Animal Health: Dog’s Fear of Thunder, Dogs with Ear Infections, Headshaking in Horses and More

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Help Fido beat his fear of thunder.
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Retrievers, in particular, have ear anatomy that encourages ear infections.
3 / 4
Headshaking in horses has many causes, and can be difficult to treat.
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A painlessly injected microchip makes it easy to identify a lost pet.

By this time, I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful fall.
We have been getting some intriguing questions sent to us
and I am hoping to receive many more prior to the holiday
mail rush. It seems reasonable to focus one of the upcoming
issues on behavior problems alone as I have received so
many questions dealing with animal behavior and related
problems. It’s fulfilling to me as veterinarian to realize
that so many individuals are attempting to find solutions
to their animals’s health and behavior problems.
I’ll start this issue with a question concerning
thunder phobia in dogs, a common behavior problem this time
of the year.

Dear Andrea:
Our German shepherd, Matilda, has always had a fear of
thunderstorms. She becomes so agitated that we’ve
considered using tranquilizers just to keep her from laying
waste to the house. Do you have any suggestions that are a
bit less drastic?

–Jean Simonez
Eugene, OR

Dear Jean:
Many dogs experience fear of thunder, firecrackers,
gunshots, and other loud noises. It is not uncommon for
these animals to have such stress and anxiety that they
endanger the welfare of others and cause property damage
while reacting. One way to deal with the phobia of thunder
is to tape record a storm occurring. Test to see if the dog
will react to this as he does to the real thing. If he
does, let some time elapse (one or two weeks) before
attempting the following:

Teach the dog to lie down and stay on a favorite rug. Play
the recording at very low (inaudible) volume. After five
minutes, increase the volume so the thunder is barely
audible. If the dog remains calm, give him a food reward.
If the dog becomes uncomfortable, try to soothe him.

If the animal becomes very upset, turn the recording down
until he relaxes. Proceed with increases in the tape volume
very slowly until the dog learns to tolerate the noise,
offering a food reward each time the animal remains calm.
The whole session should mimic a thunderstorm, so try to
limit the listening to under a half hour. Over a period of
weeks, repeat the maneuver in different locations, some
dark, others with bright lights being turned on and off. In
addition, play the tape softly during exercise and at
meals, rewarding the animal if no outbursts occur. Drugs
may help decrease the anxiety of this desensitizing process
but should be used only on maniacal animals.

Dear Andrea:
Our golden retriever, Miguel, gets multiple yeast
infections in his ears. We are constantly trying to clean
them but the problems recur. Why?

–Joseph K. Banks
Springdale, UT

Dear Joseph:
Many retrievers are predisposed to ear problems. Some dogs
via hereditary backgrounds have horrific ear
anatomy–very distorted canals, poor membranes, hair
in the canal–which creates a perfect moist, dark
breeding ground for bacteria and yeast. Other dogs have
such severe allergies that their ears and feet become the
target itch spots. Most of these animals need not even come
in contact with grasses, pollens, or molds; they simply
inhale these substances and their ears and feet become red,
hot, itchy, and swollen. Yeast infections commonly occur in
either of these cases because the allergies or the
distorted anatomy cause the pH and the moisture of the ear
canal to change. Yeast are simply secondary invaders and
are taking advantage of a high-pH, moist spot to grow and
cause problems.

Most dog’s ears are better left alone if the animal does
not seem to be in any pain or discomfort. Even the simplest
treatment or cleaning (with mineral oil, baby oil, or
alcohol) can harm the canal, cause inflammation, and carry
an infection deeper into the inner ear.

A general cleanser safe for the inside of the ear flap and
the outer part of the canal is a 50/50 mixture of vinegar
and water. I never recommend pouring anything into the
canal in case the eardrum is torn, but it is OK to apply
this to a cotton ball and clean the ear carefully. The
vinegar provides a pH that is conducive to good bacteria
and very few yeast–things that normally live in a
healthy ear. This simple formulation is useful for most
labs and retrievers, and helps prevent yeast infections or
“overgrowths” which commonly occur in the spring and fall.

Dear Andrea:
I’ve heard dozens of rumors on how to best deworm a horse.
What do you think is an appropriate schedule?

–Heather James
Alpena, MI

Dear Heather:
There are a slew of common misconceptions about deworming
plans for farm animals. Since parasites are a top cause of
unthriftiness, weight loss, poor exercise performance, and
colic, it’s worthwhile to entertain a few of these “myths”
and understand what current “realities” are behind them.

For instance, repeated deworming was thought to be the most
effective method of worm control. In actuality, seasonal
deworming (performing in the spring and summer) is just as
effective as year-round treatments. And believe it or not,
twice weekly removal of manure is even more effective than
seasonal deworming. It was once thought that rapid rotation
or changing of deworming drugs every few months prevents
the worms from becoming resistant. However, this common
practice of rotating dewormers at every treatment or
several times a year has been associated with the rapid
spread of drug-resistant worms in horses. You are far
better off annually changing the medications you use and
using only one, not a combination of dewormers, each year.
The more frequently the same medication is used, the faster
drug resistance will develop.

What’s better, paste or tube dewormers? Tube dewormers are
those liquid emulsions generally administered by your
veterinarian via a nasogastric tube. Paste dewormers come
in an oversized syringe and can be given directly in the
mouth versus down the nose (like the tube dewormers). Paste
dewormers have been found to be as effective, and safer and
easier than tube dewormers.

A common myth is that the large strongyles are the most
important worms to go after in horses. In reality, there
has been a dramatic drop in their prevalence since the
advent of modern dewormers in the 1960s. While they are
still around, using deworming medications which only treat
these parasites probably overlooks other more common pests
in your horse’s gastrointestinal tract.

People also may have heard that winter and frost commonly
kill the parasites living in the pasture. Subzero
temperatures and heavy snowfalls have very little adverse
effect on encysted infective larvae in the pasture. These
resistant forms of worms generally survive even over winter
months. Harrowing is beneficial–especially when the
weather is hot and dry as it exposes the eggs and larvae in
the pasture to sunlight and drying (the best deworming
agents!). Plowing during very damp conditions simply
spreads viable larvae and makes living conditions more
beneficial for them.

Dear Andrea:
Our horse is a “headshaker.” We have been unable to see any
flies, mites, or ticks in and around his ears. What else
causes this nasty vice?

–Ross Duncan
Hondo, NM

Dear Ross:

“Headshaking” refers to an abnormal condition when a horse
shakes its head in the absence of any obvious cause, and
with such frequency and violence that it becomes dangerous
and distressed. It is one of the most poorly understood
conditions plaguing horses and a cause of great frustration
to owners and veterinarians alike. It is a disease which
appears to be seasonal, being worse in the spring and fall,
yet disappearing in winter. Signs are observed mostly at
exercise but can become progressively worse.

A list of the potential causes of head-shaking includes
allergies, sinus disease, nerve sensation, inner ear or
guttural pouch disease, cysts of the eyes and ears, moon
blindness, dental pain, or skeletal/muscle pain in the
neck. Allergies are one of the most likely causes of
headshaking, with tree pollens in early spring, grass
pollens in the early summer, and molds in the fall being
likely culprits.

Intolerance of the bit or problems with tack are also
frequently blamed as causes of headshaking. Lunge the
horse, with and without a bit in its mouth or tack on, and
see if it makes a difference. If the problem persists once
equipment problems have been eliminated, your veterinarian
may opt to perform some endoscopy (internal visual
examination using specialized halogen lighting) or X-rays
to check for other medical causes. A nerve block may be
used diagnostically or as treatment for the condition at

Medical therapy of suspected allergic conditions has been
largely unrewarding, but your veterinarian may be able to
suggest appropriate antihistamines or bronchodilators which
may help. Another alternative is to completely alter the
animal’s environment where he lives and exercises; chances
are that you’ll leave the allergic substance behind. If you
highly suspect allergies are the problem, you may alleviate
the signs, albeit temporary, by hanging a piece of muslin
or fine mesh from the bridle or halter, letting it fall
over the nostrils, to filter out the pollens and keep
insects out of the nose.

Dear Andrea:
Our sow has been lame on her front leg for over two months.
Would antibiotics help?

–Jane Hilzer
Wausau, WI

Dear Jane:

My experience with lame pigs is that most cases are not
related to infections and few respond to antibiotics. The
focus then should be on determining if it’s worth treating
the individual pig and correcting the management factors
which may be responsible for the lameness. If the sow is an
older, open animal or one that has had poor reproductive
history regardless of age, culling may be more appropriate
than treatment. Treating a chronic lameness can lead to
weight loss and decreased reproductive performance.

Examine the environment of this sow. Some pigs do poorly on
new concrete. Others do poorly on floors that are
constantly moist. Are the slats in the floors poorly
maintained? Are there any rough, protruding objects in the
fencing that could cause injury or constant straining of
ligaments and tendons?

Try moving the female from a gestation crate to a pen. The
ability to exercise or increase activity often helps a
great deal. Create a cleaner environment with fresh air for
her to be housed in temporarily. Try to reduce the stress
in her life as much as possible. You can use steroids and
aspirin-like medications to decrease inflammation, reduce
pain, and increase appetite, but they often “mask” pain and
may induce gastric ulcers. If antibiotics are necessary,
contact your veterinarian for an appropriate treatment with
a short withdrawal time.

Dear Andrea:
Our cats spend days and nights outdoors. Each time I get
them identification collars, they quickly remove them, even
the elastic ones. Are there other options?

–Allison Anne Arnold
Berwyn Heights, MD

Dear Allison:

Animal identification has always been a concern for
veterinarians and pet owners. Countless lost-pet signs and
ads in the newspaper attest to this fact. Many new
solutions to easy pet identification now exist.
Identification tags and tattooing are well known solutions.
Many folks do not like using ID tags as they are accustomed
to using a collar, which though effective, might strangle
or entangle an animal. I have not seen this happen,
although I’m sure it’s a possibility. However, cats seem
very adept at wiggling out of these and harnesses as well.
If the cat is an outdoor animal, the owners must check the
skin and hair of collared animals regularly for abrasion of
the skin or loss of hair. Most animals receive an ID tag
upon getting vaccinated for rabies. A number on this tag is
recorded at the office of the veterinarian and serves to
locally identify the pet. Tattooing is an effective
permanent method of pet identification but requires special
equipment and general anesthesia. The American Pet
Association has one of the most comprehensive national
tattoo registries.

Microchip identification is rapidly becoming one of the
most nationally recognized methods of pet identification.
Microelectronic technology has enabled veterinarians to
inject tiny biocompatible pieces of glass under the skin of
pets and zoo animals. These microchips are about the size
of a grain of rice and each broadcasts a radio wave
containing information about the pet’s owner, address,
phone number, and pertinent medical needs. A hand-held
reader, owned by many humane societies, SPCAs, and
veterinarians, “scans” the microchip and transmits the info
to a computer screen to identify the lost pet. The
microchips are safe, inexpensive, and are a promising
deterrent to pet theft and loss nationally. The hitch, of
course, is that they will be of significantly less help if
a neighbor five miles down the road happens to find your
lost pet instead of a vet or the police. In those
instances, the tried and true technique of keeping a secure
collar on your dog or cat is still hard to beat.

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