DEAR DR. FOX: We're having a behavioral problem with our 3-year-old Airedale terrier. She came from a litter in Arkansas when she was just 7 weeks old. She's our third Airedale, so we feel we have a good grip on what their personalities are like. She was raised with love, affection, discipline and a huge 1 1/2-acre yard to enjoy. She's been through obedience training and passed with no problem. (OK, maybe a little stubbornness -- but what Airedale isn't stubborn?)
However, within the past few months, Lola has begun acting afraid or threatened by people she's known all her life -- my son, my mother, my grandchildren and neighbors -- who she's always greeted with nothing but a wagging tail and wet kisses. She'll greet them at the door, but when they try to pet her or say hello, she gives low growls and leaves the room. Her entire demeanor changes. It's especially upsetting to my mother. Lola used to greet her, but now runs and stands behind me or runs to her bed. Sometimes she allows my son to approach her -- he always holds out his hand for her to smell first -- but after a few minutes, she gives that low, guttural growl and backs away.
There are only two things we can think of that may have caused this change: We kenneled her in June of last year, for eight days. She's been kenneled before in the same place without a problem -- there are now new owners, but the previous owners still lived on-site, and Lola was familiar with them. Also, my son has moved back home with his Boston terrier. Both dogs were well acquainted with each other, and interacted so well together that we felt it was OK to have the Boston come live here. We don't see any signs of aggression toward him; it's only certain people Lola has known all her life. I'd appreciate any thoughts you can give us. -- D.L., Asbury Park, New Jersey
DEAR D.L.: Sometimes one never gets to identify the cause of a dog's apparent change in behavior, such as your dog's evident fear of people. I would guess that there was some traumatic event at the boarding facility, and your poor dog has post-traumatic stress disorder.
First, I would have your attending veterinarian do a full physical, checking the eyes for any signs of disease and ruling out hypothyroid disease, which can afflict younger dogs. This affliction is all too prevalent, and it can cause sudden changes in temperament. Check your records regarding your dog's booster vaccinations and anti-flea drugs, especially those given just before boarding. These can cause problems, the latter affecting liver enzymes and brain function. Some dogs get terrified when treated with an external anti-flea drug.
Try supplements such as 5-htp to elevate brain serotonin, plus lightly cooked or raw ground turkey as the main dietary protein. Also, the supplement L-theanine, as in PetzLife's product @Eaze, may be beneficial.
If these measures do not improve her condition in three to four weeks, couple them with a prescription of Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium. Let me know the outcome.
DEAR DR. FOX: I wanted to mention, after reading the article about the limping beagle, the benefits of feeding whole sardines.
My 13-year-old shepherd suffers from arthritis in his knees -- his hips are OK. I have been feeding him five to six whole sardines with daily meals. (I get them online. Shipping is a little costly, but with anything frozen, there is extra cost.) The difference I've seen in the past year has been fantastic. The addition of this natural source of fish oils to his diet has done wonders.
I believe this advice is valuable enough to pass along. Thanks for the great guidance. -- D.C., Winston-Salem, North Carolina
DEAR D.C.: Thanks for sharing your experience of the benefits of fish oils for an arthritic old dog. It's good for similarly afflicted cats and people.
The smaller the fish, the better -- big fish (who eat little fish) concentrate more harmful pollutants, such as mercury, in their tissues, and fat-soluble pesticides and other chemical contaminants of human industry, notably dioxins, are in their oils. Cheap fish oils, especially from farmed rather than wild salmon, are potentially more harmful than beneficial as a food supplement for humans and other animals.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.)