DEAR DR. FOX: My daughter's Shih Tzu died suddenly this week. My Maltese, Bianca, and Bella the Shih Tzu were best buddies and grew up together for the most part.
Since my Bianca did not have a chance to see Bella in her last few hours to know she was ill, what is she thinking? She keeps looking up when my daughter or I come in the house, and she appears to be looking for Bella.
I know she is grieving for her buddy, but I think more is going on. The four of us usually went out Saturday mornings together. But this Saturday, when it was only the three of us, she appeared very upset and stressed. When we got home and she saw no Bella, Bianca seemed extra stressed.
My daughter had Bella cremated, and when she brought me the container, Bianca sniffed around it and kept looking at us. How is Bianca reacting? Should we have taken her to see Bella at the ER? I worry about her. Any thoughts you may have would be greatly appreciated. -- A.R., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR A.R.: Based on my experiences with our own dogs over many years and letters from thousands of people whose dogs are in mourning, my advice is to treat Bianca just as you would a person who is in a state of grief.
Bianca is grieving an emotional and social loss, and she will keep alerting to certain sounds and time-linked activities when she anticipates seeing and being with her canine companion. Seeing Bella in her last hours or just after she had died might have helped her understand that she was no more. Dogs react differently to this "closure" process.
So give her lots of tender loving care, as I am sure you are doing, and gradually set up a new routine of walks, outdoor romps in new places and at least observing, if not playing with other dogs -- maybe a local small dog play group, or a neighbor with a friendly dog.
Just like humans, dogs and other animals can suffer from grief, separation anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and all the physical and behavioral complications that can follow an emotionally traumatic experience. This includes wild animals held in captivity and separated from their loved ones and wild animals who suffer the loss of family members. If more humans were like your dog Bianca, this world would be a better place!
DEAR DR. FOX: I hope you can help us with our 6-year-old bichon-poodle mix.
She used to be the ultimate submissive dog whenever she met another dog. She would roll over on her back and display her belly while the other dog would sniff her. Then she was chased down twice by a neighbor's off-leash border collie.
Last year she began to snap at other dogs if they came nose to nose with her, and it seems to be getting worse. She is reasonably OK with dogs she has known most of her life, but we are on guard with any dog, even if very friendly, as ours seems disposed to suddenly snap. If the other dog doesn't approach her first, she will generally ignore it, and they can walk past each other just fine.
She is the cutest dog, so people and especially kids want to meet her, but we have to explain that she is afraid and doesn't like to be petted. We keep hoping we can distract her with treats to allow her to meet other dogs, but once she snaps at another dog, the owners tend to avoid close contact. She does chew on her front paw and scratches some, and bitter apple does not stop her. -- C.H., Ocean, New Jersey
DEAR C.H.: I would add a few drops of fish oil for dogs or a canned sardine or two in water and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil per meal to help the skin issue.
The behavioral issue is most likely post-traumatic stress disorder and will require patience and vigilance around other dogs. Giving treats and walks together with another "buddy dog" on a regular basis may work wonders. But to be on the safe side, have your veterinarian do a blood test for hypothyroid, since thyroid dysfunction can affect dogs' temperaments, making some more fearful and snappy. Also discuss a trial short course of anti-anxiety medication.
MANY DOG CAR HARNESSES UNSAFE
I have been a strong advocate for harnesses on dogs when in a vehicle for a long time. A study conducted by the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety on the effectiveness of car harnesses designed for small, medium and large dogs, using dog surrogate dummies in crash tests, found that only one effectively kept all three dog models from launching off the seat: Sleepypod's Clickit Utility Harness. For details, visit centerforpetsafety.org.
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