise healthy, there are effective treatment protocols for Demodex. On the “itch scale”, Demodex causes very little itching and scratching. On the “baldness scale” Demodex creates mottled and patchy alopecia.

4. Infectious Dermatitis

Bacterial, fungal and yeast organisms are notoriously obnoxious pathogens causing coat and skin problems in dogs (and cats). Fungal organisms are called dermatophytes. One type, called Microsporum canis, causes non-pruritic, circular patches of hair loss, often called ringworm. Transmissible to other dogs (and occasionally some strains of fungi can be transmitted to humans) your veterinarian can diagnose and treat skin fungal infections in the office.

Yeasts, most notably a common contaminant of inflamed and environmentally stressed skin called Malassezia pachydermatitis, can irritate an already diseased skin surface. Especially notorious for creating long term, low-grade external otitis, Malassezia does cause itching and scratching and inflammation.

Yeast infections typically create greasy, odorous and pruritic signs in affected dogs. The skin is stressed by the waste products of the organisms and responds by releasing histamine — which triggers further inflammation, itching and scratching and cell damage.

If a yeast infection is diagnosed, there’s generally something else going on such ashypothyroidism, chronic administration of cortisone medication or dietary fatty acid deficiency.

Bacterial dermatitis rarely occurs spontaneously. Normal healthy skin has tremendous numbers of a variety of bacteria present all the time. If something upsets that balance, such as antibiotics eliminating one or two types, the remaining types have a free-for-all! Anything that damages the normal, healthy, intact skin will hamper the skin’s defense mechanisms. Any Environmental Dermatitis, such as contact with grass, plastic, an abrasion or moisture, can adversely affect the skin’s defensive barriers and opportunistic bacteria then have their way. Parasitic damage to the skin will allow invasion by bacteria and trigger the body’s healing defense mechanisms.

A common skin problem in dogs, Infectious Dermatitis often is so irritating that dogs will lick continuously at the lesion and undo any healing that has taken place. A moist, sticky, inflamed skin lesion along with hair loss is characteristic of bacterial dermatitis. These can spread rapidly and even be transposed to other areas of the skin through biting, licking, and scratching of previously uninfected areas.

The treatment for Infectious Dermatitis often includes clipping the hair from the area to allow the air to assist drying. The application of gentle topical medication is helpful as is the administration of oral antibiotics to fight the organisms that are deeply invading the skin.

Yes, cortisone may assist in alleviating the stinging or itchy sensation, but may also suppress normal healing processes. Whenever an infection is present, the decision to use cortisone needs to be very carefully evaluated. A better choice may be antihistamines orally.

5. Allergic Dermatitis

I’ll be honest. There’s no way to cover this topic in one article. Veterinarians spend entire weekends and lots of money attending seminars on this topic alone! It is common, it can be lifelong, it is a challenge to diagnose, and once identified it can be resistant to attempts at treatment. All the other categories of dermatitis must be ruled out (especially those elusive Sarcoptic mites) before a diagnosis of Allergic Dermatitis can be made. Food ingredients, synthetic and natural fibers, medications and pharmaceutical products, plant material and even dust all can trigger an Allergic Dermatitis.

Even common bacteria on the dog’s skin can provoke an allergic reaction to themselves! These cases of sensitivity to normal resident bacteria are very challenging to correct. No matter what kind of allergic dermatitis afflicts the dog, the ultimate cellular cause of the inflammation and resulting “itch-and-scratch-bite-and-lick” activity has a common cause … the release of histamine from skin Mast cells, the deposition of antigen/antibody protein complexes within tissues, the dilation of some blood vessels and constriction of others, the release of toxic chemicals from broken intracellular structures, and chemical and physical irritation of sensory nerve endings.

To what are dogs allergic? Take a look around you right now. Odds are that your dog could be allergic to half-a-dozen different substances in the very room you sit; that doesn’t even include microscopic substances in the air you and your dog breath! Food, carpeting, blankets, dust mites, mold spores in the air, pollen, plastic food dishes, furniture stuffing and ornamental plants all have the potential to trigger an allergic reaction in your dog. Food allergies are so common that pet food manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in research, development, promotion and delivery of “antigen specific” diets to help in the therapy of dogs with food allergies.

How do allergies develop? Each individual’s biochemistry is determined by millions of genetic variables. On occasion, an individual’s various immune responses may over-react to a certain material and “learn” to recognize this substance in case of future contact with it.

The offending agent is called an antigen. Flea saliva is a good example of an antigen that triggers “flea bite” hypersensitivity. When an antigen makes contact with the dog, the dog’s immune defenses – all primed and ready for a fight since it has previously identified the antigen as an enemy – set to work to disarm the antigen.

Unfortunately, during the course of the battle (called an antigen/antibody reaction) side effects of the battle can cause tissue irritation, inflammation, swelling and cell destruction. That’s when we notice skin problems in dogs and when they go into the “itch-and-scratch-bite-and-lick” mode! There’s a biochemical war going on within the dog!

Immunologists have classified a number of different types of allergic reactions. Skin and blood tests are common methods of attempting to identify what the patient is allergic to. Probably the most common type of Allergic Dermatitis seen in dogs is Atopic Dermatitis. This situation is triggered by a number of antigens including inhaled substances such as molds, dust, pollens and other static and airborne microscopic organic substances.

Dogs with Atopy lick and chew at their paws (see photo on right) and scratch their face, eyelids and ears. This skin problem can be very troubling for dogs and frustrating for the owner. One minute the dog may look and feel normal, the next it will chew its paw or face raw from the intense itching and scratching. There is a new product available to treat Atopic Dermatitis in dogs called Atopica. For many patients, this medication has truly been a “life saver.”

Treatment of Allergic Dermatitis includes topical medicated soothing baths, ointments and sprays. The use of oral antihistamines can neutralize some of the destructive effects of internally released histamine.

More effective in alleviating the discomfort of allergies is cortisone. This potent hormone, normally secreted by the adrenal glands, can be manufactured commercially. Numerous derivatives of cortisone are used in pill, injectable, spray, liquid and ointment form. Caution: If you are sent home with a prescription for cortisone, or your dog has simply been given “a cortisone shot to stop the itching,” your dog may ultimately be worse off than before if the true diagnosis happens to be an unrecognized case of Sarcoptic mites!

Be patient, yes, but be persistent, too. If your dog is itching, scratching, and licking, or if the skin and coat are not healthy appearing, you and your dog need to diagnose what type of skin problem it is before treatment is started.

A key point to remember is this: There is no cure for allergies! All we can do is avoid the food, material or parasite that is triggering the immune response, desensitize the patient through immune modulation techniques, and assure that the patient is eating a high quality diet. There are a number of products that address allergies in dogs and allergies in cats that may help: Hypo-Allergenic Food, Hypo-Allergenic Shampoo, Hypo-Allergenic Dog Treats, Hypo-Allergenic Cat Treats, etc.

6. Neurogenic Dermatitis

This group presents a major challenge to diagnose and treat. As a veterinarian I know I have classified a number of cases as “Neurogenic” simply because I have ruled out all the other categories! There’s nothing left but to blame the poor dog for all that incessant licking and chewing at itself! The most commonly seen form of Neurogenic Dermatitis is called Acral Lick Dermatitis, Lick Granuloma or canine neurodermatitis. Read more about lick granulomas by clicking here.

Although rarely seen in cats, in the dog something creates an impulse to lick at a specific area of skin. Characterized by persistent, obsessive licking and chewing at the target area, lick granulomas may have an unknown origin.

Commonly, though, most cases have a suspected cause such as boredom, separation anxiety, frustration, confinement, or even a minor physical origin such as a tiny abrasion that captivates the dog’s interest. The dog persists in traumatizing the area, which is usually confined to an easily accessible forelimb, carpus (wrist) or ankle area, and never allows the skin to heal.

Repeated episodes of self-mutilation, partial healing, then repeated trauma and healing, result in severe and disfiguring scarring. Deep bacterial infections are common and permanent skin damage results. A specialist in dermatology and a behaviorist may be the dog’s best friends in these cases of Neurogenic Dermatitis.


In summary, keep in mind that any dog with skin problems or whose skin and coat are not in optimal health needs attention because that dog surely does not feel well. Be patient with your veterinarian because each category of “Dermatitis” must be evaluated, categories need to be ruled out, and a final diagnosis needs to be established BEFORE proper, effective treatment begins. Expect laboratory work, skin scrapings and blood tests to be required to reach that diagnosis.

If your dog is suffering from Chronic Dermatitis, all is not hopeless. Be persistent in trying to identify the cause and then pursuing a treatment. And do not be bashful about requesting referral to a specialist in veterinary dermatology. These experts work with severely affected patients on a daily basis and can be an excellent resource for assistance to those poor dogs that seem incessantly to itch-and-scratch-bite-and-lick. Resolving these cases invariably puts a smile on the veterinarian’s face, the pet owners face, AND the dog’s!

By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372