Archive for the 'Canine Health' Category

Product Review: Fragrance-Free Dog Shampoo Bars

As a service dog partner with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error in finding a shampoo that I tolerate that also works well for my dogs. This is especially important because whenever I went anywhere, my service dog would go with me, and when we came home, we’d both need to bathe to get fragrance residues off our hair and skin.

The Bad Old Days

The only “all-natural” dog shampoo I found that was supposed to be safe for people with MCS (I bought it from a mail-order business that caters to people with MCS) turned out to be made up of numerous essential oils and reeked to high heaven. Even friends without MCS said it was like a perfume bomb. I can’t imagine someone with MCS using it safely.

I turned to the only other option I could think of — a gentle, fragrance-free human shampoo. This worked okay with Jersey. But when Gadget came along, I discovered that over time the shampoo dried out his coat, stimulating his body to secrete more oils to protect his skin. This led to a dog who had a dry AND oily coat, which caused him to smell very “doggy.” Eventually, I tried mixing fragrance-free human conditioner and shampoo, and that seemed to do the trick: his coat became softer and the oily secretions went away.

Even though these products were better than the toxic and/or fragranced dog shampoos on the market, I wondered how healthy it was for them to eat so much of it (because I gave out a lot of treats to make baths fun, so a lot of snorking treats out of the bath water took place). And sometimes my dogs have not liked the feel or smell of the products.

A Potential New Solution!

Then, a couple of months ago, I learned of fragrance-free dog shampoo bars made by a person with MCS! Barbara’s online store, Baltimore Soaps and More, sells four kinds of dog shampoo bars.

A line of 14 blocks of soap in a variety of colors.

Baltimore soaps and shampoo bars

Barbara was kind enough to send me samples of three of these (she’s out of stock of the fourth, see below), and I tried them out on Barnum.

They were

The first time I used one was to clean Barnum’s beard. Bouvier beards are nasty things. In fact, the Dutch nickname for Bouviers des Flandres is “Vuilbaard” which means “vile beard” or “dirty beard.” I used to use unscented baby wipes to try to clean his beard, but they didn’t work very well, and Barnum was uncooperative because he hated the smell.

The First Test: The Beard

So, to test out the new shampoo bars, I first let Barnum decide which soap he liked best. I held each one up to his nose, one at a time. The goat’s milk one was of no interest — he didn’t move away, but he didn’t move toward it. The oats and honey he moved toward a bit. But the shea butter one he sniffed it, then he moved in to sniff it again, and licked his lips. The clear winner! (Later, when I retested the soaps, he tried to gently take a bite of the shea butter soap.)

Two thick bars of a yellow soap with swirls on the top. The color of lemon meringue pie.

Sadie’s Choice Shampoo Bars

I discovered what worked best was to lather a rag or wash cloth with a bit of the soap and then massage it into his beard, and then once the nastiness had been removed, to rinse the rag free of soap to rinse his beard with. Barnum seemed comfortable and held still for all this, which he usually does not do when I go tugging at and mutchering his beard. The fact that he liked the smell seemed to make a big difference to him. Afterward, his kisses smelled much sweeter (without all that rotten food in his beard)!

The Real Test: The Bath!

I’ve cleaned his beard with Sadie’s Choice a couple of times since then, but the real test was for the total bath, which we did a few weeks ago.

Betsy helps me bathe Barnum. I wasn’t sure how the shampoo bar would go over with her since we’ve always used liquid shampoo before.

We wetted Barnum down with the shower sprayer as usual, and then she started rubbing the bar all over him. After a minute of lathering, Betsy said, “I like this soap much better than the shampoo.”

“Really?” I said. “Why?”

“With this you can hit the spots you need to hit with it,” she gestured to his hindquarters and tail, which she was soaping up. “I always felt like we were using more than we needed with the shampoo. We had to use so much. This is not as wasteful.”

I will add my own observations about the shampoo:

It had a pleasant smell, by which I means practically no smell, but what there was smelled clean and pleasant and not fragrance-y or chemical-y. Even fragrance-free shampoo has more of a smell than this did, to me.

Barnum seemed to like the smell and feel of it better, so he was very happy and cooperative (although the hot dog slices were a major factor, too).

It rinsed off much faster and easier than any other soap/shampoo/conditioner I’ve used on a dog before. It rinsed very clean and easy. I had not expected that.

In the time since that bath, Barnum’s coat has stayed in good condition. It didn’t get oily or smelly like used to happen when I used people shampoo, and it also is not dried out. It is crisp and soft, without a doggy smell, the way a bouv coat should be.

We give Baltimore Soaps and More doggy shampoo bars four paws up!

Barnum inside his crate, lying in "dead bug position," asleep with his head thrown back, all his legs in the air, just letting it all hang out! He is lying on a tan puffy dog bed inside the crate, and there is a red Kong against his butt.

Four Paws UP!

The Interview: Barbara, the Soap Maker

To round off this review, I thought it would be fun to interview Barbara about her soap-making business, her dog shampoo bars, what it’s like to run a small business when you live with MCS, and her life with dogs. Here it is!

Sharon: What gave you the idea to start a soap business? And how do you actually make these soaps and shampoo bars?

Barbara: I have always been a fan of wonderful bath soaps and looked forward to the thrill of opening a new bar. After being chemically injured in 2005 and developing multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I quickly realized that my soap options were very limited and it made me a little depressed. I decided to start making my own soaps so that I wouldn’t be stuck with the same boring bars all of the time and figured that there must be other people out there who felt the same way I did!

Sharon: Why do you make soaps and shampoos without fragrances, essential oils, or chemicals?

Barbara: Fragrance oils are bad news for all involved since they are known endocrine disruptors, and the manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients. Tell everyone you know to avoid them! Although some people with MCS tolerate essential oils, if I used them in some of my soap batches, other batches would be cross contaminated due to residue left behind in the molds plus contamination from my hands and contamination during curing and storage. I’ve had soap-making supplies shipped to me where the entire package was fragrance contaminated and unusable so I recommend that people who have sensitivities only purchase soap from a seller who doesn’t use fragrances of any kind in their business or in their home.

Soap is a chemical reaction between fats/oils and lye (sodium hydroxide) that has been dissolved in water. Once the reaction takes place you are left with true soap (as opposed synthetic detergent bars like Dove or Irish Spring) and the lye is used up. Other than lye, no other chemicals are needed for soap making. I tell people that if you are purchasing soap and notice ingredients that aren’t something you would find in your kitchen then don’t buy it because it isn’t a truly natural product. On the same note, avoid buying soap from anyone who doesn’t fully disclose the ingredients on the label.

Sharon: Who is Sadie (of Sadie’s Choice) and why did you name a shampoo after her?

Barbara: I know we aren’t supposed to pick favorites amongst our furry friends but Sadie was THE BEST DOG EVER! Our family rescued her from a shelter four hours away from our home when she was already probably 12 years old, never spayed, infested with fleas, arthritic and had a lump growing on her leg that the shelter staff feared was cancer. I talk about Sadie on my website.

Sharon: Why do you choose the ingredients you do (honey, shea butter, goat’s milk) for dog shampoo?

Barbara: It seems like so many dogs are plagued with skin irritations and so my first goal was to make dog shampoo that didn’t contribute to the problem due to added fragrances. I have made four varieties of dog shampoo bars so far and three of them each have an ingredient known for being soothing for the skin – honey/oats, shea butter, and goat’s milk. I also make a coffee shampoo for dogs because coffee in soap is a natural deodorizer and our current dog had such a funk from her time as a stray that the other bars weren’t enough to remove the odor. The Doggie Deodorizer bar has been very popular which is why I’m currently out of stock! I’m also considering making a dog shampoo with tomato juice for… you guessed it…skunk encounters!

Sharon: I had never heard of dog shampoo bars before I came across your site. Why bars instead of liquids?

Barbara: The eco reasons for shampoo bars include that you aren’t paying for a product that is mostly water and you don’t have any plastic bottle waste. Also, I have found that shampoo bars do a better job of breaking through the oils on the dog’s coat in order to get that first lather going. Simply wet your dog and rub the bar across his/her coat and you will quickly develop a rich, shampoo like lather.

Sharon: What’s it like to run a business when you have MCS?

Barbara: Being a business owner with MCS means that, like with the rest of my life, I spend a lot of time making special requests of people such as not to handle my soap-making supply orders with fragrance on their hands and not to place my vendor spot near anyone selling scented products or running generators or cooking food on grills or gas-powered appliances. I also make all of my business decisions based on my own needs and that of my MCS customers which includes using brown kraft paper with black ink for labels and using mostly brown craft paper and shreds for packaging when shipping orders.

Sharon: Since you make dog shampoo, I’m assuming you have dogs! Can you tell me about them?

Barbara: Our family likes to rescue senior dogs and so we have a fairly high turnover rate. Our current companion is a Jack Russell who lost her way three years ago during a blizzard and had four failed adoptions plus a night in doggie jail before we made her part of our family. We are used to lab mixes and so having a Jack Russell has been quite a change for us. Lucy is a better mouser than our cats!

Sharon: Do your dogs have a favorite shampoo bar? Or do you find that certain bars work better on certain types of coats or breeds?

Barbara: Lucy sleeps on our bed and so I like to bathe her once a month. I find that having a removable shower head on a long hose is a must. She doesn’t seem to have a preference – all of my soaps leave her coat clean, soft and smelling sweet and neutral.

Sharon: I read a mention of rescue dogs on your site. Are you involved in rescue?

Barbara: Since I’m raising two sons my rescue work has been limited to adopting carefully selected dogs who needed homes. Someday I picture myself fostering dogs that need rehabilitation before they can be placed for adoption.

Sharon: I read on your site that you lost two dogs to cancer. Has that experience affected your business or other parts of your life?

Barbara: Our family has lost three dogs to cancer in the past 12 years. When we adopted Sadie, some of our friends and even the workers at the shelter asked us why we would put our older son (our second son hadn’t been born yet) through possibly losing a dog soon after adoption? In our minds, we felt that showing him that a dog deserves a good home no matter how few days she may have left was an important lesson in compassion. Sadie ended up living for two years and four months after her placement with us. She was a joy for each day we had her as part of our family.

Sharon: Can people use your dog shampoo bars? I’m kind of tempted to try out that honey and oats one on myself, just for fun! Is there any reason I shouldn’t?

Barbara: Sure you can, and I won’t tell anyone! My dog shampoo bars are made of the same type of ingredients as my human bars. I would recommend trying it out BEFORE it gets covered in dog hair though.

Sharon: Do people ever ask you for dog shampoos that contain flea or tick chemicals? If so, what do you tell them?

Barbara: No one has so far. At vendor events I have a banner above my booth that reads, “Perfume Free Natural Soap” and I tell everyone who approaches that I don’t use any perfumes, dyes, or essential oils in my bars. I have, however, had numerous people ask, “But then what do you SCENT them with?”

Two bars of soap that look like slices of chocolate orange cake: a half-orange slice on top of a white frosting-looking layer on top of an orange layer between two dark chocolate-colored layers.

Chocolate Orange Soap

Sharon: Do you have some sort of culinary background? Many soaps look good enough to eat. (It makes me hungry to look at them. I have to keep reminding myself that these are not food, they are soap. Which makes me similar to my second service dog, Gadget, who was fond of eating bars of olive oil soap.)

Barbara: Thanks for the compliment. I am an experienced cook and find a lot of inspiration for my soaps from the food world.

Sharon: Anything else you’d like to add?

Barbara: Make sure you store your natural soaps in a well draining soap dish and not in the path of the shower spray in order to prolong their life. Also, one thing folks may not know is that due to curing time it takes at least a month to make each bar of soap.

Sharon: Thank you for your time!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who liked to eat soap, even if it didn’t look like food!), and Barnum, relatively clean SD/SDiT

Product Review: Tick Removal Forceps (Updated)

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and it’s been a terrible* year for ticks here, so I want to tell you now about absolutely the best tick removal tool I have found, which are these forceps:

Close-up of thin metal forceps that are rounded at the tip grasping a dog tick on a yellow-coated animal

Forceps removing a smallish dog tick.

I have posted about other tick-removal tools, including the Tick Key and the Tick Tool. Both of these tools work well for removing medium-to-large size ticks, such as dog ticks, or even some adult deer ticks. They are better than fingers or tweezers because

  • You don’t have to touch the tick with your fingers when you remove it
  • You won’t squish the tick (and squeeze its gut contents, which contains virulent pathogens, back into the dog, cat, or human you’re removing it from)
  • They are easy to hold and can be used by feel if you are blind or low-vision

Where these two tools fail in a major way is when dealing with tiny ticks, especially soft ticks, such as deer tick nymphs, which are both tiny and squishy. This is a big deal because most cases of Lyme disease in humans are caused by deer tick nymphs. I would be surprised if the statistics were not similar for dogs. Make no mistake, however — all ticks can cause serious disease in people and humans. Some of the the illness-causing bacteria and parasites that ticks carry include babesia, bartonella, anaplasma, ehrlichia, STARI, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tularemia, among others. The longer a tick is attached, the more likely it will pass on disease.

I found the Tick Key to be totally useless for very small ticks and the Tick Tool to be hit-and-miss with deer tick nymphs. Often, they would slide through the slit that is intended to catch them because the slit is too large, even at its smallest point, for these tiny, squishy ticks.

The result is that I usually would have to remove such ticks with my fingers, and about half the time, I’d squish the tick and leave the mouth parts behind, still embedded. This is not ideal.

Then, in the comments of my Tick Key review, my reader Courtenay — who is a veterinary technician, as well as a dog trainer and rescuer — told me about the Tick Removal Forceps she uses. The forceps are designed and sold by Jon Vilhauer, a (recently retired) veterinarian. His site, remove-ticks.com, explains how and why he designed them, and why they are preferable to other tick-removal methods:

We have . . . what is probably the only surgical-quality instrument made specifically for tick removal.

The  new  tick forceps are:

o        Fine-tipped, so you can grasp the tick’s head without squashing its body and squeezing tick juice out all over the place

o        Curved, so you can see what you are doing and avoid stabbing your not-always-cooperative patient

o        Sturdy enough to put serious traction on deeply embedded ticks

For tick removal from dogs, cats, or humans, nothing else works as well.

The forceps are terrific! With them I have been able to remove even deer tick nymphs, without squishing them or leaving the mouth parts behind. And the price is right, too: $12.75, including shipping.

The only drawbacks I can see to the forceps are that they require more hand-eye coordination than something like the Tick Tool or Tick Key, which might be an issue for people with certain disabilities. The ends are quite pointy, so you have to be careful not to stab yourself or your animal with them. But if you have a moderately steady hand and/or a reasonably willing patient, these cannot be beat.

Jon’s website answers questions about how to remove ticks, why ticks are so hard to remove, how quickly ticks should be removed, and what happens if the head is left in. He also shows a whole bunch of other tick-removal tools and their pros and cons, so you can compare. Some of the others I was not even familiar with. I think this part of the website — about tick removal tools — is useful. I do not, however, agree with all of what he writes about tick-borne diseases, Lyme disease, and transmission of disease by ticks. For more information on these topics, I suggest reading my compendium of tick- and Lyme-related posts.

I emailed Jon before I posted this review. He said he had about 60 pairs left. I’m planning on buying at least one as a backup pair. If I can manage to get organized I’d like to do some Lyme myths posts and then do a quiz on Lyme knowledge. Whoever wins will get a pair of tick forceps. But since I never know when I will be functional enough to do this kind of thing, better buy your forceps now and don’t count on me!

UPDATE: Since so many people have ordered forceps due to this review, Jon has now ordered a new shipment, although it will take a few months to arrive. He’s concerned that he won’t be able to respond fast enough to eBay sales, especially since the number of orders has gone up so much, so he’s asked me to post the remove-ticks.com website instead. I’m very glad these tools will still be available for anyone who wants them in the future.

Four paws up for these forceps!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SD/SDiT

Notes:

1. I have received no compensation or any other benefits or inducements to do this post. I’m posting this glowing review simply because I believe in this product and am trying to make the world a safer place for us and our animals to deal with disease-ridden ticks.

2. To read other posts at After Gadget about ticks, Lyme and other tick-borne disease in both humans and canines, visit this page.

*Terrible is kind of an understatement: Last night we found 18 ticks on Barnum. The night before we found 28. Never before have we found anything approaching those numbers. None were at all engorged, which means we had not missed them in the previous night’s search — they were new ticks, in other words.

Signal Boost: Working Dog Eye Exams

For the fifth year in a row, during the month of May, the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) will offer free eye exams to working assistance dogs in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. This is called the ACVO/Merial National Service Animal Eye Event.

This is not as straightforward as it might seem. Exams are not just for assistance dogs for people with disabilities (guide, hearing, and service dogs). Therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, detection dogs, and police dogs are also eligible. Certain working horses are eligible, too. To take part, the handler/owner or agency responsible for the dog must register.

However, if your working assistance animal was trained by their partner or by a private trainer, and not a school or program, it’s unclear whether the program is open to you.

The informational site says, on its “Who is eligible?” page:

Dogs must be active ‘working dogs’ that were certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program to qualify. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Essentially the dogs need to have some sort of certification and/or training paperwork to qualify for this particular this program.

Apparently, in the past a few people tried to pass off pets as working dogs; thus this program is pretty clearly defined as “for program dogs only.” If you’re a partner-trainer, you can still speak to your local veterinary ophthalmologist and ask if they can give you any sort of discount. When I spoke to mine, and he found out I have a bouvier des Flandres in training as my service dog, he agreed to provide a free exam, in part because glaucoma is a genetic problem in bouviers. I was really touched by his generosity. I hadn’t expected that. I hope to set up our appointment in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, if you are in the San Francisco/Berkeley/Bay area of California and you would like your private- or partner-trained SDiT or assistance dog (or pet dog, cat, rabbit, horse, lizard, etc.), to receive a comprehensive eye exam from a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, you are in luck! A complete eye exam has been donated to Marlena’s Teaching Fund by Animal Eye Care of California’s East Bay.

It is not free, but it does offer two major bonuses that you would not get if you made an appointment with a veterinary ophthalmologist under other circumstances:

1. You’ll get the exam at a substantial discount. The standard fee for this service is $226. The minimum starting bid we’re asking is $70. That’s a discount of over two-thirds!

2. You will be supporting a very worthwhile cause — assisting a person with disabilities to cover her own medical costs and pay for her dog’s food, which will help her to continue to teach the Nonviolent Communication teleclasses that I and my friends with disabilities and chronic illnesses attend.

Please share these links around. Share the ACVO/Merial link with program-trained assistance dog teams. And if you know any animal lovers in the Bay area of California, please share this link with them. Thank you!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (whose first lymphoma sign was a red eye), and Barnum, SD/SDiT

Product Review: Tick Key

Because I have Lyme disease, and Gadget had Lyme disease, and almost every dog in my region will be exposed to Lyme disease, I pay a lot of attention to ticks. It is tick season again in New England. In the past week, I had a deer tick female attached to my upper arm (not engorged, thank goodness), Betsy had a deer tick male crawling on her, and I had a deer tick male crawl off Barnum and onto me. We have found no dog ticks, only deer ticks. Ugh.

They are each smaller than a sesame seed. Very small. It’s always frightening to find them, but it’s less frightening to not find them, of course.

This is why I have written several posts on tick checking, including how to tick-check your dog, how to tick-check humans, and a special note about tick-checking for wheelchair-using humans. In these posts I have discussed the pros and cons of removing ticks with fingers, tweezers, and special tick-removal tools. For a while, the only one I knew of was the Tick Tool Pro, a tick spoon.

Very thin, lightweight metal tool, about half the length of a popsicle stick, tapered on one end with a V-shaped opening. The length of the tool has a slight creased in the center, so that it is mildly concave. It's attached by a metal-bead key-chain to a plastic magnifying class about teh size of a penny or nickel.

This is the tick spoon we have, the Tick Tool Pro. I find the magnifying lens just gets in the way, so I remove it to use the spoon.

Overall, I have been satisfied with this implement. It is much easier and more effective to use than tweezers when it comes to removing an adult-sized deer tick or a dog tick. This is what I used to pull the tick out of my upper arm a week ago. Any deer tick is still damn small, so I was nervous; however, unlike Barnum, I am not covered with thick fur, and I definitely hold still!

When dealing with deer tick nymphs or slightly engorged deer ticks, however, the slot is too large, and with Gadget and Barnum I sometimes end up mangling the tick or leaving the head in, etc. However, even fine-tipped tweezers are worse in terms of squishing and difficulty with handling a very small (especially somewhat engorged) tick.

Thus, I was hopeful that the Tick Key, which my dear friend Karyn sent me, would work better. It does not have an opening for the tick to slide through, so I thought it might work better on nymphs. However, it’s quite big, and I was worried it would be awkward.

Flat, metallic green object that has the shape and look of a key, except where the part that would stick in a lock would go is a key-hole shaped opening, round at the base closest to where you hold the key, with a very narrow neck at the tip.

The Tick Key. Mine looks just like this, but purple. It’s actually larger than a typical key.

Last night, I got to test it out, and I’m sorry to say it was a failure. Barnum had a slightly engorged deer tick nymph on his snout — on the bridge of his nose, between his eyes. Not a fun place to try to remove a tiny tick, likely full of pathogenic microbes, with a big, purple piece of metal. Of course, Barnum’s snout is also the hairiest part of him, because even though he’s had a recent haircut, we don’t trim his face quite so dramatically as the rest of him, or he’d look ridiculous. It would also be difficult to do. So, we were working around a fair amount of hair. Also, Betsy wasn’t here, so I had someone else helping me, and Betsy normally has a very soothing effect on Barnum. Removing ticks isn’t normally a big deal for him, but pulling one off right in front of his eyes while mutchering his snout and trying to maneuver a big, new piece of equipment — he was not as compliant as I’d have liked.

But, the real problem was this: We put the key’s hole over the tick, and we sliiiiid the opening to the narrow end, and it just slid right over the tick. It failed to catch the tick in the narrow gap intended for this purpose. We tried two or three times — with Barnum increasingly losing his patience — before I gave up and pulled the tick off with my fingers. The good news was that I got the whole thing out intact. The bad news was that it looked flatter after removal, which probably means I squeezed its parasitic gut contents right into Barnum’s open skin. Not really your best-case scenario.

So, between the two implements, I prefer the tick spoon. If you are dealing with a decent-sized tick (a dog tick, for example), either one is preferable to tweezers or fingers. Also, perhaps if we’d been working on an area of his body that wasn’t so difficult — where we were mucking about right in front of his eyes — it would have gone better. I don’t know. But for a squishy deer-tick nymph, so far, I have yet to find a solution that is reliable. If you discover a tick-removal device other than these two items, or you have a great pair of tick-removing tweezers or forceps to recommend, please drop me a line, and I will test it out!

Update: Much better than either the tick key or the tick spoon, are the tick removal forceps, which can remove any size or type of tick without squeezing out the gut contents. Tick forceps review is here.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, hopefully tick-free SDiT

I Think Barnum Is Allergic to the Pond

Or, Remind Me Again Why I Do This?

(Raise and train and partner with service dogs, I mean.)

When Barnum was a puppy, and I was spending most of one of my parents’ visits attending to him, my mother referred to him (with some sarcasm, I believe), as “the little prince.” Spoil my dog? Moi?

But, actually, the name kind of stuck, for me. It reminded me of the book I read in French so long ago, Le Petit Prince, which is a very sweet children’s book. At night, I kiss Barnum and say, “Goodnight, sweet prince,” before I go to sleep. (I guess this is the first-annual After Gadget literary-allusions post, eh?)

But all is not well in the kingdom. No. And We are not amused.

I am in so much pain tonight. (It’s Sunday night. I don’t know when this will post.) And what I want to know is this: Do they make wet suits for dogs?

Here’s the sitch. A couple of months ago, Barnum started to itch — he’d scratch his armpit or flea-bite his arm or his butt or lick his thigh. Mostly though, he just scratched here and there — his head, his ribs, his butt, etc.

This has not been like any problem I’ve had before. When Gadget got a skin problem, it was severe and specific. When I first got him, he had diarrhea all the time and was licking and biting himself constantly. Once I eliminated foods he was allergic to, all those symptoms went away. Then, after vaccines or anesthesia or other medicines or chemicals, he would suddenly have a flare, and I’d have to muzzle him to keep himself from licking himself raw.

But, he always chewed the same locations, and it was always clear that something had set it off — very dramatically. That made it easier to figure out what the precursor had been.

Barnum’s itchiness, on the other paw, has been all over the map. It’s sporadic and non-specific, and it ranges from occasional to moderately frequent. Over time, it seemed to be getting worse, although his skin and coat look gorgeous. If I didn’t spend all day with him, I might not have realized so soon that there was a problem.

My first fear was fleas. I had found some strange little bugs on me at night sometimes that I was afraid were fleas. We gave him a bath. We vacuumed. I gave him a Program pill (which I prefer not to use except in situations like this, because they caused seizures in Gadget). None of that made any difference. We also found no flea bites on him or us, no flea dirt, and no fleas. I finally identified the little bugs, and they turned out to be a harmless sort of beetle. I ruled out fleas. That was a relief.

The next step was that I altered Barnum’s diet. I have stopped giving him anything but a few essentials, and eliminated the huge variety he used to get. This has made training more complicated, difficult, and expensive, because I can no longer rely on cheese or hotdogs as training treats. I’m mostly using raw beef and chicken, with cooked chicken breast for those occasions when raw is just not practical.

We have been trying to do more frequent baths, and I noticed that with more baths and the simpler diet, he has definitely been scratching less. My friend Karyn, who has also gone through a lot of health challenges with her assistance dogs, suggested that perhaps the pond was a culprit. I had never thought of this before, but due to Hurricane Irene, the bacteria count in a lot of local ponds, streams, lakes, etc., has been elevated. Thus, when the scratching got worse after a pond trip, Betsy and I bathed him.

He seemed to be doing better with the more frequent baths, so when he got his legs wet wading into the pond a few days ago with another helper (who had tried to keep him out, but when he’s hot and off-leash, if he decides he’s taking a dip, there it is), Betsy helped me wash off his legs. I wasn’t sure if all this was necessary or not, and since I’ve been so sick lately, and since exertion makes me much worse, I really hoped it was something else.

Yesterday, Barnum had his weekly long run around the pond with his dog walker. This is his super-duper most favorite time of the week. He loooooves going with Deb to the pond. She, too, tried to keep him out, but he came home caked in mud.

I was too sick and exhausted to bathe him yesterday, and I didn’t have anyone to help me. I hoped it would be okay.

It was not okay. From the time he got home yesterday, and all day today, he scratched more and more. I called my assistant and asked her to come in early to help me bathe him.

All this extra bathing has really thrown a wrench into the monkey ointment in terms of my efforts to make bathing totally fun and at-liberty, which had been going so well before. They are not at liberty anymore. He is not whining or moaning, and he doesn’t make much effort to get out, but he is not a happy camper. And we both know that if he has the opportunity to jump out, he will!

Thus, I say unto you, my dear readers: ARGH!

I was too tired, and Barnum was too displeased, for me to do training in the tub with him tonight while we bathed, which usually makes baths much easier and more fun for all, and which contributes to future baths being easier and more fun. Instead, I just kept him occupied with a steady stream of roasted chicken bits. (That’s fun to clean out of the drain trap, especially when entwined with dog and human hair.)

The good news is that he has barely scratched at all since the bath. He is all soft and shiny and happy and clean. And not itchy.

The bad news is that usually at least three or four of his walks per week — most of them, in other words — are unleashed runs at the pond. He loves the pond. I love the pond. My most favorite thing to do is to go with Betsy and Barnum to the pond and have him run around on the beach and in the water, retrieve the wonderful new squeaky ball Deb bought for him, and practice the Come Game from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.

I am not physically able to take him on walks on leash often enough for him to get enough exercise and recreation. I only have one dog walker whose legs and backs can withstand long, on-leash walks. Playing fetch in the yard (which he will only do for so long — he’s a bouvier, not a border collie or a Lab!) only offers so much.

We. Are. Not. Amused.

– Sharon (service human), the muse of Gadget (the first king of the castle), and Barnum, SDiT et le petit prince

Of Bristles, Beans, and Bouviers

Barnum has decided to follow in the bouv family tradition in my home — the tradition of eating toothbrushes.

Recently Kali at Brilliant Mind Broken Body wrote about how much daily care goes into the upkeep of a service dog. I must admit, while I try to do all the things she listed, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I’m just too exhausted. Sometimes my dog is not cooperative. Sometimes they’ve eaten the grooming tools.

It started with Jersey. Back then, for dental care I used a finger brush — one of those little white, flexible-plastic finger cots with nubs on one side. You apply the toothpaste to those little bristle bumps and rub the teeth and gums with it. This was very easy to do because Jersey was very placid and because she loved the taste of the toothpaste. (Back then, it was liver flavor. For some reason, they don’t make that flavor anymore, which is a shame, because it was the only flavor Gadget liked. But I’ll get to him in a minute.)

Jersey had impeccable manners. She was calm, quiet, reserved. She never jumped up or barked or stole food. She was a real little lady.

One day I went to get the finger brush and it was not on the coffee table, where I normally kept it. I thought I must have put it on the dog crate instead. Nope, not there. I looked and looked. I figured I’d eventually find it (which turned out to be true), but I also wondered — because it had disappeared so completely — if Jersey had eaten it.

I mentioned this idea to a friend and they thought it was ridiculous. This was a friend who does not have any pets, I should add.

I ended up ordering a new one, on the theory that it’s always good to have a backup, and that if I replaced it, I’d  probably find the old one. That’s what happened. The new one arrived, and shortly thereafter — about a week since the first one went missing — Jersey vomited in the kitchen. As I cleaned it up, I noticed a weird thing among the slime.

It was hard and yellow and fused together, but after taking a good look, I now knew for certain where that finger brush had gotten to. After that, I kept the dog dental care items on a higher surface.

Then, along came Gadget. I started out with the finger brush, and then I discovered the three-headed brush by Triple Pet. It has three sets of bristles so that you can get all three sides of a dog’s tooth at once. It’s brilliant. Gadget was not wild about it, but he learned to be very patient and put up with it. After the liver flavor toothpaste was discontinued I tried a few, some of which he hated. Others he tolerated. Poultry was the most palatable, so I stuck with that, and he eventually became very relaxed about tooth-brushing.

However, in the early days, when he was first getting used to the brush, he would chomp on it while I was brushing. After all, there was something in his mouth, it tasted somewhat like food, and it was between his teeth. Because the articulating heads are three pieces instead of one, they are not as strong as a regular toothbrush head, and one day, chomp chomp chomp, he bit the brush heads off.

So, I replaced that one, and I taught him to receive tooth brushing without chomping. We were able to use the same toothbrush for the rest of his life. So, technically, he didn’t actually eat the toothbrush. He did routinely eat bars of soap and once ate and then later barfed up some latex gloves that had been in the trash, though.

Barnum is not very fond of having his teeth brushed, and he is only moderately cooperative. However, he really likes the taste of the poultry toothpaste.

Having learned my lesson not to leave dog tooth brushes and tooth paste at nose level, I keep Barnum’s brush and paste on top of his crate. One night, he was in his crate while I was eating dinner. I heard him chewing on something. At first, I assumed it was his antler or some other chew toy. Then I thought, “He doesn’t have a chewy in there, does he?” I pondered this for a few moments while I gulped down my mouthful of food.

I decided to just check what Barnum was doing. That’s when I discovered his toothbrush had fallen into his crate. And he was chewing it — what was left of it.

Blue-handled toothbrush on the right has three piece head neat and clean. A dark blue pastic back with bristles pointing up, tucked behind and articulating neatly between a bristle head on either side, one yellow, one white. The bristles are all neat, clean, the same size and shape. Next to it is a yellow-handled toothbrush. Of the three heads to this brush, the center back piece is gone completely, snapped off at the base. The right and left sides (one orange, one gree) are severely bent, curling up at odd angles, with the plastic chewed almost flat in places. There are only three ravaged clumps of bristles left on the green head (as opposed to 12). The orange had has more bristles left but is also flattened and missing pastic as well as several bristles. Those that remain are mashed, bitten off and going every which way.

Guess which one used to be Barnum's brush?

I found an old one (the blue one), and will use that from now on.

On the left, yellow tooth brush with only two heads, both badly mangled and missing many bristles. On the right, clean, whole toothbrush with three articulating heads.

As you can see, there is a chunk of plastic, as well as a significant amount of bristles, missing.

Oh, just one more picture. . . .

view of the underside of the toothbrushes

You can see the blue piece on the brush on the right that is totally missing from the mangled one on the left.

Of course, I tried to examine Barnum’s poop for the following week to see if I saw bristles or a small piece of blue plastic. I never did, but there were a couple of times he poop when on walks with my helpers, and I didn’t see “the contents.”

However, Barnum also started having seriously rank flatulence every day. Bouviers are often champion farters, but Barnum is not usually an offender. I had recently added pinto beans to his diet, though. The question was, “Are Barnum’s emissions due to the beans, or is this a sign that the toothbrush pieces are lodged somewhere, irritating his gastrointestinal tract and causing digestive distress?”

I really did not want to have to take him to the vet for x-rays. Instead, I switch Barnum to a bland diet, without beans, and within 24 hours, the farting went away. So, I think we have escaped a brush with disaster.

-Sharon, the muses of Jersey (delicious!) and Gadget (crunchy!), and Barnum, SDiT (Where’s the rest of my poultry chewy? Why did you take it away?)

How to Tick Check Your Dog (even if he’s big, black, and hairy)

I’ve been intending to write this post for over a year. There’s always something more pressing. However, my friend Karyn recently learned that her assistance dog, Thane, has Lyme. I’m very sad about this, although I take some comfort in knowing that my advocacy about Lyme occurring everywhere was part of the reason she got her dog tested, and that now he can be treated. Hopefully this post will prevent more dogs from getting tick-borne diseases.

Ever since I wrote a long, detailed post about canine Lyme disease for Lyme Disease Awareness Month in May 2010 stressing the importance of thoroughly tick checking your dog every day of the spring, summer, and fall, people have been asking me, “How do you do it?”

If you only want a very cursory explanation of how to tick-check, there is a new site devoted to ticks, dogs, and tick-borne disease in dogs, called DogsandTicks.com. The tick-checking information is on the disease-prevention page; better than nothing, I suppose, but I fear it will give people the impression that they are doing a thorough job when you’re not. The site also includes photos of ticks, how to remove ticks, information on various tick-borne diseases, and a FAQ.

If you want more detailed instructions on tick-checking your dog, read on!

People with dark-colored dogs, and long-haired dogs have expressed particular concern to me about how the heck to search an entire dog — especially if it’s a big dog. Having owned three consecutive large, dark, long-haired dogs (bouviers des Flandres), I know where they’re coming from.

I didn’t used to do systematic daily tick-checks until I got Lyme disease in 2007. That seriously changed my perspective on tick vigilance, particularly when my service dog, Gadget, too, turned out to have chronic Lyme.

Betsy and I thoroughly tick-checked Gadget (until he died, two years ago), every day. We carry on the tradition with Barnum, my one-and-a-half year-old puppy and service-dog-in-training.

There are certainly other things I’d rather be doing with the time and energy that go into tick-checking, but I’ve come to see it as required upkeep, like feeding or walking him. There are also a few side benefits that I’ll mention in my discussion.

Note: My tick-checking description includes things that are helpful to me, such as having an extra person, using my hands, good lighting, etc. I realize that if you are single, or blind, or don’t have good sensation in your fingertips you’ll need to modify how you check. It is definitely possible to tick-check by yourself (I do it often), as well as to do an effective job if you have limited vision or use of your hands. By creating a routine and becoming familiar with your dog’s normal bumps (whisker bumps, bug bites, nipples, warts and pimples), you will become much more able to identify ticks.

Please do not think that using “spot-on” flea and tick products (Frontline Plus, Advantix, etc.), makes tick checking unnecessary. This is not true. I have written in other posts that these products have several major drawbacks, including that they can cause chemical injury to people or animals sensitive to them. However, whether you choose to use them or not, they are not perfect, and your dog can still carry ticks. Consider:

  1. They do not repel or prevent ticks from climbing on and attaching; the ticks need to drink your dog’s blood before the product kills them. Ticks can feed on your dog for several hours before they die and fall off.
  2. These products are far more effective against fleas than ticks. There really is no product that is as effective against ticks as it is against fleas. They are hardy, adaptive, tough little bugs. Some are more effective against ticks than others, such as Advantix or Revolution. However, I recently spoke with Barnum’s breeder, who is an ER vet, and she told me that she would never put Revolution on her dogs, because she has seen so many serious adverse reactions to it in the ER. Revolution is the brand more vets in high-incidence areas like mine are suggesting as being more effective against ticks.
  3. Ticks evolve faster than humans can create poisons to kill them. Many vets and dog owners are reporting that products that used to be effective against ticks have lost their efficacy. This is particularly true in high-density tick areas.

So, choose whether or not to use these products, but don’t rely on them to make tick-checking unnecessary.

How about a summer hairdo?

If you have a long-haired dog that has hair instead of fur (such as a poodle or a bouvier), consider giving them a radical haircut in the spring and keeping it short through the fall. It is much easier to tick check a short coat than a long one.

Exhibit A: Gadget

Before . . .

Gadget, a gray brindle bouvier, stands on the patchy brown spring lawn. His hair is very long and shaggy, and he looks a lot like an Old English Sheepdog in terms of the amount of fur.

We let Gadget’s coat grow out in the winter.

. . . and After:

We fell asleep together

Gadget, freshly shorn, falls asleep with me after we’ve both been tick-checked.

Exhibit B: Barnum

Before . . .

Barnum lies on the bathroom floor. His coat is very long and shaggy and doesn't look well-groomed. He appears black except for a spot of white on his chin.

Yes, I know he looks disreputable here, but he’d just come in from the rain AND we were struggling with the wrong tools for too much coat!

. . . and After!

Barnum lies on a pale hardwood floor. He is close-cropped all over except for his face, which still has a bit of beard and fullness around the eyes. His brindling is very obvious, silver, white, gray, and black.

So sleek! And you can see all his lovely brindling this way, too! (Yeah, his legs and paws needed touch-ups. We did those another time.)

Barnum’s coat tends toward the texture, thickness, and consistency of thick, shag, wall-to-wall carpeting. And he’s black. It’s a gorgeous coat that’s a nightmare to check.

We always try to keep a short coat during tick season. It really makes a big difference. I know he doesn’t look as handsome, but I’d rather he’s healthy than gorgeous (and he’s adorable either way, of course). I’m sure bouvier aficionados gasp with horror at these extreme haircuts, but these are working dogs, not show dogs, and I have to do what works for me and for their health.

If you don’t have MCS and can afford it, you can get your dog professionally groomed, and then they will look a lot better than my dogs do! But, since groomers use a lot of scented products in their salons, that’s never been an option for me.

If you have a long-coated dog with fur (a “normal” long-haired dog), or a light-skinned dog (a pale-colored dog or one with a pink nose), or a dog that’s in the direct sunlight a lot, you might not want to cut down the coat due to issues of sunburn or skin cancer in the case of light-skinned dogs or due to problems with coat regrowth for typical-coated shedding dogs.

A good idea instead is to remove a lot of the bulk of the coat, use stripping tools. I am by no means a grooming expert — I only do what I have to to keep my service dog healthy and looking decent. I use the Mat Breaker and the Mars Coat King. If you want more information on this topic, ask a groomer or try a grooming forum online. Basically, the goal is to preserve the length for sun protection and the general form of the coat, but to thin/debulk the coat to keep your dog cooler as well as helping you feel the skin for ticks.

Lights, Blanket, Tick-Spoon!

Although it’s not known how long it takes for ticks to pass on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases (TBDs) — and different diseases are said to take differing lengths of time. A conservative estimate is that 24 hours is definitely enough time to pass on Lyme, while most other TBDs take less time. Rocky Mountain Spotted fever can be passed in just five hours. (I personally think that the 24-hour cut-off mark on Lyme is iffy.) Therefore, it’s important that you check at least daily, if at all possible.

It’s a good idea to create a routine, including what time of day you do tick-checking. This will help you remember to do it and will also make your dog more likely to accept it, because dogs usually find routine soothing.

Betsy and I like to tick-check everyone before bed, because it’s a time we’re most likely to both be available, and that way we’re not giving the ticks several uninterrupted hours of feeding during the night. But, if you’re a morning person, and that’s when you have the time, do it then. Or on your lunch break. If you miss your regular time, try to squeeze in a tick-check as soon as possible. Don’t give up in despair if you miss a day. This is an ongoing health maintenance routine, like brushing teeth or the coat. You do the best you can.

Part of the routine should be getting set up so that when you do find a tick, you have what you need. Before we start, I get something soft to sit on (because we usually check Barnum on the bathroom floor, and sitting on the hard, cold floor is too painful for me), our jar with hydrogen peroxide that we put the ticks into, our tick spoon (pictured below), treats, alcohol prep pads, and a pair of small, curved, blunt-tipped scissors that I use for grooming touch-ups on his paws and legs, particularly trimming the fur between his toes, which otherwise mats terribly. (UPDATE: I now use a much better tool for removing ticks, which are Tick Removal Forceps.)

Very thin, lightweight metal tool, about half the length of a popsicle stick, tapered on one end with a V-shaped opening. The length of the tool has a slight creased in the center, so that it is mildly concave. It's attached by a metal-bead key-chain to a plastic magnifying class about teh size of a penny or nickel.

This is the tick spoon we have. I find it easiest to use if I remove the magnifying glass, as it gets in my way.

On days when I’m too sick to work on the bathroom floor, we put a light-colored sheet down on my bed, and check Barnum on my bed. A major consideration for your locale is where the best lighting is. We turn on all the lights in my room right before we start the check. While you mostly use your hands to find ticks, it really helps if, once you have found one, if you can see what you’re doing.

The Side-Benefits to Tick Checking

Every person and dog is different, so how you go about the job will depend on what works for both of you. For example, Gadget knew as soon as the sheet went over the bed at night that it was “dog cuddling time,” and he’d jump up and lie down on his side and be super-relaxed. Since Gadget let me have my way with him, I usually started with his paws, just because they were an obvious starting point and therefore an easy way for me to be methodical: First the right, front foot, then all the way up to the elbow and armpit. Then the left front and up, then the right hind foot, etc.

With Barnum, because he’s more touchy about his paws and likes to start by sitting or standing and facing me (often licking my chin), I take a different approach. He enjoys having his face rubbed, so I do his whole head very thoroughly first, and when he’s nice and relaxed, I move to the legs and paws. (This is also helpful because most of the ticks I find on him are on his head and front legs and chest, so I am more apt to get them when I am at my freshest; my body and mind are not always at their best by the time I’m done.) He is getting more used to the routine now and has started to relax into lying down as we proceed.

If your dog is not totally comfortable or compliant with being touched all over, I have three suggestions, which you can combine.

The first is to follow Sue Ailsby’s “handling” instructions from Level 2 of the original Training Levels. (Scroll down to find “Handling.” The behaviors are listed in alphabetical order, so it’s below “Go to Mat.”) This slow approach really focuses you on making sure your dog is not just tolerating touch, but actually relaxing into it and enjoying it.

The second suggestion is a tip I got from another partner-trainer I met on the Level’s list. She taught her goldendoodle the names of all his various body parts (I hinted at this practice in this previous post). This can be handy at the vet or whenever you need to check a certain part. If it’s possible, the dog can offer you the part (chin, foot, etc.). However, even when the dog can’t actually present the part, by teaching him the name, he will know what’s coming and not feel “ambushed” when you — or someone else — suddenly grabs that part. For Barnum, the parts that it’s been most helpful for him to learn are “foot” (for the front paws), “hind” (for rear paws), “ear,” “lips,” and “tail.”

To teach the parts, just say the name you’ve chosen as you handle it, every time. You might want to reinforce the learning with a tidbit for relaxing into your touch or holding still upon hearing the word.

The third is if you have a squirmy puppy or other dog who is just too excited to hold still, you can use the bio-feedback exercises from Control Unleashed. This information was a godsend for Betsy and me when Barnum was a puppy who could not hold still for an instant — or so we thought. I had been dubious that I’d be able to click for such fleeting behaviors as blinking, but it really worked. I clicked and treated for eye blinks, soft/sleepy eyes, yawning, lip-licking, exhaling/sighing, lying down, any relaxed body posture, etc. I encouraged these behaviors by blinking, giving him sleepy eyes, yawning, lip-licking, exhaling, etc. We would start out with a wriggly puppy bouncing all over, and end up with him lying on his side!

Whatever you do, try to set up a routine that is as comfortable and pleasant as possible. If you and your dog like music, put on some music. If you’re most comfortable with a grooming table or bed, use those.

That’s because two side-benefits of daily tick-checking are:

  1. A good way to monitor your dog’s health. If you are familiar with every lump and bump, when a new one arises, you will know. Since you need to check your dog’s lips, you will also notice your dog’s teeth, gums, breath, and other indicators of health. On the other end, checking the anus can show you if there is poop that needs to be cleaned away or anal glands to be expressed, etc. I often use tick-checking time to trim the hair between toe pads that otherwise gets matted very easily.
  2. If you work at making sure this is a very familiar, enjoyable experience, your dog will come to view it as a treat. We include a lot of massaging of favorite parts (back of the neck, behind the ears, front of the chest), sweet-talking, and treats. If your dog gets over excited by treats, you might not want to use them, or use low-value treats. The picture above of Gadget sleeping between my legs really was taken immediately after a tick check, when we were both so relaxed, we fell asleep (and Betsy took the picture without me knowing it until later).

It used to be that we couldn’t get Barnum to lie down and relax for his tick check. However, after over a year of handling practice and lots of treats, behold a recent tick check. First, I check his ears. . . .

Sharon leans over Barnum, who is lying on the bed, his eyes shut, head resting between his paws. Sharon is holding one of Barnum's long ears in each hand, rubbing the flaps between her fingers.

His ears are his most sensitive body part, too!

Then Betsy checks his back and sides. . . .

Barnum lying on the bed on his right side. His right foreleg is stretched way out from under his head, his eyes are closed, and his head looks very floppy and relaxed. His left foreleg is stretched out lazily in the other direction. Only Betsy's arms are visible, one hand on Barnum's ribs, the other on the back of his neck.

“Ah, nobody gives a neck massage like mommy Betsy. . . . Zzz.”

The tick check: Feel your way. . .

Here’s how to actually conduct the check.

As to where to start, that’s up to you. If you want to start with the places you’re most likely to find ticks, that is the head, especially the ears (inside and out), then the whole rest of the head, including eyelids, eyebrows, cheeks, top of the head, chin, and lips. Then the neck (take off the collar so you don’t miss anywhere), the chest, shoulders, armpits, front legs (including between the toes), then back legs.

Or, if you want to work in a more orderly fashion, here’s how I usually do it:

Starting with the feet (if your dog is amenable), put your fingers between each toe (I do forefinger under and thumb over the webbing of the foot) and feel for bumps. You are checking for ticks between the toes on the underside of the paw as well as on the furred side, above. Likewise between the toes and the “heel” pad. A lot of the time, I pull out burrs, sap, etc., under the feet and between toes, or trim out mats.

If I feel anything there that I think is a tick, I have found it impossible, even with a docile dog, to use tweezers or a tick spoon in that location — there’s just not space to angle. Instead, find where the tick is attached (where its mouth parts disappear under the skin), grasp there — using your best fingernails, if that’s an option — and pull it slowly and steadily until you have it (and whatever hair came along) out of reach.

I’ll get to disposal of ticks and tick spoons, etc., after explaining how to check.

Feel the top of the foot and heel, too, and then work your way up the leg, running thumbs and fingertips up the skin, against the grain of the fur. I use an up-and-down motion sort of “massaging” or “scouring”with my fingertips to make sure I’m feeling beneath the fur to the skin, and covering all areas. Make sure to get your fingers in the indentations and grooves between the bones.

Definitely check the elbow and armpit. Lift the leg forward slightly to see the underside of the joint, if possible.

Then you can do the rear feet and legs the same way — checking between the toes and moving up the leg. While you’re back there, remember to feel the inner leg and groin, and in males, the penis and testicles. (It’s not common, but I have found ticks on the penis — gross!)

Here is where you will probably mistake a nipple for a tick, because there is a pair on either side of the penis, which is not where humans are used to thinking of nipples spending their time. Everyone who’s ever checked one of my male dogs has made this mistake. It’s very easy to do! If you’re not sure if it’s a tick, check for a similar bump further down, along the milk-line, or across the way, on the other side. If there is another little dark bump parallel to it, it is probably a nipple! Taking a good, close look helps, too. Look for legs! (Ticks have legs. Nipples don’t.) Also, over time you will get used to where each nipple is and how it feels. Don’t try to pull them off — the dogs don’t like it! (That’s one way to tell, if you’re uncertain if it’s a nipple or a tick, don’t use tweezers or a tick spoon! Grab with your fingers and pull gently, if the dog objects, it’s probably a nipple!)

Start at the base of the tail, and feel there. (This is where I save some time — not much tail on a bouvier!) Check the tail much like it’s a leg, feeling along the whole length. Now, the fun part: Lift the tail and examine the anus. Sometimes you have to run your finger around it if you can’t see it well. If you have a furry dog, you might have to trim the fur. If you’re squeamish, use medical exam gloves. We have found ticks on the anus. Truly gross. Throw out the gloves or wash your hands, then continue!

Ears, neck, and head are very important. Feel the entire ear, inside and out, and also get a really good look inside the ear. I use the opposing finger and thumb, again, for both sides, doing the entire ear. I also put my finger into the external ear canal (not deep!) because sometimes they hide in the ridges there. Rub with your fingers, like you were shampooing your scalp, the whole head and face. Check the lips, including between nose and lips, and look at the eyelids and eyebrows. (Just this year, I have found ticks on Barnum’s eyelid — right next to his eye — three times.)

Take off the collar to check the neck and chest, again, using the “scouring” motion with your fingers. Do his entire flank and as much of his back and belly and abdomen as you can reach (depending on how he’s standing or lying.) Hopefully he’s snoring by now! Then, wake him up! While he’s standing, if he will stay up, do the massaging with all your fingers on his back, which you probably couldn’t see/reach that well when he was lying down.

Then, get him on his other side, and repeat.

How to Remove and Dispose of Ticks

The best tool to remove ticks in most cases is a tick spoon, or tick tool, like the one above. Robbins Pet Care, sells a good, inexpensive tick spoon, Tick Tool, which also comes with a tick ID card and magnifying glass. Amazon carries it, too, as do other places, but I have found it cheapest online at Robbins. I have found that the tick spoon is superior to tweezers. It’s easier to handle, and you’re less likely to squish the tick accidentally.

The tool comes with instructions for use, but it’s not difficult to figure out — you slide the slit of the tool against the dog’s skin so that the tick is in the slit of the tool. You keep sliding all the way until the tick is in the very narrowest part of the spoon, and then you slowly, steadily pull up. The nice thing about this tool, too, is that it usually keeps the tick trapped in the slit while you get your stuff together to dispose of the tick.

There is one time when the tick spoon does not work well, which is unfortunate, because it’s the most important time: removing very small ticks, such as deer tick nymphs. Because they are so small, sometimes the slit in the spoon is too big to catch them. This can be made more difficult if they are slightly engorged, because that makes them squishier (and deer ticks already have a softer exoskeleton than a dog tick). If you try using the tick spoon on a really, really tiny tick, and you can’t get it, my best advice is to use your fingers. Grasp at the very base, right against your dog’s skin, and pull.

(Update: Tick Removal Forceps work better because they allow me to remove any size or type of tick, even very small ticks, including deer tick nymphs. Here is my review of the forceps.)

As for disposal, some things not to do: Do not put it in the trash can. It will just crawl out. Do not squeeze it between your fingers or smash it with a rock or pierce it with scissors, because ticks are filled with harmful microorganisms, and you don’t want those splattering out. Although many people flush them down the toilet, I don’t trust flushing a live tick down the toilet, just in case it manages to climb out. They can survive and float in water a long time, especially if they have something to grab a hold of.

A pretty safe method is to put it in a jar of rubbing alcohol with a tightly closing lid. Alcohol kills them pretty quickly. I am sensitive to alcohol, so we use hydrogen peroxide. They live for a few days in the jar, but since they’re contained, they’re no longer a threat. It doesn’t kill them right away, but it does eventually. You can also put it in a tightly sealed Ziploc bag. They will die due to drying out (not starvation; they can go ridiculously long without feeding). On a hot day, they might die within twenty-four hours or less. This is also the method to use if you want to send the tick away for testing.

If you can easily get back to the spot where you removed the tick, use a disinfectant, such as an alcohol prep pad or BZK to clean the area, although it’s important not to let your dog lick alcohol, as it’s poisonous to them if ingested. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly, as well.

I hope this has been helpful! Please spread the word to everyone you know with a dog!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I loved dog-cuddling time!), and Barnum, SDiT (I’m waiting for my massage!)

QuickPress: Conversation with Doc Truli

Recently, my favorite online veterinarian, VirtuaVet (aka Doc Truli), wrote a blog post on How to Cover a Leg Sore on a Dog.

She focuses on preventing further licking and chewing of lick granulomas and offers a terrific solution for making a wrap to cover the legs.

I asked in the comments section what the material she suggested is made of, if behavioral modification could help prevent licking, and if she had ideas for keep an injured paw clean and dry.

She offered a terrific solution of using plastic IV bags (which I happen to own) as a sturdy paw-covering to keep the foot dry for outdoor walks and romping. If I had but known this a few weeks ago! (Scroll down to her comments in this post.)

This led to a discussion of stress behaviors in assistance dogs and why I continue to choose Bouviers as my service-dog-breed-of-choice. (Hint: They see a major part of their job as holding down the floor — or bed.)

Jersey in futon

Jersey "at work" inside her favorite futon.

We fell asleep together

Gadget "at work," making sure I get my rest.

Gadget on white sheet on bed

Barnum, still in training, carries on the grueling tradition.

She replied with some interesting studies on scent-detection dogs’ behavior with positive reinforcement versus harsh corrections.

In other words, we covered a lot of ground! (Good thing our paws aren’t sore.)

I thought the information might be of interest to readers of After Gadget. I’m also curious about your experience and opinions on stress-related behaviors in working dogs. Have your assistance dogs exhibited signs of work stress? How do you prevent stress-related health issues or burnout/washout? What do you think about what Doc Truli and I said about different types of training methods affecting performance?

Please comment! (I do read every single one, right away; lately I’ve been too sick and overwhelmed to reply quickly, but I value your comments immensely.)

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (aka “Pause or Fast-Forward Boy”)

QuickPress: God Laughing. (Me? Not so much.)

You know that expression, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans?” Or “Life  is what happens while you’re making other plans?”

Well, I guess I’ve been having a lot of life, or delighted deities or whatnot, because my life is not going according to plan.

I posted before Thanksgiving that I was hoping to do lots of training with Barnum, especially recalls, during my week alone. I also wanted to go on a lot of nice walks with him.

However, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, on his run around the pond with Deb, he somehow took a chunk out of his inner toe pad on his left, front paw. I didn’t realize how bad it was until, after taking him the next day to play raucously with his favorite dog buddy, he was limping. I cleaned it up, but the next morning I could tell he was feeling pretty bad, and the wound did not look good.

Thus began a week of limited exercise, limited training (because so much of it requires movement, and that was painful for him), and lots and lots of foot first aid. The technique I developed was:

  • Wipe affected area with alcohol prep pads. (I had used a different antiseptic the first time, and he jumped and yelped and tried to get out of Dodge. The alcohol seemed to sting, but not hurt as much.)
  • Keep paw in the air so it stays clean before I . . .
  • Apply triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Continue to keep paw in the air so it stays clean before I . . .
  • Apply a sterile gauze pad.
  • Continue to keep paw in the air so it stays clean before I . . .
  • Tape the pad in place. I started out with paper tape,  but that didn’t hold as well as my waterproof first aid tape. Unfortunately, I need that type of tape for my PICC line care, and I used a ton of it on Barnum with twice-daily dressing changes for almost two weeks, because  I also needed it after I . . .
  • Put a clean cotton sock over it all, and tape it in place with tape wrapped above and below that protrusion where his dew claw would be if he still had it. That keeps the sock from sliding down. Then, of course, I applied the traditional medical . . .
  • Cayenne pepper, to the sock. Yes, this might seem mean, but it was the only thing initially that kept him from tearing off the sock. Eventually, he learned to leave the sock alone, and I didn’t need to use it anymore.
  • If he needed to go out, I had to put a plastic bag (or two or three), or a couple of nitrile or vinyl gloves over it all, and tape those into place, as well.
  • Eventually, when the wound was doing much better, I switched from the sock/bag procedure to a less bulky . . .
  • Sterile thin paper face mask around the paw (can you tell I have a lot of leftover infusion supplies? Thank goodness!).
  • This was held in place with gauze bandage (which only required two small pieces of waterproof, first-aid tape). Then the whole “look” was topped off with a . . .
  • Powder-blue dog “booty” over it.
Barnum big head in booty

Does this booty make my head look big?

  • “Booty” does not do this piece of canine footwear justice. It’s really more of a doggy high-tech sneaker. I call them “the Nike cross-trainers of dog booties.” They come in a set of four, but for the past week, he’s just been wearing one, which I rotated, based on which was muddy and which was clean and dry. It has a mesh top for breathability, elastic to keep it on comfortably, along with the velcro, and real treads on the black rubber sole.
Doggy Nikes

I am ready to be on Pawject Dogway.
  • The sneaker is not waterproof, but it keeps the bottom of the paw relatively dry, unless it’s really wet out, and it has the advantage of being much harder to shred, pull off, or destroy than the sock, bag, etc.

Therefore, not so much with the walks and recall training. On the plus side, a lot of handling training! He is now very good about letting me mush and maul his front, left paw!

Of course, eventually he and I were both physically doing well enough that I wanted to take him for a walk — which I did after my morning PCA had left and before my evening PCA came on shift. My big, bad-ass, outdoor chair that is made of recycled parts, which I bought specifically to be able to walk Barnum, was low on battery power. I knew that already. I also knew it wasn’t good to let it sit too long without using it or charging it, so I made sure to charge it mid-week.

What had been happening with my chair was that if we went for very long walks, especially really fast, and/or at night when I had the headlights on, and/or over really rough or hilly ground, it would lose power in a serious way on the way home. So, my plan, for the sake of my chair and Barnum’s paw, was to take us for a short walk on one of the less rugged roads (though, since I live on a dirt road in a hilly area, there is only so much that can be done to avoid that).

Pchair with headlights

This is how my bad-ass chair looked when it was under construction, a year ago (before it got all dinged up and the batteries died).

Here’s what occurred:

I got Barnum’s harness and hunter-orange “recreation/visibility” vest on him, and got my headrest and foot rests set and adjusted on the chair, and away we went, out of the yard, down the driveway, right out onto the road, about fifteen or twenty feet, and then the chair totally died. Totally. Dead. Could not turn around. Nothing. No lights on the control panel.

We sat there in the middle of the road. I waited for a car to come so I could ask for help. Barnum waited for me to get on with whatever the hell was holding me up so we could get going. After all, I had asked him if he wanted to go on a walk? Do ya? Do ya wanna go for a walk?? Wannagoforawalk?? Do ya???

Well, I lied. The poor dog got no walk. Eventually, a car came in our direction . . . and turned in at the first house on the road. (My house is the second, up the road.) I saw two people, whom I thought were women, but I couldn’t recognize them from the distance, and waved and said, “Hello! Hello? Is that Lynne?” (Lynne is my neighbor. I realized they were neither of them Lynne because they just looked at me and each other, and didn’t take a step in my direction, whereas Lynne would have greeted me warmly and probably realized something was wrong.)

They started to head into the house. I said, “I’m stuck!” That got their attention. “Can you help me?” I asked.

They came towards me. Barnum stood at attention next to my chair, looking at them with serious intent, and gave a couple of experimental “woof”s. These are quiet, hoarse, tentative woofs for situations where he thinks he should bark, but he hasn’t yet figured out how to do it.

“You’ve trained him really well,” one of the women said. “He’s very protective of you.”

“No,” I said. “That means I haven’t trained him well. He is not supposed to be protective of me. That’s a problem. We’ll need to work on that.”

This was the first time he’d ever barked at a stranger when we were out and about. I was not happy about it. Fortunately, when they got closer, he became his usual goofy, wiggly self and wanted to sniff their butts and kiss and play.

Meanwhile, I explained that I lived there (pointing), and my batteries appeared to be dead, and could they push me in my chair home? Fortunately, they could. I really hadn’t known if they’d be able to, because my chair weighs over 400 pounds, and I’m no feather, either. They were young, strong, and healthy, though, so it was okay. Except for the humiliation.

I decided I really must, must, must finally deal with figuring out which kind of wheelchair batteries to get to replace the dead ones, which I’d been putting off because I am not at all mechanically inclined, and the whole thing makes me anxious as hell. Only three things got in my way:

  1. I’d run out of the supplement that I use to help me sleep, so I’ve been even more chronically sleep-deprived than usual, which makes it hard for me to think about, read about, and take in new information about, a subject that is both cognitively taxing and emotionally loaded for me.
  2. I spent a lot of energy bandaging and unbandaging Barnum’s foot, and taking him out to eliminate, after making sure he really, really had to go, and was not just ringing his “out” bell because he was bored and wanted to go out and play. Why did I want to make sure? Because any time he needed to go out, I had to put a bag or glove or sneaker on his paw. The result was that one night I did not get him out in time. I discovered this the next day when my PCA informed he had peed on a bag of my infusion supplies. I don’t think that’s medically advised.
  3. I was wracked with horrible grief after realizing that I have a huge backlog of grief from the loss of numerous people (including Gadget) to death or abandonment, as well as never having mourned the many functional losses and other “life losses” (such as my former career as a writer and editor) related to getting multiple tick-bourne diseases three years ago. I’ve been numb for most of the last year because I couldn’t cope with how excruciating the grief over Gadget’s death was if I allowed myself to feel it. I started to feel it, due to the anniversary of his death, and it felt like someone was squeezing my heart while hitting it repeatedly with a brick. The grief also made the insomnia worse.

That’s where Barnum and I are at, currently. His paw is almost totally healed. My heart is broken. Win some, lose some.

We’ve been doing more training again, and I still haven’t managed to even follow the links my less-wimpy and more mechanically inclined pchair-using friend sent me about batteries. I’m afraid I’ll get the wrong kind or otherwise screw up and break my chair.

One thing I am not afraid of, though, is ordering products from dog catalogs. The next time I place an order, I’m stocking up on vet wrap, which is self-adhesive, waterproof, and coated with bitter apple and cayenne to prevent chewing. I think maybe a case of it should last us till the end of the year.

By the way, dear readers, Barnum and I have actually trained a bunch of stuff in the last couple of months that I am backlogged about posting about. I’ve gotten wrapped up in writing Gadget bereavement posts, including what will hopefully be some useful grief resource pages. So, if all goes well, the next many posts will be a mix of happy training updates on Barnum and more somber (but maybe in some way uplifting, affirming, or useful) posts about grieving a service dog.

Comments very welcome!

-Sharon, Barnum (“bootylicious” fashion icon), and the muse of Gadget (who looked good in anything)

P.S. Breaking news! My favorite online vet, Doc Truli, aka VirtuaVet, just posted a great solution for covering a dog’s legs.

Bitten by the Bug: Lyme Awareness Month, Part I

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. I have many diseases, and they each have various awareness days or months, so I generally don’t participate — it’s too overwhelming. In fact, May is also International MCS Awareness month, which means I could do a double-header if I was up to it. Which I’m not, due to Lyme making me too nonfunctional. (See the segue?)

Little Tick Big Problem Lyme Disease

I have three-dozen draft posts on a variety of other topics for After Gadget that I’ve never published. But I’m determined to finish and post these Lyme Awareness Blogs, even if I can’t squeeze them all in this month. They cannot be more unedited pieces languishing in my draft folder. The topic’s too important.

My inability to publish with any urgency or regularity tells you a bit about living with Lyme. Extreme exhaustion, trouble with memory and word retrieval, and poor stamina are all part of the picture. So is severe and relentless body pain, insomnia, migraines (and all that goes along with them), dizziness, weakness, and much more. That’s about enough of that laundry list.

You see, there are a lot of other terrific Lyme Awareness Month posts that tell “a-day-in-the-life of a Lymie” or explain symptoms or elucidate the bacteriological mechanisms behind the disease.

I hope you will read a few.

I recommend checking out this funny one by a guy at Lymenaide; or buzzing by this SpiroChicks post showing a video public service announcement she made; or a trip to Lymebites with its variety of little posts and links to other good Lyme information; or this noteworthy Infectiously Optimistic blog, where Candice has provided many of The Voices Behind the Disease (including yours truly).

Under Our Skin poster

Mandy Hughes eyes uncertainty in her struggle with Lyme.

I definitely urge you to rent and watch the film, Under Our Skin. It is a phenomenal piece of work, and it will completely transform what you thought you knew about Lyme disease.

Another unusual aspect of Lyme is that it affects people and dogs; both Gadget and I contracted it. Many disabilities cannot be prevented, or cannot be ameliorated. Lyme, to varying degrees, can — that’s what makes awareness so crucial.

Sharon and Gadget cheek to cheek

Gadget and I both had Lyme here, but I didn't know it.

The next three After Gadget blogs will specifically address Lyme awareness from the service dog perspective:

  • How Lyme can affect your dog, and what you need to know about it (that your vet might not).
  • How Lyme can affect you, and what you need to know about it (that your doctor might not). **UPDATE: I finally wrote Part 2, about my Lyme journey, which is so representative of so many people’s, unfortunately.**
  • How Lyme transformed my experience specifically as a service dog partner.

Note: Since this blog series focuses on awareness, I’m honing in on the issues that I think are most important for you to be aware of. My goal is to prevent more cases of Lyme — especially chronic or untreated Lyme — in dogs and people.

So, I’m going to skip a lot of general information. For example, telling you the name of the strange organism that causes this disease will probably not be what impels you to rethink the limp that comes and goes in your dog, or that frustrating “flakiness” of your sister-in-law. It won’t change your mind about whether you are taking adequate precautions against tick-borne disease (TBD). On the other hand, I hope this series will.

You probably wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care about dogs, so Part I is dedicated to . . .

Part I: Awareness of Lyme Disease in Dogs

Disclaimer: This information is presented for informational purposes only. I am not a veterinarian or any other kind of health professional, just an informed consumer. These are my own opinions, based on my experience and research. Every dog — and their person — is different. Always do your own research, and trust your instincts!

Side A: PREVENTION

This Petside blog in honor of Lyme Awareness Month is pretty typical of most veterinary Lyme articles, or a bit better. It urges daily tick checks, gives basic (though limited) information on how to remove ticks (though this Lyme site does it better), and warns that Lyme is a problem in every US state and in every country worldwide.

US Map of Infected Ticks

American Lyme Disease Foundation map showing highest concentrations of Lyme-infected ticks.

Please reread that sentence, above. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say, “Lyme isn’t a problem here.” Doctors, too, frequently tell patients with Lyme, “Oh, we don’t have Lyme in [our state].” Unfortunately, many veterinarians believe the same thing. Some will even refuse to test for Lyme or other TBDs. If your vet does this, it’s time to get a new (or a second) vet. These are not diseases you can afford to stick your head in the sand about.

The sad reality is that nobody can say with confidence, “Lyme isn’t a problem here,” because it’s a problem everywhere. Although the dots in the map above show where Lyme-carrying ticks are most prevalent, dogs migrate as much as people. They move across the country and the globe by car and airplane for breeding, as pets, and for competitions. And wherever there are dogs, there are ticks.

I know people and dogs who have contracted Lyme in cities with almost no vegetation; in desert areas, like Arizona; and in frozen areas, like Alaska. Lyme is spreading into areas where it was previously extremely rare. Certainly, in endemic areas such as the West Coast, the Great Lakes region, and the East Coast, vets should test and evaluate for Lyme as part of routine check-ups. But even in other areas of the country, when unexplained symptoms arise (and even some otherwise explainable ones), TBDs should be ruled out.

If the ground is not totally covered in snow . . .

The Petside article, as is true of most pieces on Lyme, focuses on the hot summer months as the danger time for ticks. In fact, ticks emerge and start feasting on our dogs (and us) in the early spring and continue through the late fall. I’ve found ticks on my dogs even when there is still snow covering much of the ground.

I live in one of the most Lyme-endemic areas of the country. As of this writing, we have found over forty ticks on Barnum; at least half have been deer ticks. We started finding them in March. Last year, we found ticks through November. In fact, in my area, the worst tick times are usually April/May and September/October. Therefore, depending on where you are in the country, if you start checking your dog for ticks in May or June, you might be too late.

The Lyme vaccine was banned for human use,  yet . . .

The Petside article also suggests use of the Lyme vaccine. Most veterinary colleges and informed vets do not give the vaccine. First of all, there are multiple other TBDs that are potentially fatal to dogs, and the vaccine does not address them at all, so getting the vaccine is not a replacement for preventing tick-related problems. Further, the vaccine can cause Lyme-vaccinated dogs to contract an untreatable form of the disease, and it makes one of the most common veterinary Lyme test useless. In fact, several years ago, Jersey’s veterinarian — a very traditional vet — told me that, despite the huge number of Lyme cases their practice saw, their experience with the vaccine was that it was both risky and ineffective, and they now urged clients not to use it.

Tick prevention products not always “spot on.” . . .

Canine Lyme is transmitted by ticks (specifically by three species of ticks, the Deer Tick [or Eastern Black Legged Tick], the Lone-Star tick, and the Western Black-Legged Tick). Therefore tick-bite prevention is important. Most people (often urged by their veterinarians and groomers, who sell the products), use flea-and-tick pesticides on their dogs to combat ticks. It’s almost impossible to open a pet catalog or magazine or enter a pet-supply store without being bombarded by inducements to use these products. Advertising, of course, works. Flea-and-tick products are a billion-dollar industry. In 2006, Frontline and Advantage were the two top-selling flea-and-tick products. Advantage is made by Bayer. Only two Bayer products outsold Advantage that year — aspirin and a diabetes drug.

Unfortunately, putting Frontline or Advantix on your dog every month is not necessarily going to prevent your dog (or you) from getting Lyme. For one thing, these types of “spot-on” treatments require the tick to bite the dog to be effective; only after it’s stayed attached for eight-to-ten hours does the tick succumb to the poison it’s been drinking in the dog’s blood. Unfortunately, there is no scientific consensus as to how long a tick needs to be attached before it can transmit Lyme. Various “authorities” have told me 24 hours, 36 hours, and 72 hours, which strikes me as a pretty arbitrary range. Further, other TBDs can be transmitted within shorter intervals, such as five hours for rocky mountain spotted fever.

Equally important is whether these products work at all. I’ve been hearing from friends, neighbors, and veterinarians that formerly effective products no longer prevent ticks. These observations are affirmed by NRDC’s in-depth report, “Poisons on Pets”:

While pet products often are marketed for use against both fleas and ticks,
many are not particularly effective against ticks. . . .
Experts also have observed signs of insecticide resistance among ticks. They
simply are not as easy to treat as previously. . . . However, there is little or no hard data on the problem, since there has been no concerted federal effort to do the research and collect the data. . . .
Regional variation in resistance further complicates the picture. . . .
None of [even] the [tick-specific] products are completely effective.

Thus, new poisons are created, tested (in pretty nasty ways on puppies and kittens — just read the small print in the advertisements), marketed as “new and improved,” and sold to desperate consumers.

As someone whose life has been devastated by Lyme disease, it’s hard for me to argue against using something that works to prevent ticks to some extent, even if it doesn’t stop them all. I understand where the panic comes from.

However, as someone who is also chemically injured and made terribly sick by these toxic chemicals, knowing that I can be exposed at any time with dire consequences is also panic-inducing.

In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued warnings about, and increased scrutiny of, spot-on flea and tick products, reporting that they have caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of illness in dogs and cats. People, too, have been disastrously affected, especially small children, as discussed in the NRDC document, as well as numerous other sources.

Ultimately, knowing the risks to people, dogs, and the environment of tick pesticides, I urge safer options.

What are safer options? . . .

Solid science is emerging in the use of plant oils (essential oils derived from plants and trees) in repelling and/or killing ticks and other insects and arachnids. This EPA page provides an informational chart. I’ve done some research, and there seem to be several products on the market that repel ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and other pests without toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, due to my sensitivity to (even natural) fragrances, I can’t use them, but for most, they should work. They generally require more frequent application than “spot on” treatments — usually once or twice a week, after getting wet, and before any expected exposure to ticks or other bugs. If you’re looking into a product that claims to be “natural” and only requires application once a month, suspicion is warranted. I don’t want to endorse specific products or stores, but this is a google search that should get you started. If you’ve used a nontoxic product that’s worked, please comment.

Even with a good, nontoxic tick spray . . .

Tick checking is crucial. The earlier a tick is removed, the lower the chances for it to pass an infection to your dog. Thus, every 24 hours at a minimum is best.

Many people think they tick check, but they are not doing a thorough enough job. For tick checking to work, every part of the people and animals at risk must be examined in detail, from toes to nose to tail to crown. On dogs, ticks’ favorite spots are usually the head (especially the ears), neck, shoulders, and legs. However, I have found ticks between toe pads, on lips, backs, anus, eyelids, and everywhere else on a dog.

If you have never found a tick on your dog, it’s because you’re not searching thoroughly.

If you live in an endemic area, and you don’t find at least several ticks per week on your dog, you are not searching thoroughly.

I know these are strong statements, but I make them based on hard experience.

For one thing, adult deer ticks are the size of a poppy seed when not engorged. Nymphal ticks are the size of a pin head when they are engorged. Most cases of Lyme transmission to humans — who are much easier to tick-check than dogs! — are caused by nymphs.

Deer ticks on fingertip

For another, frequently, other people tick check my dogs for me and tell me they didn’t find any, or they find  one. Often, if I check again, I find at least one more. Once, Betsy and I found a deer tick larva on Gadget, the very smallest of ticks. We happened to be at the vet’s when we found it. It was so small, I didn’t think it was a tick until after I pull it off and examined it extremely closely to see that it had body parts. It looked like a skin fleck. When I gave it to a tech to ask her to dispose of it, she said, “How did you find this?” in an astonished tone. If vet techs in an endemic area don’t realize how small a deer tick can be, what are the chances we all overlook ticks if we don’t check thoroughly?

It takes Betsy and me, working together, at least an hour to thoroughly tick check one dog. Of course, if we had small, white dogs with short, soft hair, it would be a lot easier than large, dark dogs with long wiry hair! Even if you have a small, pale dog, looking is not enough. You have to feel every inch of the dog. This can turn into a nice nightly ritual where the dog gets a full-body massage. Gadget used to love tick checks. We called it “dog cuddling time.” He’d get very relaxed and floppy. Sometimes he would moan with pleasure or fall asleep. Barnum enjoys jumping on the bed and receiving the attention, but he still is very mouthy and wiggly, which makes it much more time-consuming. (Often, the only way we achieve it at all is that I click and treat Barnum for relaxed behavior, using the techniques outlined in Leslie McDevitt’s excellent book, Control Unleashed, while Betsy does most of the groping. Then, when she finds a tick, I pull it off.)

Sometimes Betsy or I will carefully check a leg or an ear and find no ticks, and then we will switch, and the other will find one, two, or three ticks that were missed on the same body part! Again, this is because ticks can be smaller than the dot over the “i” in this sentence. Here is a page that shows a variety of ticks, both enlarged and actual size, and before feeding and after engorgement.

Even if you don’t walk in the woods . . .

I’ve heard a lot of reasons people think their dogs (and they) are safe from Lyme and ticks. These include that they walk their dogs in the middle of the road, that they don’t take their dogs to the homes/lawns of other people (such as me) who know there are deer ticks in the area, that they keep their dogs to their own lawn, and more. If only it were so simple. (Some people also believe that if they or their dogs are ultra healthy, they will be immune. Sadly, this, too, is not the case, although as I mention at the end of the blog, a strong immune system is a major asset.)

Most people with Lyme get infected in their own yards. Some put this figure at 70 percent of Lyme cases. There is a lot of information on how to make your yard less attractive to ticks. Some simple things are keeping the lawn mowed (or doing away with a lawn — clover is nice instead) and getting rid of dry leaves, brush, and other debris that harbor mice, as mice as the main carriers of Lyme to people. This New York state guide to creating a tick-free zone around your home provides more detail. It seems extremely unlikely that our dogs are any less likely to pick up ticks around their homes — that they are only acquiring these blood-sucking hitchhikers in the woods or near the ocean. In fact, ticks prefer medium-sized mammals like dogs (thus, some species of ticks are even called “dog ticks”) though ticks will feed on anything with blood that comes their way, including much larger mammals (horses) or birds, etc.

Being aware of weather and climate issues is also important. Ticks prefer a moist environment because dry heat is dangerous to their exoskeletons. Thus, the biggest Lyme outbreaks are often in coastal areas, such as Cape Cod and Long Island. Articles that focus on hiking and dog park might mislead you: don’t discount walks on rainy days — or just running outside to potty. In fact, during wet spells, we had ticks crawling onto our driveway and up our doors!

Side B: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

Prevention of tick bites is certainly important, but as is probably painfully clear by now, it is not always possible. Given this, it is essential to know the signs and symptoms of Lyme and other TBDs and to do your best to make your dog as resistant to illness as possible.

Know thine enemy . . .

Among both physicians and veterinarians familiar with Lyme disease, it is known as “the great imitator,” because its symptoms can mimic those of so many other diseases, and because Lyme — and other TBDs — can affect so many systems in the body. Because Lyme and TBDs can sometimes be fatal in dogs, or at the least can turn into chronic health issues, it’s important to know the symptoms.

In Lyme disease, the most common symptom is lameness. It is often a sudden onset, and it might move to different joints, come and go. Swelling or tenderness may or may not accompany the lameness. Other stereotypical symptoms of sudden-onset Lyme are fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, and weakness. Kidney, brain/neurologic, and cardiac symptoms — that were not previously noted — can also be signs. Dr. Schoen’s article, Lyme Disease: Fact or Fiction, is a good one, not least because he lives and works in an endemic area and has seen the many permutations this disease can take. WebMD also provides a concise, yet useful, overview of canine Lyme. If you want a broader survey, a google search using keywords Lyme dogs symptoms is effective.

There are too many TBDs for me to cover all the symptoms and syndromes adequately, but I encourage you to learn about, at the very least, ehrlichia, babesia, rocky mountain spotted fever, anaplasma, and bartonella and make use of these links. This tick FAQ has an extensive list of symptoms, as well as listing diseases that might be mistaken for TBDs. This page on canine TBDs provides the personal, and heartbreaking, background for the urgency in proper diagnosis.

One site to bookmark is Cornell’s “Consultant” search engine. You can search by the name of a disease or by the symptoms your dog is displaying.

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3 . . .

While laboratory tests can certainly prove useful in diagnosis, in Lyme and other TBDs, they are not always the most useful tool. As previously mentioned, a dog who has been vaccinated for Lyme will usually show a false negative on certain tests. However, it is also possible for a dog to have Lyme or another TBD and for the test to come back a false negative. This is why it is so important to know the symptoms, to be aware of your dog’s level of tick exposure, and to know the prevalence of the different tick diseases in your area. If enough signs point to a TBD, and especially if your dog is really sick and/or your veterinarian is not sure of the diagnosis, it is often prudent to treat for that disease and see if there is a response.

There is also controversy about when or whether to treat when a dog tests positive for Lyme. The conventional wisdom until very recently was that the great majority of dogs who are exposed to the bacterium that causes Lyme, and who therefore have antibodies for Lyme disease, don’t actually become sick. Many vets, therefore, did not (and most still don’t), treat a dog for Lyme unless she is showing obvious symptoms.

However, new studies are showing that dogs who appear to be asymptomatic might actually be experiencing symptoms undetected — either subtle clinical symptoms or those that only show up on lab tests. In fact, the infection might cause serious long-term damage if untreated even when there are no known symptoms. This article presents this new information. It is the best I’ve read on this aspect of Lyme in dogs; please read it, and bring a copy of it to your vet.

The Great Imitator . . .

Because Lyme tests are not always accurate, and because TBDs can resemble so many other conditions, if your dog exhibits symptoms that stump you and your veterinarian, it’s important to raise the question, “Could this be Lyme and/or another TBD?” In fact, even if your vet arrives at another diagnosis, you might still want to test and/or treat for a TBD if the symptoms are suspiciously similar. For not only might Lyme be masquerading as arthritis, a heart condition, or another condition, it might also be part of the clinical picture along with another disease.

This was the case with Gadget. When the ER vet told me she was pretty certain Gadget had lymphoma, she also said it could be a tick-borne disease, so we ordered a C6 ELISA test for Lyme or a Lyme PCR, if possible — a more accurate and detailed test than the in-house SNAP test — and a complete TBD panel from Idexx. As it turned out, while Gadget did have lymphoma, he also had a Lyme titer that was literally off the chart; it was above the highest titer level the C6 tested for. Treating his Lyme did not save Gadget’s life, but he responded very well to treatment with the antibiotic, doxycycline. His quality of life during his last few months was tremendously enhanced by treatment for Lyme. His energy and movement improved greatly. I only wish I had realized sooner that the slowing down I’d attributed to age and hypothyroidism was probably actually related to invisible joint pain.

Holistic and Conventional Treatment Approaches

Even among practitioners and clients who try to avoid medications, especially antibiotics, when not absolutely necessary, there is a near consensus that Lyme and other TBDs require “the big guns.” In fact, in my experience, many vets are not as aggressive as they should be when treating Lyme. The microbe that causes the disease is complex and tough. It often remains in the dog’s system even after a short (or even a long) course of antibiotics. Those who have been “in the trenches” of the Lyme life — be it human or canine or both — have learned the hard way that it’s best to hit this disease hard, fast, and sustained. For many vets and owners, this means combining antibiotics with other modalities (herbs, acupuncture, homeopathy) to fight the microbes with all possible weapons.

The best antibiotic to fight Lyme is doxycycline, with two exceptions. One is if your dog is allergic to this drug. If he is, amoxicillin is considered the second-best choice. The other is if you have a puppy whose bones are still forming. Doxycycline can interfere with calcium and affect bone growth, so this is something you and your vet will have to weigh. Treatment should be five milligrams per pound of body weight for at least two months. If your vet wants to take more of a “wait and see” approach without a darn good reason, find another vet!

If you live in a Lyme endemic area and/or you are unable to use any form of effective tick preventative, please take whatever steps you can to help your dog’s immune system fight off infection. While everyone wants their dog to be as healthy as possible, it’s worth noting that the microbe that causes Lyme disease attacks and suppresses the hosts immune system as soon as it begins to colonize. According to Stephen Buhner, the author of Healing Lyme, the degree to which someone gets sick with Lyme disease after exposure to the bacteria — both whether they get Lyme disease and how sick they get — is directly related to the strength of their immune system.

There are two approaches to applying this information. One is ensuring that your dog is as healthy as possible. This means the healthiest possible diet, the right balance of exercise and rest, freedom from stress when possible, and protection from harmful elements, including excessive vaccination, medication, pesticide, and the like. Again, some might also choose other health care modalities to shore up your dog’s immune system.

The second approach is to give your dog herbs (some use tinctures, others dried herbs as capsules) specifically shown to help prevent Lyme or to treat early-stage Lyme. This way, if your dog is exposed to Lyme-causing agents, you might head off the disease before it gets a foothold. The herbs in this list are sarsaparilla, cat’s claw, andrographis, astragalus, and resveratrol (Japanese knotweed — not the grape extract sold under the same name). Obviously, to learn the proper administration and dosage, you should consult an herbalist experienced with canine Lyme.

While Lyme-fighting supplements and a superbly healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward prevention of Lyme — or of chronic Lyme — they are by no means guarantees. Please don’t think that you don’t need to tick check just because you feed raw, don’t vaccinate, and don’t use pesticides. Anyone can get sick from this nasty, stealthy bug. By the same token, if your dog does get sick, please don’t blame yourself. We should all do the most we can to be aware and take preventative measures, but in the end, luck plays a factor, too.

Thank you for reading this long post!

May this information remain strictly academic for you and your dogs, for years and years to come.

As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget, with Barnum (the fast-growing, and so far, healthy, puppy)


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