DEAR DR. FOX: Two years ago, my husband and I adopted a 5-year-old male neutered border collie mix from a well-known no-kill shelter in the St. Louis area.
When we asked about the dog’s history, we got two conflicting stories: One worker said that he had been part of an abuse case and removed from his home; the other worker said he had escaped from his fenced yard one too many times and that city animal control threatened to euthanize the dog if they caught him roaming again.
The day we got the dog home, I found that he growled and bared his teeth at me when I tried to examine his feet. A few days later, when I was doing clicker training with him to try to desensitize him to me touching his feet, he displayed “fly-snapping” syndrome. That particular episode of snapping lasted several hours. My husband and I saw him do fly-snapping a few more times after that, for shorter durations, and usually related to stress. He also chases bright lights when he sees a reflection move across the wall.
Another odd thing: He sometimes yelps as he jumps in or out of the car, and occasionally when going up or down stairs. I thought he must have pain in his hips or shoulders, so I started getting him in and out of the car using a ramp.
When I talked to a veterinary behaviorist about it, she suggested that the only way to know for sure if he’s experiencing pain is to get a full-body X-ray, which we did. The X-ray showed a dozen pellets in his chest and abdomen, and one at the base of his skull. The veterinarian believes that these pellets are overgrown with scar tissue and are no longer causing him pain. They didn’t find any evidence of arthritis in hips or shoulders.
I worked with the veterinary behaviorist, but felt incompetent and didn’t enjoy doing the regimented training program she advised. She had prescribed trazodone and gabapentin, but didn’t renew the trazodone prescription beyond six months because I didn’t schedule a follow-up evaluation with her. I worked with other trainers, as well, but didn’t enjoy the kind of close-up work it takes to desensitize him to grooming.
The dog is currently on 300 mg gabapentin twice daily, which our regular vet is providing. I have him muzzle-trained and can put the muzzle on him for his annual veterinary visit.
He craves being petted, but doesn’t hesitate to bare his teeth and growl if you touch him in the wrong place. Occasionally he will yelp in fear if he’s sleeping deeply when someone comes into the room and walks toward him. In truth, I’m scared of him. He usually acts depressed and rarely wags his tail. He’s happiest when he’s outside on a walk or retrieving a ball or Frisbee.
Sometimes I think I’d like to have this dog euthanized because I don’t like doing the training that might change his behavior. My husband and I both think that he suffered brain damage and shows signs of PTSD.
I doubt that any other person would want to do the work necessary to rehabilitate this dog. I feel that the shelter was dishonest regarding his history and mental problems. I wouldn’t want to return him to the shelter because I don’t think they’d find a home suitable for him, or be honest with future adopters.
What would you advise us to do? -- M.L., Kirkwood, Missouri
DEAR M.L.: This is a sad story of animal abuse, and you have done your best to help this poor dog enjoy some quality of life.
My first concern is about the shotgun pellets and the possibility of chronic lead poisoning from those, so a blood test is called for. Even if they are not lead, I would consider surgical removal under general anesthesia. The chronic inflammation and fibrosis could be causing pain, especially when the dog is being touched or groomed over these lesions.
The fly-snapping syndrome could be a sign of epilepsy or close-to-seizure brain activity triggered by fear. Has your veterinarian considered prescribing an anti-anxiety medication such as Valium or Prozac as an alternative to the trazodone?
Since your dog enjoys chasing a ball or Frisbee, focus on providing such activity regularly, especially since he is a very active working breed of dog.
Trying to train some dogs with a clicker can be a disaster when the sound of the device scares them. Clearly, this dog has complications from PTSD, and I would not force him to accept grooming so long as he reacts defensively.
I would also try herbal supplements such as PetzLife’s @-Eaze to increase his “feel-good” brain neurochemicals. Also add lightly cooked ground turkey to his regular diet, and 1 tablespoon per meal of coconut oil. A few drops of lavender oil on a bandanna around his neck twice daily and 6 mg melatonin at bedtime may also help. Keep me posted!
HAPPY CATS, HEALTHY BIRDS CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED
I am pleased to announce a new initiative from the American Bird Conservancy. The “Happy Cats, Healthy Birds” campaign focuses on positive solutions and resources for keeping pet cats safely contained.
Cats make wonderful pets (and many American Bird Conservancy staff have cats), but free-roaming cats are responsible for approximately 2.4 billion bird deaths in the United States every year. Free-roaming cats experience harsher lives and reduced life expectancies, and may threaten communities with diseases such as rabies or toxoplasmosis.
By keeping pet cats safely contained, cat owners make an important choice to protect not only birds, but also cats and people.
Check out abcbirds.org for resources and solutions for responsible cat ownership, and join the American Bird Conservancy in supporting simple solutions to keep cats safely contained!
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)