Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Fear or Pain?


Watch How you Play - Rough Housing Leads to Aggression
When Pain Looks Like Fear
Stinky Breath - How to Help your Pet have Healthier Teeth

Watch How you Play - Rough Housing Leads to Aggression

dogs fightingAs a behaviorist the most common dog problems are related to aggression - biting or near biting the owner or another dog in the home. The cat problems are either house soiling or biting or hissing/swatting and lunging at the owner. Often both of these situations has a common element - rough play for the animal that is aggressing. 

What I mean by rough play is either the dog is jumping, body slamming, mouthing, inhibited biting on a housemate dog or to the human and it is a part of daily play. This is part of the daily ritual of how the 2 dogs act around each other or how the owner may greet the dog or encourage play. For cats, one cat who has strong predatory play will want to grab at the hands and feet of people and may be encouraged to do so by people rubbing their belly or allowing the cat to grab at a sleeve. 

There are 2 ways that this kind of play increases aggression. In the case of dogs - there is a fine line between dogs equally running, jumping and playing increasing and decreasing in mouthing and body slamming. When it is play the intensity decreases for periods. When it is turning to aggression, you will see the growls, mouthing, jumping and body slamming increase. I have heard so many expressions like "chicken winging"  where the one dog grabs the back lower leg of the other; "wallering" for the mouthing on the neck and head or "show down" for the face to face stare that goes into a pounce and chase. These look like fun and games but they are actually early aggression. The running and pouncing easily ramps up the excitement to where bites go deeper and then there is a fight back. Playing games that involve a dog grabbing a sleeve or people batting at the face of a dog in a keep away type game is teaching the dog to bite and grab at hands that need to reach for the head. Like a veterinarian who needs to examine a mouth or ear. Or an owner who needs to clip a leash on a collar or wipe a face. 

When people rub the belly of their cat, and the cat grabs the hands or feet biting and treading in a play like manner, this same cat now learns that anyone reaching or touching the belly should be grabbed and bitten upon. This is why these cats will bite or attempt to bite and scratch to be picked up and put in a carrier, moved off a bed or other area. When they are reached for they will also tend to bat, swat or hiss at the hand often resulting in a bite.

A lot of this can be avoided by proper play. That means, for dogs have them wear a drag line on the collar so when they start to escalate you can pull them apart, praise them for leaving and tether them for a 5 minute cool down. Do not grab the collar to separate the dogs - this is when people get bitten. 

For cats, stop all hand movement or touching when your cat starts to grab onto you. Get a stuffed animal and throw that on the ground or drag it around to get the cat to pounce on this. Better play manners can do a lot to reduce aggression in a home. Offering your pet a healthy outlet for the normal play behaviors that pouncing and rough housing vents is much safer and better overall than allowing them to express that on a human or a house mate.

You can find more information about proper play at our website.

When Pain Looks Like Fear

labThis morning I was reminded by my own dog of how the body language of pain is very similar to the body language of fear. My own dog, Bella was walking slowly towards me as she got off her bed to go outside. Recently I diagnosed spondylosis, a bridging of bone between the vertebra in her lower back, and had started her on pain relief medication which was helping be her happy active self. We had gone on a hike yesterday, and she had a great time. 

Bella is a dog who will be timid about a lot of new things or sounds. She is far less anxious than she ever was before but it is her nature to be wary at times.  So when she first woke up and had her head and tail down my thought was - "what is bothering you? Everything is the same at home." then I realized that she missed one of her pain medications the day before.  I quickly got her the dose and she was feeling better about an hour later. 

Her tail down, head down and slow to approach is the body language of both fear and pain. My head went first to fear - since that is what I am accustomed to thinking about my dog.  And like many an owner I was perplexed - what is scaring you? There was nothing different. Fortunately I thought about pain - because the signs of pain in a dog are head down, tail down and moving slowly. When I checked her medication supply I realized her dose had been missed and that combined with the hike she was flaring up in pain. She was an excellent example of how both pain and anxiety show the same body language signs. Perhaps she was feeling a bit anxious about being touched or petted due to some back pain - it is hard to ask a dog. The good news is addressing her pain also addressed the anxiety.

When I speak to veterinarians and technicians about pain and anxiety I stress that it may not be clear which is the primary problem. Not all painful problems will show the bony changes of arthritis - but the pain is there. The good news is giving pain relief will reduce anxiety. Sometimes this is the direct benefit of a particular pain reliever such as Gabapentin. At other times is it the reduced fear of being touched while in pain that is helping. When pain is triggering anxiety, pain medication will decrease that fear quickly. Unlike other anti anxiety medications that may take weeks to show response, pain meds will show the benefit for both behavior and physical well-being within the first few doses.

If you have a dog or cat over the age of 7 who is acting fearful, or changing in behavior pain may be part of the problem. Not overt high level pain, but low level chronic pain. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any changes in your pet's attitude and actions, including any increased fear of noises or petting.

You can find more information about aging pets and behavior at our website.

Stinky Breath - How to Help your Pet have Healthier Teeth

dog smilingTuna breath, doggie breath, stinky breath - these are some of the various names we hear in the office for bad breath in pets. We may sort of expect this, but it is not completely normal. Keeping your pet's teeth healthy is not only more pleasant for you, but better health for them.

Since a pet cannot brush their teeth, it is easy for plaque and tartar to build up. How much tartar builds up depends on the type of food your pet eats, how much chewing on hard matierials they do and the pet's own predisposition to building up tartar. Many of the dry pet foods have dental crystals in them to minimize tartar buildup. Rawhides, greenies and tug ropes also help to decrease tartar. Brushing your pet's teeth is one of the best ways to combat stinky breath. Small tooth brushes are available as well as flavored tooth paste for pets. For toy dogs and cats, a cotton tipped Qtip is a good way to clean the teeth. Do not use human tooth paste as some of the ingredients can be harmful to pets. Reward your pet as you have them sit on your lap, or where ever you brush the teeth. Do only a few teeth at a time. Visit our website for a more complete explanation and photos of tooth brushing. We also have a free handout available for anyone at our clinic.

As tartar builds up, infection will start to creep under the gums and create periodontal disease. This infection can spread to the bone, and other vital organs. This is the point where the breath starts to stink. It is important to discuss treatment for this through with your veterinarian. Since our patients can not hold their mouth open for dental cleaning, and treatment, sedation is necessary. Blood tests, occasionally antibiotics other medications may be needed to insure the best treatment of your pet's teeth. Anesthesia is much safer than in the past, even for older pets, now that veterinarians also have safer anesthetic agents and know more about complete care.

Dogs often break teeth because they chew on many things. Small breaks may not expose pulp or cause much damage, but larger breaks can cause pain and problems. It is hard to know when your pet has broken a tooth, unless they bleed. Other signs of a broken tooth are that your pet may not eat well one day, paw at the mouth or drool more than usual. If your pet is showing any of these signs, please have a veterinarian examine them at once.

Usually problem teeth cause chronic low level pain, not sudden harsh pain. You may not see your pet eat any differently, or avoid play. They may be eating on the other side of their mouth, or just avoiding certain toys they would pick up. Occasionally the pain of the mouth makes a pet dislike being touched on the head or face. We may see some pets be aggressive generally due to the mouth pain - this is irritable aggression. When the problem teeth are dealt with and the pain is gone, the grouchiness also goes.

Learn more about pet dental health through our pet library and health articles. Other good sources are Hills and the American Veterinary Dental College.

Okaw Veterinary Clinic
140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953
(217) 253-3221


Mon & Fri 8 am - 6 pm
Tues & Wed 8 am - 5 pm
Sat 8 am - noon
Closed Thurs & Sun

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