I am Your Dog’s Thyroid Gland


Your dog’s thyroid gland is a neat little masterpiece that’s responsible for many functions. Among the thyroid gland’s functions one of the most important and well known is its ability in regulating the dog’s metabolism by producing thyroid hormones. Any disruption in this gland’s correct functioning may result in several complications that may affect a dog’s physical and mental well being. So today’s let’s learn more about a dog’s thyroid gland,  where it’s located, its many functions, and some signs suggesting something may be wrong and require veterinary attention.

dog-thyroid-glandIntroducing Your Dog’s Thyroid Gland

Hello, it’s your dog’s thyroid gland talking! Yes, I am quite a neat little masterpiece. I am a small gland consisting of two lobes that are found in your dog’s neck area, just underneath his voice box, also known as the larynx.

As my name implies, I am gland, which means that I produce special chemical substances, that are known as hormones.  You see, I am composed of tens of thousands of follicles from which hormones are produced. What hormones do I produce? Thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3) are produced by me and sent to your dog’s bloodstream.

A third hormone called TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone,) is produced by the pituitary gland found at the base of the dog’s brain. How much of this hormone is produced depends on how many thyroid hormones are in the bloodstream. Therefore, expect more TSH to be produced when the thyroid hormones I produce are are on the lower end.

Do you see the four little dark circles in the picture above? Those are parathyroid glands, little fellows that play an important role in maintaining optimal levels of blood calcium in dogs. These glands though deserve their own little story, so let’s move on to learning more facts about me and what I do.

I am The Boss of Metabolismdog-snow

I am the boss of your dog’s metabolism. The several hormones I produce help transport energy to every cell in your dog’s body and they play a vital role for making your dog feel happy and healthy. Need an example? My hormones play a main role in the development of your dog’s nervous and musculoskeletal system and it’s thank to the hormones I produce that your dog gets to enjoy a normal cardio-respiratory function.

I also help regulate your dog’s temperature and work like a thermostat. You see,  the hormones I produce allow your dog to generate heat and maintain an ideal temperature. If your dog is mostly kept outdoors, that means extra work for me, as I will have to increase your dog’s metabolic rate to keep him warm. Hopefully, owners of outdoor dogs will keep this in mind and feed their dogs more food to compensate for all the burned nutrients used to accomplish all this!

Oh, and if your dog has a nice coat, you must thank me as my hormones help with the anagen growth phase of your dog’s hair cycle.

Labrador with tragic face
Labrador with tragic face

When Things Go Wrong

When  I produce just the right amount of hormones, everything is fine, but sometimes I may produce too many or too little hormones. Cats are notorious for having an over reactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), while in dogs, the opposite is true,as they are mostly affected by an under active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

What happens in this case? Most often, this condition arises when the dog’s immune system attacks me, and ends up killing my cells, leading to a condition known as autoimmune lymphocytic thyroiditis. However in some cases, I may atrophy for unclear reasons or cancer may be the culprit to my destruction.

Sometimes, certain medications are known to lower my production in thyroid hormones. For instance, moderate and high doses of glucocorticoids and sulfa antibiotics are known to lower T4 concentrations while phenobarbital has shown to lower T4 levels in 40 percent of dogs taking this drug.

Regardless of what slows me down, the effects on the dog’s body remain almost the same. Since I reach all tissues of your dog’s body, when I get sluggish and stop working as I should, I cause a vast array of symptoms such as hair loss, lethargy, weight gain, recurrent skin infections, intolerance to cold, slow heart rate, dry coat and behavior changes. In some cases, I may cause drooping skin of the dog’s chin, neck and face, which is known as “tragic face” as it gives affected dogs a sad look on their faces, explains Dr. Ralston. You can see an example of this in the picture on the left.

Diagnosing dogs with hypothyroidism requires a blood test to check for signs of me not working as I should. Your vet may offer several tests, but if you are looking  for the most comprehensive test in the market, you can’t go wrong with the Thyroid Profile 5™ produced by Hemopet. What the treatment for hypothyroidism in dogs? Since I am not producing hormones as I should, dogs are often placed on a daily dose of  a synthetic thyroid hormone such as levothyroxine that will need to be taken for the rest of the dog’s life.

idea tipDid you know? Hypothyroidism is the most common endocrine disorder affecting dogs, and up to 80 percent of cases are caused by autoimmune (lymphocytic) thyroiditis, explains Dr. Jean Dodds.

As seen, I am quite important and can wreck all sorts of problems when I stop functioning well. You may want to take extra good care of me, by having your dog see your vet if you notice any vague symptoms, especially if you dog is middle-aged and ranging between mid-size to large. Also, you may want to be extra careful about what equipment you use to walk your dog as collars (especially choke and prong collars) can do quite some damage to me. Dr. Erin O’Connor, an AVCA animal chiropractor, found that pressure on me can cause dogs thyroid issues. If your dog is an avid puller or if you deliver collar corrections, you may want to change your ways and be more gentle with your dog, and perhaps consider investing in a harness instead. With that being said, I hope you found it interesting learning more about me!
 Kind regards,
Your Dog’s TracheaDog Pawprint
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog shows signs of a thyroid problem, please consult with your vet.



  • DVM360, Progress in the diagnosis and management of canine hypothyroidism (Proceedings), by Peter Kintze, DVM, DACVIM retrieved from the web on October 31st, 2016
  • Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Dogs and Cats, By Etienne Cote, Mosby; 3 edition (December 23, 2014)

Photo Credits:

Wikipedia, Thyroid and parathyroid. Public Domain


What’s Up With Dogs Whining in the Car?


If your dog is whining in the car, he may likely have a love or hate relationship with the car and this can largely depend on what happens when he goes on a car ride. Will the destination be the dog park or the dreaded vet or groomer? Will your dog get to go on a hike, play with his friends, visit dear Aunt Mary or will he be poked  and prodded with needles or drenched in soap and water and then exposed to a scary hair dryer? Your dog won’t know for sure until you make that turn that’ll confirm him what’s going to happen next. The lives of dogs are often filled with certainties and uncertainties which can sometimes lead to bouts of anxious whining.

dog-whining-in-the-carIs it Stress or Eustress?

Whining in dogs in the car may be triggered by the anticipation of something the dog dreads or the anticipation of something he looks forward to doing. Yes, because stress can be of the positive or negative type.

You might be familiar with these different types as you may have experienced them at some time. If you hate going to the dentist, you might have felt some anxiety in the past as you drove yourself there. Most likely you had all sorts of negative thoughts populate your mind such as “what if it’s painful? what if the dentist is rough?”

On the other hand, you may have felt very excited when you were getting ready to go on a cruise you have been wanting to go on since you were a child. Your heart may have beaten faster as you thought about the wonderful experience. You may have therefore oriented all your energy in making plans so to make the most out of it (eustress, the good stress)

Dogs unlike humans don’t engage in self-talk and therefore they are spared from all those often irrational “what ifs” us humans bombard ourselves when in anticipation of something worrisome.

Dogs however are known for associating one event with another, something adaptive that must have played a role in sparing them from dangers, “This ability to anticipate and thus prepare oneself for imminent events, gave animals that were able to do so an edge over animals that could not, and so classical conditioning evolved” explains Jean Donaldson in the book “Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker.”

Dogs, like us, are also prone to eustress, and may whine in anticipation of something they look forward to doing. Being masters in keeping an eye on their surroundings, dogs soon learn to pay attention to certain tip-offs suggestive about what will happen next.

“Visits to dog park result in activation of HPA axis or possible“eustress.” ~Hekman et al. 2014; Ottenheimer et al., 2013

Dogs Excitement Whining in the Car dog-whining-from-excitement

Whining in the car can be excitement based if the car ride meets certain criteria that have established in your dog’s mind. For instance, if the percentage of car rides to the dog park are higher than the percentage of rides to the veterinarian (like you go the park twice a week and at the vet once a year), your dog will more likely be whining in anticipation of meeting his friends there and having a blast.

If the predictability is not that easy, as you take your dog in many different places, your dog may rely on other tip offs such as the route you take.

Yes, dogs have demonstrated the uncanny ability to learn that a specific turn takes him to the dog park, while another one takes him to the groomer or some other place. You can literally see them whine in anticipation when you take that turn for the dog park and the whining may build up from their until you pull into the parking lot and your dog bounces off the car rushing towards his pals.

Now, here’s an interesting phenomenon, worth of mentioning. While your dog may initially whine when you take that turn to reach the dog park, you may notice at some point that he may also start whining earlier and earlier. So your dog may therefore whine before turning, then he may start whining on the street that leads to that turn, and then you may notice him starting whining  even earlier such as soon as he enters the car, which equals to a dog whining non-stop for the whole trip. Quite an annoying affair to many dog owners.

idea tipHow to Reduce it: Avoid getting your dog all revved about the car ride by saying things such as “Hey, Rover, let’s go on a car ride!” in an excited tone of voice. Just act matter of fact. It also helps to bring your dog along for many boring, unproductive car rides, so that their proportion beats the trips to the park. This should help tone down the excitement after some time as your dog loses interest.

Dog Anxiety Whining in the Cardog-whining-in-car

A common mistake many dog owners make is to take their dog on car rides only when going to the vet, the dog groomer or being dropped off at the kennel when they are going on vacation. If the dog perceives these activities as unpleasant or downright scary, it’s normal that the outcome will be a dog who hates car rides!

These dogs will therefore be panting and anxiously whining for the whole car ride in anticipation. Other signs of stress that may be seen include yawning, lip licking and shaking.

A typical “modus operandi” of a dog who is anxious about the destination of a car ride is that his signs of stress tend to fade on the way home. Most dogs recognize visual cues suggesting that they’re nearing home under the form of landmarks, smells and even cues given off by their owners who relax as well. Some dogs may even snooze on the way back home!

idea tipHow to Reduce it:  If you’re dealing with a particularly challenging case, start with short trips. Walk your dog a block away and then have someone pick you up, and then drive you straight home. Do this several times. If your dog is willing to eat, provide some tasty treats during the duration of the ride. Then progress and start bringing your dog along for brief car rides to happy places where your dog has a good experience. Drive to a park where you get to play together, bring him along to buy dog food (if the store welcomes dogs) or go on a hike. With the proportion of happy places being higher than the “bad places”, your dog should start associating car rides with good experiences. Calming aids such as DAP sprays and veterinary recommended supplements may also turn helpful.

Note: If your dog ever drools or appears at any time nauseous, consult with your vet. There are chances your dog is whining because he’s getting car sick. This can be remedied with some anti-car sickness medications from your vet.

Dogs Whining Upon Seeing Stimulidog-anxious-in-the-car

Not all dogs whine in anticipation of something, some will whine when they detect certain stimuli. Many dogs are driven by visual scenery, they’ll therefore be vocalizing a lot when they see a person, a dog or some other animal from the car window.

Some dogs may also whine in response to certain smells or certain sounds.

For some dogs, this is the result of lack of socialization. These dogs may have not been socialized enough and they feel vulnerable in seeing people or other dogs when on car rides. Generally, these dogs also react this way as well on walks.

Some others may whine/bark out of frustration, they may want to meet other dogs and they end up whining because of car door and windows acting as a barrier. These dogs generally tend to whine as well on leash or when they see other dogs behind a fence or window.

And then there are dogs who are simply excited by all the novelty they encounter when in the car. All those new sights, smells and noises overstimulate them, which leads to.. you guessed it, a bout of whining!

idea tipHow to Reduce it : Dogs who whine in response to visual stimuli may benefit from a visual barrier. As the saying goes “out of sight,. out of mind.” Using a crate and covering it can help reduce this type of whining. Some dogs may further reduce their whining if they’re given something else to do such as a chew toy that’ll keep them occupied.

A Word About Cratesdog-harness-car-seat-belt

Many people are reluctant to use crates for their dogs, but using a crate in the car is different than using a crate in the home. In the car, a crate  is for safety and it prevents a dog from rehearsing anxious behaviors such as pacing back and forth from one window to another.

A crate (or any other form of restraint) can therefore make a difference in the further development of a state of anxiety.

Also, a dog in panic may cause an accident and should the driver ever have to hit the brakes suddenly, a dog risks becoming projectile which can be very dangerous.

In some states, there are legislation requiring animal restraints in moving vehicles, and dog owners can be cited for improperly transporting an animal. Even if it’s not illegal, a loose dog can become a distraction to the driver.

A special word about older dogs: Senior dogs may have a hard time balancing themselves when owners use the brakes as they may have joint problems, and at times, they may be affected by inner ear problems that cause dizziness. If your dog is a senior that has been fine in the car most of his life and now is whining, you may want to see your vet to rule out medical problems.

And of course, young dogs can also be prone to medical problems so any changes in their behavior  should always warrant a vet visit too.


  • “Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker” by Jean Donaldson
  • APDT, “Best Practices” in Off-Leash Dog Parks: Do They Exist?” by Lindsay R. Mehrkam University of Florida . retrieved from the web on October 30th, 2016. Dogwise Publishing (April 1, 2008)
  • Exploring the dog park: Relationships between social behaviours, personality and cortisol in companion dogs,
    Lydia Ottenheimer Carrier, Amanda Cyr, Rita E. Anderson Carolyn J. Walsh. Department of Psychology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, A1B 3X9, Canada.

Surprise, Dogs Have Sleep Disorders Too


Why can’t my dog fall asleep, can dogs get sleep disorders like humans do? If you thought that tossing and turning and having nightmares and other sleep problems are unique to humans, think again. Turns out dogs can have sleep disorders too. Sure dogs don’t have to worry about balancing their checkbooks, going through divorces or other problems we face, but that doesn’t make them immune to annoying sleeping disorders. If your dog shows any signs of a sleep disorder, don’t just chalk it up to just one of those “things dogs do.” Just like in humans, sleep disorders in dogs can affect their daily lives putting a dent in their physical and mental well-being too.

dog-sleeping-disorders Dog Sleeping Cycles

Dogs just like us, undergo several sleep cycles when they hit the pillow and drift into dreamland.

Drowsing is a transitional state during which the dog becomes gradually more and more sluggish. An electroencephalogram (EEG) at this stage appears irregular.  

Next, the dog drifts into slow wave sleep, also known as non-REM sleep. This is light sleep during which the dog is sleeping lightly and his body isn’t fully relaxed -yet. Dogs in this stage awaken quickly if aroused and their EEG shows sleep spindles.

After a bit, the dog enters a moderately deep sleep stage where an EEG shows sleep spindles interrupted by delta waves.

Next,  the dog will then enter the deep sleep cycle, which is a deeper stage of sleep characterizes by delta waves during which REM (fast wave sleep) appears.

This is when your dog is busy dreaming about that squirrel who lives by the tree in your yard or that food you left unattended earlier laying on the counter. REM stands for rapid eye movement, and this sleep pattern is called this way because the dog’s brain waves are very active during this stage and you can literally see his eyes moving quickly but so can his legs, paws, tail and facial muscles. Some dogs will vocalize too! The REM sleep stage is quite restorative, it’s therefore important to let your dog enjoy his deep REM sleep without interruption.

idea tipDid you know? As with humans, dogs REM sleep is important as it’s an important part of the sleep cycle during which stress is resolved, explains Paul Owens in the book “The Dog Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training.”

old dogDog Sleeping Problems

Dog sleeping problems cause a disruption to the dog’s normal sleeping cycles. They can be primary or secondary to certain conditions.

If you notice any changes in your dog’s sleeping patterns, consult with your vet and, if you still need help or a second opinion, you can try consulting with a board-certified veterinarian specializing in neurology who can help in identifying any underlying central nervous system diseases.

Recording the events may be helpful to your vet for diagnostic purposes, considering that dogs won’t sleep at the vet’s office.Telling your vet whether your dog can be roused from the event can also be valuable information.

Sometimes dogs may develop seizures that arise during particular stages of sleep which can sometimes be challenging to distinguish from REM movements. One distinguishing factor though is that dogs not affected by seizures can be awaken, and once awake, they show no coordination problems or confusion, which is in contrast with what happens during a seizure, explains board-certified veterinarian Dr. Linda Shell. 

warning cautionFor safety, it’s best not to touch a dog to awaken him since some dogs may react aggressively when startled. Calling the dog by his name may be a better choice.

dog-dementiaCanine Dementia

Canine dementia has a reputation for disrupting a dog’s sleeping patterns. Canine dementia, also known as canine cognitive dysfunction, is the doggy version of Alzheimer’s disease and is known for causing senior dogs to have disrupted circadian rhythms affecting a dog’s sleep and wake cycles, which means sleeping more during the day and sleeping less in the night.

Affected dogs may therefore be found aimlessly pacing in the night, vocalizing and acting distressed.

Some dogs may get lost in the home, getting stuck in corners and forgetting where they normally eliminate. Affected dogs may also start forgetting commands, and become less responsive to being called by their name.

” Affected dogs and cats may no longer exhibit standard sleep-wake cycles, instead, pacing +/- vocalization during the night. Cats sleep often during the day as a normal behavior, so these changes may be most noticeable for dogs.” ~Karen Overall

Insomnia in Dogs 

dog blanket sleep sick

Insomnia affects a dog’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can also cause dogs to wake up too early. Often there is an underlying cause to restlessness and insomnia in dogs.

Pain and discomfort can cause a dog trouble falling asleep. The pain may stem from acute or chronic conditions. Arthritis, herniated discs of the neck or spine or a gastro-intestinal problems are just a few of the many conditions that can lead to a restless night.

If the dog is particularly anxious, he may not feel safe to fall asleep and may remain vigilant for a part of the night.

Dogs, especially young dogs, who have too much energy may also be restless and the last thing they may want to do is go to sleep. Certain medications may also affect a dog’s ability to get sufficient sleep.

Dog Narcolepsydog-sleeping

Sometimes things can go wrong in the dog’s sleeping cycle, and narcolepsy may be a sign. In this sleeping disorder dogs are extremely sluggish and will suddenly collapse in lateral recumbancy (on their side) and fall asleep. Often, these sleeping spells are precipitated by exciting events such as eating or playing.

Narcolepsy is really quite a rare neurological disorder, however there are more reports of it lately. It can be a hereditary problem in some dog breeds, but it can also develop as the result of a brainstem lesion, explains. veterinarian Dr. Loretta.

“The attacks are typically not life-threatening by themselves although certain situations such as hunting, swimming or off-leash exercise should not be allowed as they may cause harm. Some pets outgrow this condition.” Dr. John McDonnell

A Dog with Narcolepsy

Dog Sleep Apneadog brachycephalic breed

Can dogs get sleep apnea? The answer seems to be yes, but dogs don’t get to put nasal strips on their noses or wear those c-pap machines so popular in people with this disorder. Dogs for the most part affected by sleep apnea are brachycephalic, and being more on the obese side is a predisposing factor. The English bulldog is the poster child for this disorder.

Just as in humans, dog affected by sleep disordered breathing will temporarily stop breathing which can cause them to wake up multiple times in the night. These repeated awakenings interfere with getting their daily nose of uninterrupted, restorative REM sleep.

And just as in humans, dogs with sleep apnea may appear tired and sluggish and sometimes grumpy too.

Shedding a few extra pounds may turn helpful, but in some cases surgery to correct any extra tissues of skin can help open up the airway.

REM Behavior Disorder

Have you ever seen people act out their dreams? Well, something quite similar may occur in dogs affected by REM behavior disorder (RBD). These dogs are abnormally active during the REM stage of sleep and the violent motor activity during dreaming may therefore cause them to run into walls as in the video below, bite and attack objects. This can obviously cause the affected dogs to get hurt and hurt others who are around them. To avoid this, affected dogs should sleep in a confined and well-padded area, suggests veterinarian Dr. Gabby. Veterinarians may also prescribe certain medications such as clonazepam, potassium bromide, and phenobarbital

“REM Behavior Disorder (RBD) occurs during REM sleep. During this REM state, the electrical activity of the brain is similar to the electrical activity that occurs during waking. Most dogs remain still even when they are having active dreams but, dogs with RBD lack this muscle paralysis, which permits them to act out dramatic and/or violent dreams during the REM stage of sleep.”~Dr. Gabby

A Dog Affected by REM Behavior Disorder

Tips for Dog Sleeping Disorders

  • See your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Consult with a neurologist for challenging cases.
  • Record the episodes and show them to your vet.
  • A night light may turn out helpful if your dog seems confused at night and tends to wander.
  • White noise may help calm down a dog who can’t sleep due to noises.
  • A DAP diffuser placed right by your dog’s sleeping area may be soothing.
  • Check the temperature. If it’s too warm or cold, your dog may have trouble falling asleep.
  • Evaluate your home for critters. If your dog stares at the walls, vocalizes and barks at night it might be you a family of nocturnal critters living in your attic, basement, deck or walls.
  • Evaluate if there are any underlying anxiety causing triggers in your dog’s life.
  • Ask your vet about calming supplements and sleep aids appropriate for dogs.



  • Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare, 5th Edition, By Donald M Broom, Andrew F Fraser,  CABI; 5 edition (May 7, 2015)
  • Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, By Stephen J. Ettinger, Edward C. Feldman, Saunders; 7 edition (January 7, 2010)


Seven Fascinating Dog Coat Color Patterns


Dogs come in a wide array of different shapes and sizes and one of the most distinguishing features is the fact dogs come in many fascinating coat colors. Some coat colors are quite common, while others are quite unusual to come by. As much as a dog’s coat color is impressive, it’s important to avoid choosing a dog based exclusively on coat color or looks alone. Other factors such as health and temperament and activity levels are important factors to consider.  Dog owners must also be wary of breeders who breed for a specific coat color only, ignoring other important aspects such as health, conformation and temperament. In some cases, some stunning dog coat colors come with a price: associated health problems that perspective dog owners should be aware of.

1) The Merle Dog Coat Patterndog-merle-coat

The merle coat is a fascinating coat pattern characterized by a marbling effect of dark patches against a background of the same color, only lighter.

There are different varieties of merle such as blue merle (with mottled black patches) and red merle (with reddish patches) and merle dogs may also have blue eyes or eyes of different colors (complete heterochromia) along with flecks and marbling.

Some dog breeds with the merle pattern include Australian shepherds, Shetland sheepdogs, collies, Catahoula Leopard Dogs, Chihuahuas, Cardigan Welsh Corgi and great danes.

As much as a merle coat is appealing to the eye, it’s associated with some serious health conditions.

For example, breeding a merle with another merle is asking for trouble as this can lead to puppies that have two copies of the merle gene, which are referred to as double merle puppies. Double merle puppies are prone to deafness and blindness, and are susceptible to the effects of the sun, which predisposes them to skin cancer. To prevent transmission of hereditary problems that are associated with the merle gene, breeding two dogs with this coat should be avoided.

Merle is a random dilution gene… think of bleach. Take a tooth brush and dip it bleach. Now splatter a black t-shirt with the bleach. You will NEVER get the exact same design twice. This is what the merle gene does.. Since the places that merle gene lands are rather random, you get all different looks. Patches, dots, spots, bands for example. If the gene lands in the eyes, we get beautiful and highly desired blue eyes! If the gene lands enough on the nose, especially with a few other genes in the mix, you get pink on the nose.”~ Carol, breeder at Keen Pomeranians

idea tipDid you know? A merle dachshund is called a dapple.



2) The Brindle Coat Pattern


Like merle, brindle is also a coat color pattern, it is often described as being “tiger-striped.” The stripes are irregular and dark against a lighter base color that is often fawn, brown or gray.

The brindle coat pattern is found in several dog breeds including great danes, bulldogs and boxers. In boxers, black brindle or reverse brindle may occur, where a heavy concentration of black striping covers almost all the fawn background making it look as if the coat is actually black with fawn stripes.

In dogs with long, wiry or curly fur, the brindle markings may appear less distinct.

There are several variations of the brindle coat color pattern such as blue brindle, red brindle, liver brindle, fawn brindle and brown brindle.

idea tipDid you know? Jack was a brindle bulldog that was featured in the famous book “Little House on the Prairie” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.


harlequin-dog-coat3) The Harlequin Coat Pattern

The harlequin is also a specific color pattern. In the harlequin, the base background color is pure white while gray or black torn patches are randomly distributed over the dog’s body.

The black patches should ideally be not too small but, at the same time, not too big as to cover large areas and appear like a blanket.

It can be said that the harlequin coat pattern is related to the merle pattern. Basically, in the harlequin, a white background is present instead of the usual blue background as seen in merles.

There are not too many breeds boasting the harlequin coat. The most popular one is the great dane. Some people confuse a young  harlequin great Dane for a Dalmatian. Even though both breeds are technically white with black areas, the Dalmatian has white smooth rounded spots while a harlequin great dane has torn patches.

Producing this coat color is not easy and often cannot be attained by just simply crossing two harlequin specimens.


“Dr. Leigh Anne Clark and colleagues at Clemson University have recently discovered the gene that causes the Harlequin phenotype… The discovery is a most interesting one, as it turns out the harlequin gene isn’t a “color” (pigment producing) gene at all. The harlequin gene simply alters the affect of the merle gene, so that the diluted regions (of merle coloration) otherwise seen are largely removed from the coat pattern, leaving behind the bi-color dog we know as a Harlequin… there is now proof positive that all Harlequins are genetic merles.~Great Dane Club of America

Did you know? The name of the harlequin coat pattern is inspired by “Arlecchino” a comic servant character from the Italian Commedia Dell’ Arte known for wearing a typical checkered costume.

4) The Ticked Coat Patterndog-ticked-coat

Ticked coat patterns are characterized by smaller spots of black or colored hairs found on a white background.

One main feature of this pattern is that it’s present only in the white parts of the dog’s coat. You may see ticking therefore on widespread areas or on just certain areas, such as on the white of a dog’s legs or on the white part of the muzzle.

Ticked coats are often found in many gun dogs and dogs bred for hunting such as German shorthaired pointer, German wirehaired pointer, Brittany, English springer spaniels and bluetick coonhounds.

An interesting fact about ticked coats is that puppies are not born with them but rather develop the ticked coat pattern later as they develop.


dog-spotted-coat5) The Spotted Coat Pattern

Among the plethora of dogs breeds populating this planet, the Dalmatian is the only spotted breed and of course this breed had to make it on the list of fascinating dog coat patterns.

Cruella De Vil fell in love with the spotted dogs in the movie “The 101 Dalmatians” but dog lovers love these dogs for many other reasons other than their fur (hopefully!)

According to the American Kennel Club, a Dalmatian’s background color is pure white with round dense black or liver brown spots. The importance of the spots being this color is so important that any other color is means for disqualification in the show ring.

The spots are expected to range from the size of a dime to the size of a half-dollar.

Like some other dog breeds, this appealing coat pattern comes at a price. The same genes responsible for the spots are also what may predispose this breed to deafness due to the extreme piebald (sw) pigment genes.

Deafness in piebald animals is linked to the absence of mature melanocytes in one or both ears. According to veterinarian Dr. George M. Strain at Louisiana State University, eight percent of all Dalmatians in the US are bilaterally deaf and 22 percent are unilaterally deaf.

idea tipDid you know? Dalmatian puppies are born white without any spots showing, but just ’cause you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there! The spots are there since birth, but they only become fully visible when the pups mature and the hairs turn black.

6) The Roan Coat Patternroan-dog-coat-pattern

Roan and ticked coat patterns are terms that are often used interchangeably. There is still quite some ambiguity on the usage of such terms. In 1957, Little suggested that the terms roan and ticking should be used separately.

Generally, the roan coat pattern consists of a fine, even mixture of pigmented hairs and white hairs. Basically, the different colored hairs are so closely spaced that the mixture appears to be giving the impression of a blue gray or iron gray color.

A dog with a coat comprising black and white hairs is called a blue roan. Other roan types include red roan, lemon roan, liver roan and brown roan.


“You may hear roan Australian Cattle Dogs referred to as “speckled” or “mottled” – these terms just refer to different extents of roan and ticking.”~Dog Genetics Co.

tricolor-dog7) Tricolor Coat Pattern

As the name implies, this dog coat  pattern is made of three different colors.

Usually the three colors consist of black, tan and white. Generally, it’s a black and tan dog with white markings.

However, there are also tricolored dogs coming in liver, blue and isabella.

Common dog breeds that come with a tri-colored coat include the Bernese Mountain Dog, Entlebucher Mountain Dog,, Beagle, rat terrier, papillon and basenji.

As seen, dogs can boast quite some fascinating coats. There are of course, many other colors and patterns that are equally attractive. What is your favorite coat color and pattern?


  • Dog Genetics, Merle Series, retrieved from the web on October 28th, 2016
  • Byrne, Georgina (1990) [1990]. “Gene Loci for Coat Colour and Pattern”. Der Deutsch Kurzhaar, The German Shorthaired Pointer. Georgina & Michael Byrne.
  • American Kennel Club, Glossary, retrieved from the web on October 28th, 2016

   Photo Credits:

  • A blue merle-colored Cardigan, by DhlstrmCC BY-SA 3.0
  • A Great Dane with the brindle color pattern. Harlis.jpg: Rytis Mikelskas derivative work: Pleple2000 (talk) Harlis.jpg Medium weight brindle Great Dane CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Dogge Odin, Deutsche Dogge Odin aus dem Nebelgrund (Land Brandenburg). Weiblich, 4 Jahre alt. Aufgenommen am 19.02.2006.Viborg~commonswikiCC BY-SA 3.0
  • German Shorthair Pointer, liver & white patched (head) and ticked (body),Honey Hit&Miss, owned by Donna Sprouse Photo by Ellen Levy Finch, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • A 60-pound, eight-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, ZakattakkOwn work 9 months old, 60 lbs (eventually approximately 100 lbs), CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Dalmatiner “Prunella Fitzgerald de Puech Barrayre”Le dalmatienOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Australian Cattle dog, Photo by Ellen Levy Finch (Elf).English Wikipedia en:Image:AustrCattleDogBlue wb.jpg Australian Cattle Dog (blue) ADCH O-NATCH Jumpin’Jack Flash (JJ) Taken Feb 22,2004 at the SMART/USDAA dog agility competition in Salinas, CA. CC BY-SA 3.0

Can Dogs Sense the Paranormal and See Ghosts?


Dogs are often believed of being capable of detecting paranormal activity, and perhaps this is because of their highly developed senses, but are dogs truly gifted to sense the paranormal? Can dogs really sense the presence of a spirit of ghost? Countless dog owners report that their dogs at times act as if they have seen a ghost, intently staring at the wall or ceiling and barking repeatedly but there’s nothing there. What is going on? Some explanations are quite down to earth, but interestingly, at times, things may never have a proven explanation. So today, let’s discover more facts that tie dogs more closely to the paranormal along with some interesting ghostly tidbits.

can-dogs-sense-ghostsDogs Can Hear Things Humans Cannot

When your dog is barking intently at noises you cannot hear, it’s easy to wonder whether he’s interacting with some poltergeist in the mood for mischief especially around this time of the year, but can dogs really hear ghosts?

Barking at the wall or ceiling may seem to suggest that, but perhaps it’s best to skip contacting your local paranormal investigation team for now and have your local exterminator’s number on speed dial instead.

Before assuming your dog is responding to some sort of paranormal events, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about his uncanny ability to detect sounds.

Dogs are known for being blessed with sensitive ears and you can literally watch them move their ears in different directions to attain a better reception. Blessed with 18 muscles, watch those doggy ears in action: rising, lowering, tilting, rotating and even moving independently from one another!

Noises are simply sound waves traveling along molecules in the air, but it takes a specialized sense of hearing to allow reception of the world’s faintest sounds. First off, consider distance. Sounds you’re able to hear may range from 20 feet away,  bit Rover is capable of detecting from as far as 80 feet. Then, consider pitch. Rover wins big time here again, detecting frequencies that are twice as high in pitch compared to the ones you’re capable of perceiving.

So with this being said, it may sound doable for a dog to sense ghosts, doesn’t it? After all, ghost hunters invest in amplified microphones and digital audio recorders to detect the paranormal, but when it comes to Rover, he certainly seems to be naturally gifted.

However, most likely, your dog is not reacting to a ghost or spirit, but something more down to earth such as some distant noise, or if he’s barking and staring at a specific spot, some sort of critter living in your wall, ceiling or basement. Mice, raccoon, bats, squirrels, opossum and birds are critters known for making themselves at home in people’s houses, so relax and consider calling your local exterminator (hopefully one that’s committed to humane pest control) to have your home inspected.

idea tipFun fact: Dogs have the uncanny ability to hear ultrasonic frequencies,  high-pitch sounds that are mostly over 20,000 Hz. According to Louisiana State University, humans are capable of detecting sounds within the range of 64 to 23,000 Hertz, while dogs can detect sounds between 67 and 45,000 Hertz.

And They Can See Things Humans Can’t Seecan-dogs-see-ghosts

Dogs may miss out on visual acuity, but they are gifted with other vision features that are worthy of discovering. Sure, Rover might not be able to tell the difference in color between a Granny Smith or Red Delicious apple, (dogs see colors in a similar fashion as people who are red-green color blind -that makes him a deuteranope by the way), but he’s certainly better than us in seeing in the low-light conditions. This must have put dogs on an evolutionary advantage back in the days when they were hunting down nocturnal critters.

So with this being said, it sounds doable that dogs may be capable of sensing the presence of ghosts. After all, ghost hunters invest in night vision and infrared cameras to detect paranormal activities.

However, if you see your dog staring intently at something, it’s more likely he just spotted some random bug such as a moth or a spider rather than witnessing a ghost!


idea tipFun Fact: On top of seeing better in dark conditions, dogs have also the ability to see ultraviolet light. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers found that the lens of dogs and other many mammals allowed some ultraviolet light through. This may have further helped dogs hunt at night since the ability to see ultraviolet increases visual sensitivity in low light conditions, therefore helping a dog discern a grey rodent running against a backdrop of a brown field at dusk.

dog-ghost-activityCan Dogs Detect Ghosts Then?

Being equipped with superior senses means that dogs are better capable than us in detecting things that we cannot see, smell or hear. This often makes us wonder if dogs can sense paranormal activities.

There are many stories of dogs acting weird in the home, dogs chasing what look like orbs and dogs acting scared without a plausible explanation. While there may be many down to earth explanations for these behaviors, at times though, it seems like no reasonable explanation can be found. Does this mean that dogs can see ghosts?

The chicken- or- the -egg dilemma applies here perfectly: If ghosts don’t really exist, how can dogs ultimately detect them in the first place? Is paranormal dog behavior therefore non-existent?

For those who believe in ghosts, the answer is almost a no-brainer: of course, dogs can sense ghosts! And statistics show lots of people believe in them. According to a 2005 Gallup Poll, 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses, while 32 percent believe in ghosts.

And for those skeptics out there, they might want to know what science has to say. As of today, science doesn’t really seem to have an explanation as there doesn’t seem to be any credible empirical data to support the existence of any paranormal activities or events. The one million dollar prize offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal event under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria, has yet to be granted. Until then, it just seems like behind every orb, shadow or possible poltergeist, there’s always some perfectly rational explanation. However, for those ghost believers out there, science has something that can bring some hope about dogs being able to sense the paranormal and this time it comes from Einstein: “Energy never dies; it can neither be created nor destroyed.” So the next question is: what happens to that energy? With that being said Happy Howl-o-ween to all!

Did you know?  Great danes were believed in the past to make great ghost hunters as they always seemed to have an uncanny ability to seeing things that are “not” there, explain Gerald Hausman and Loretta Hausman  in the book “The Mythology of Dogs: Canine Legend.” Scooby-Doo and Marmaduke were likely inspired by this breed’s trait.



  • Louisiana State University, How Well Do Dogs and Other Animals Hear?, retrieved from the web on October 27th, 2016. 
  • D Warfield. 1973. The study of hearing in animals. In: W Gay, ed., Methods of Animal Experimentation, IV. Academic Press, London, pp 43-143.
  • RR Fay & AN Popper, eds. 1994. Comparative Hearing: Mammals. Springer Handbook of Auditory Research Series. Springer-Verlag, NY.
  • Strain, George M. Hearing frequency ranges for dogs & other species? Lousiana State University. 3 June 2003.

Photo Credits:

Flickr, Creative Commons, wakefielddavid, Ghost Dogs CCBY2.0


Dog Word of the Day: Elizabethan Collar


If you have never heard the word “Elizabethan collar” before, no worries. Most likely, you know what it is, but have never heard its original name. More commonly known as cone or E- collar for short (not to be confused with shock collar), an Elizabethan collar is as a protective medical device for dogs. To put it more bluntly, it’s the infamous dog “lamp-shade,” “radar dish” or “cone of shame” collar you see dogs wearing around their neck when they’re on their way out of the veterinary office after undergoing surgery or some other type of minor procedure.

dog-elizabethan-collarA Closer Insight

A dog Elizabethan collar is a protective medical device shaped like a truncated cone. A truncated cone is basically a shape where the apex of the cone is removed to resemble a lampshade.

The Elizabethan collar is usually made out of flexible plastic and it is meant to be attached to the dog’s collar to stay in place. The Elizabethan collar can be attached to the dog’s collar using strings or tabs.

Since dogs come in different sizes, Elizabethan collars come in different sizes as well, and therefore, they can be easily worn from the tiniest Chihuahua to the largest Irish wolfhound. Due to these size variances, it’s important to ensure a good fit.

Elizabethan collars are sold at most veterinary offices but many stores now also carry them and these are many different types.


Understanding its Purpose

The purpose of an Elizabethan collar is to prevent a dog from licking or scratching his body and to therefore allow dog  incisions and injuries to heal.

When dogs try to lick their wounds, it’s not like they’re being naughty; it’s simply their instinct telling them to lick. Dog saliva is known for containing beneficial compounds that are capable of destroying the cell walls of gram-positive bacteria. Dog saliva can therefore help promote healing, diminish pain and inhibit bacterial growth, however, as with many things in life, too much of a good thing can be bad.

Given the opportunity, dogs will tend to lick a whole lot which can cause loads of trouble as the repeated abrasive action of the tongue, along with keeping a wound moist for too long (moisture attracts bacteria), may lead to an infection or injury.

This is why the veterinarian may recommend that your dog wear the infamous “cone of shame”which comes extra handy   when you are unable to monitor his activity and he could end up inadvertently injuring himself. And the last thing you want is going back to the vet to get your dog stitched up all over again!

“Pets can get obsessed with licking to the detriment of healthy skin. There’s also a lot of bad bacteria in a pet’s mouth, so as with so many good things in life, licking is an activity best done in moderation.” Dr. Patty Khuly

The Proper Fit

In most cases, when you pick up your dog from surgery, he’ll be already wearing the e-collar or if he’s not, the staff will do a brief demo on how to put it on and take it off. This cuts out all the work needed to figure out what size you’ll need for your dog. If you need to buy an Elizabethan collar instead, you will need  to know the circumference of your dog’s neck. You can obtain the circumference of the neck hole size by simplymeasuring your dog’s collar ensuring you can fit two fingers between collar and neck. It’s also helpful to know the measure from your dog’s neck to snout as this can vary among long-nosed breeds and short-nosed breeds

 When properly fit, an Elizabethan collar should be short enough to allow the dog to eat and drink. At the same time though, you need to make sure that your dog’s E-Collar extends 3 inches past the nose so to prevent him from reaching the wound area with his tongue, points out Camden County Animal Shelter.  A properly fit cone collar should be secure, but not too tight. Below you can watch a video on how to fit an E-collar.

Helping Dog Adjustdog elizabethan collar

Many dogs get quite upset when they must wear a cone, and who can blame them?  Elizabethan collars, especially the opaque types, restrict the dog’s peripheral vision creating blind spots to the sides which causes dogs trouble navigating around the home. Bumping into furniture and knocking over items from a coffee table due to tunnel vision can be scary for the dog and so can be getting stuck into corners.

You can help your dog adjust be clearing a room from items that are easily knocked over and removing small furniture that can be in the way. Also, assist him going through doorways or around furniture.

Dogs who refuse to drink or eat while wearing the collar may not like the collar touching the edges of the food and water bowl. A shallow dish may be an option or you can try elevating the food and water bowl to see if this helps. If your dog has a hard time to eat or drink, you can always temporarily remove the collar, but you must be vigilant to ensure your dog doesn’t start licking or scratching the wound or incision.

Fortunately, most dogs adjust to wearing an Elizabethan collar just fine after a bit of  time. It may help to feed your dog some tasty treats the moment the collar is put on and you can also praise him, letting him know what a good boy he is, and reassuring him that he still looks handsome, despite wearing that satellite dish around his head!


dog-cone-collar-alternativesAlternatives to Elizabethan Collars

Many dog owners find the use of an Elizabethan collar quite uncomfortable for their dogs. While some dogs adjust to wearing the cone, some may have a hard time accepting it as it interferes  too much with their daily eating, drinking, sleeping and  general mobility.

This has caused astute marketers to look for alternatives to dog Elizabethan collars which are now growing in popularity.

Soft fabric has been used to somewhat mimic the neck pillows people use when travelling on planes so that dogs have trouble turning their head around to lick their incisions. A classic example is the Kong Cloud Collar.

Other companies make inflatable models, as the one seen in the picture on the left or collars that resemble neck braces (the Bite-Not collar) And some others make what’s known as a “soft collar” which fits best the more mellow fellows (eg. The Comfy Cone).

Do It Yourself Elizabethan Collar

Some dog owners have become quite creative in building their own home-made versions of Elizabethan collars using cheap material normally found at home. How effective these are, can be questionable, but they may temporarily do their job when dog owners need a quick fix to protect further their dogs from self-licking. Cardboard, paper plates, plastic flower pots, light-weight buckets and actual lampshades have been known to be used as temporary measures.

Sometimes, if the wound is by the abdomen, dog owners may let their dog wear baby onesies or a shirt so to cover the area. Out of sight, out of mind! But a dog wearing a shirt should be carefully monitored as it can come off or the dog may chew it up or work his way under it to get to the wound. Alternatively, an ace bandage wrapped around the abdomen can be used to help prevent access to the incision. To work well, it must be snug, but not too tight. Ideally, you should be able to slip a finger under it. You can then secure the end with some medical tape so it stays in place, suggests veterinarian Dr. Kara.

A Look into Historyqueen-elizabeth-1

Did you know? If you ever wondered why the cone of shame is formally called an Elizabethan collar, here’s the answer for you. The term is inspired by the ancient ruff that used to be worn back in Western Europe during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.




Photo Credits:

  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Andrew Petro , Cubby in BooBooLoon, CCBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons 52 Weeks of Photos, Bucket Head, aussiegall  CCBY2.0


What is Dog Ear Plucking?


Among the variety of procedures dogs undergo, ear plucking is one that is often a subject of controversy, with some people suggesting its use and others frowning upon it. Not all dogs need ear plucking, there are certain dog breeds that it is believed need it more than others. But what exactly is ear plucking? The procedure is perhaps not that as common as other ones, but we thought to add it in our trivia collection. So today’s question is:

What is Dog Ear Plucking?

A It’s another term for cropping a dog’s ears

B It’s another word for clipping the hair around the ears

C It’s the removal of hair from a dog’s ear canal

D It’s the term for removing any awns, grasses or thorns stuck to the fur of the dog’s ear

The Correct Answer is: Drum Roll Please…




The correct answer is C: dog ear plucking is the removal of hair from a dog’s ear canal.

dog-ear-pluckingAn Insight into the Procedure

What exactly is dog ear plucking and what does it entail? Ear plucking is a common dog grooming procedure where the hairs from a dog’s ear canal are pulled (plucked) using either fingers, hemostats or some other tool for the purpose.

The dog’s hairs in the ear canal should be removed little by little, versus large chunks all at once so to help prevent irritating the dog’s delicate ear canal skin.

Is dog ear plucking a painful procedure? Many groomers say it is not, but considering that hair is innervated, it must certainly not be a pleasant one.

We watched several videos and saw many dogs twitch and whine. However, there are chances that after a while, the hairs become easier to pluck out, which should make the procedure less painful. Some groomers use special ear powders which are meant to make gripping the hairs easier.

Dog Ear Plucking Video (the more gentle version)

The Purpose of Dog Ear Plucking

What’s the purpose of ear plucking? There is belief that ear plucking is a needed procedure for certain dogs as it removes excess hair from the dog’s ear canal, allowing more air flow. It is mostly used in hairy dog breeds such as poodle, schnauzers, Maltese and bichons to prevent the hair in their ears from trapping moisture, which is a predisposing factor that increases the chances for bacterial and yeast ear infections.

One Side of the Story…dog-ear

Veterinarians and groomers have been frowning about the dog ear plucking procedure because it can irritate the ear canal and the tiny wound left from the procedure actually end up causing micro-inflammation in the hair follicles, attracting more bacteria compared to just letting the hairs be.

Also, the irritation may lead a dog to scratch and shake his ears more which may lead to more problems down the road.

Dr. Heide Newton, a veterinary dermatologist claims that groomers should stop plucking ear hair from inside a dog’s ears, explaining that “healthy ears are self-cleaning.” She recommends instead that groomers continue the practice of ear cleaning, massaging the ear so to remove any wax and debris from the ear canal using products specially formulated for ear care. When it comes to removing hairs, she just suggests clipping excess hair from around the ear opening.

There are really no studies out there that have found a correlation between an increased number of hairs in the ear canal with the incidence of ear inflammation, points out Dr. Christopher G. Byers with MidWest Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Omaha. Dermatologist Dr. Paul Bloom also agrees that ears should not be plucked, but if there is an infected ear, he says those hairs gotta come out so to clean the ear out, but otherwise those hairs should be left alone. You can listen to his statement below.

“I also recommend not to pluck the hair from the ear canals of dogs during grooming, as this creates inflammation within the canal that often leads to secondary infections.” Dr. Amelia White, veterinary dermatologist.

And the Other OneDOG EAR SLITS

It’s always interesting hearing both sides of the story when there are controversial practices under debate. Dr. Anthony Remillard with Acupet Veterinary Care of is well aware of what dermatologists think about plucking dog ears, but he shows another side of the story.

In his article, he observes how years back when ear plucking was still quite popular, dogs’ ears were much healthier and  with the ear canal’s micro-environment in better shape than today.

He claims that when the hair is plucked for the first two or three times, micro-inflammation might form, but soon, the hair follicles should become easy to pluck out causing little to no inflammation. He therefore concludes than when hairy-eared puppies are groomed and plucked from an early age, the ears can be easily be kept healthy and hair free.

“Any dogs (at any age) with significant amounts of hair in their ears should have the hair plucked out routinely, usually at least every 6 weeks…Plucking hair from the ears allows a deep, thorough cleaning of any built-up wax or debris, and allows the canal to breathe, thus keep the canal drier.”~Dr. Remillard

We understand that dog ear plucking is a controversial issue, but thought it would be interesting discovering both sides. What are your experiences and thoughts on dog ear plucking? Feel free to post in the comments below.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is prone to ear infections, consult with your vet.

Photo Credits:

  • Severe otitis externa in a four year old Cocker Spaniel. The ear canal is inflamed and swollen shut, and ceruminous exudate is present, Joel Mills,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
  • Flickr Creative Commons, Allan Henderson, Nahni Big Ears CCBY2.0


I am Your Dog’s Mast Cells

Your dog’s immune system is always working around the clock to keep your dog protected from insidious diseases. In particular, white blood cells, the cells of your dog’s immune system, play the role of soldiers actively protecting the fortress (your dog’s body) against infectious diseases and foreign invaders. Mast cells, even though having a bad rap due to allergies, anaphylaxis and cancer, are a type of white blood cell which also have a protective role. Today, let’s take a closer look into a dog’s mast cells, what they do, how they work and the things that can wrong.

dog-mast-cellsIntroducing Your Dog’s Mast Cells 

Hello, it’s your dog’s mast cells talking! As mentioned, we are a type of white blood cell. Actually, to be more descriptive, we are granulocytes, a sub-type of white blood cells that are known for having granules in their cytoplasm. Many of our granules are rich in histamine and heparin, an anticoagulant, along with other substances. We were first described by Paul Enrich in 1878, who noted our distinguishing feature of having large granules.

We are born in your dog’s bone marrow and then distribute in most tissues of your dog’s body, but we’re mostly like to stick around the skin, digestive tract, respiratory tract, mouth, nose and eye area. In healthy dogs, we normally populate body tissues only, and only very rarely are we detected into the blood stream.

We are equipped with special storage sacs which house powerful molecules called mediators which are released in specific circumstances and that produce local responses.

We Stand Guarddog-guarding-home

As mentioned, we are guardians who protect the body from perceived invaders and actively respond to the presence of allergens and inflammation. Since we are located by the skin, mouth, eyes and nose, we play a prime role in detecting allergens. We are basically pretty inactive beings when all is well, but the moment we detect an allergen in your dog’s body, we rapidly degranulate, releasing histamine. This explains why your dog gets all itchy when he eats a food he’s allergic to!

When histamine is released, it can lead to swelling, redness, itching, welts and even anaphylaxis, a severe systemic reaction to an allergen such as from bees stings and drugs. In dogs, skin allergies are more common rather than the classic allergy symptoms seen in humans such as sneezing and developing a watery nose and eyes. Antihistamines are helpful in keeping allergy symptoms under control.

“Histamine is useful in the body at certain levels.  Mast cells release histamine which helps attract other white cells to an area or an invader to help clean up the area, or mount an immune system reaction…  Histamine is important in immunity. However, too much histamine is not good for the body.” ~ Dr. Demain Dressler

When Things Go Wrongveterinary

Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. While we are master immune regulators and infection fighting cells, things can get out of hand at times, such as when there are too many of us or we “misbehave” causing severe symptoms and disorders.

Mast Cell Tumors

We are probably mostly known for wrecking trouble as it happens with mast cell tumors.  Fortunately, malignant mast cell cancer can be often ruled out or confirmed through a fine needle aspirate. Remember how we said earlier that we rarely appear in the bloodstream? Well,  when a mast cell tumor is highly malignant, it may spread and appear in the blood stream. An advanced mast cell tumor can therefore be detected with a blood test by looking at the “buffy coat.

When it comes to the malignant, aggressive forms, mast cell tumors are often referred to as “the great imitators,” because it can take many different forms which can be confused with other skin problems. Sometimes they may present as a solitary bump or in groups on the dog’s skin, and often look like innocuous masses. This is why when your dog develops any unusual looking lumps, bumps or lesions, you should have them checked out by the vet, especially if they grow and change appearance. Mast cell skin tumors may appear as lumps that stay the same size for a while and then start growing. Mast cell tumors can be seen in any dogs, but boxers and Boston terriers are particularly affected.

When caught early and affecting only the skin (grade 1) mast cell tumors can be surgically removed, with wide and clean margins, and the cancer can be kept at bay.  Things start getting progressively worse through with grade 2 and 3. Treatment options therefore vary based on the grade of this tumor. Because we release histamine, heparin, and other enzymes when we’re damaged, we can cause major disruptions.  Too much histamine can cause the dog’s stomach to produce too much acid, which is why antihistamines and antiacids are often prescribed to dogs with mast cell tumors. On top of increased acidity, the release of histamine, heparin, and other enzyme may also have negative effects on the dog’s heart rate, blood pressure, and other important body functions.

While mast cell tumors most commonly affect the dog’s skin (cutaneous mast cell tumors) at times, they may even affect internal organs (visceral mast cell tumors) which can produce vague symptoms such as loss of appetite, vomiting and lethargy. Skin mass cell tumors may also affect the skin only at first and then metastasize to internal organs as they advance and spread.

“It is not possible to tell with the naked eye alone whether a specific skin growth is a malignant mast cell tumor or not, and therefore, some diagnostic tests are always necessary to confirm whether a skin growth is a mast cell tumor.”~ Etienne Cote

idea tipDid you know? Mast cell tumors commonly affect a dog’s skin and subcutaneous tissues and account for 7 to 21 percent of dog skin tumors. (Source, References  1)



  • Pergamon Press Ltd. 1992, “Skin tumors of the dogs and cat,” by M.H. Goldschmidt & F.S. Shofer
  • Clinical Medicine of the Dog and Cat, Second Edition, edited by Michael Schaer
  • Mast Cell Tumors in Dogs, TEXTBOOK OF VETERINARY INTERNAL MEDICINEClient Information Series Mona P. Rosenberg, DVM DACVIM
  • Pet Education, Mast Cell Tumors, retrieved from the web on October 24th, 2016

Photo Credits:

Kidz Search, author Kauczuk, Photo of skin mast cells at 100X using an oil immersion lens and an olympus digital camera. The cells are stained with Tol Blue, and might appear slightly degranulated as they were activated using an artificial antigen during the course of an experiment.


How to Give a Dog a Bad Tasting Pill


A time in your life may come when you’ll need to give your dog some bad-tasting, bitter pills. Sure, there are certain medications such as beef flavored heart worm chews that dogs eagerly gulp down like there’s no tomorrow, and then there are those bitter pills that turn Rover into the canine personification of a stubborn mule who won’t budge no matter what, so how to give an obstinate dog a bad tasting pill? Fortunately, there are several tricks of the trade that can turn dogs into collaborative patients. So today we’ll be discovering some of them that will hopefully turn pilling your dog into a breeze.

dog-wont-eat-pillFirst Some Acknowledgements 

First and foremost, let’s give our dogs some credit. Dogs have no idea whatsoever that those pills are good for them no matter how much we try to persuade them into thinking that they’ll help them feel better quickly. We also can’t tell dogs to just take the pill and wash it down with a big gulp of water.

Dogs rely on their instincts and Mother Nature has developed their senses so that they could avoid eating things that can be potentially harmful for them. Eating a bitter pill is not only unpleasant, but a dog most likely instinctively “knows” to avoid bad tastes. Bad tasting things raise a red flag about something that can be harmful or even toxic and that therefore should be avoided. What looks like stubborn behavior to us is instead the clever work of nature and adaptive!

Just like us, dogs have several taste buds scattered on their tongues that helps them determine what and what not to eat. A dog’s taste buds are equipped with special receptors that are meant to relay important messages to the dog’s brain. What sort of messages are transmitted? If say, your dog detects something bitter or plain nasty, his brain will make a note of it and quickly evoke your do to spit it out. Bleeeeh!

idea tipDid you know? The function of taste is so important for survival that, in puppies, the sense of taste (along with the sense of smell and touch) is one of the first senses to be present, even though it takes a few weeks to fully sharpen.

“Sensations of pleasure and disgust provided by taste serve a survival function. A reasonable rule of thumb, at least for natural substances, is that bad tastes are a signal that the animal has encountered something that is harmful, indigestible, or poisonous…”~Stanley Coren

A Word of Caution

Watch for whale eyes
Watch for whale eyes

Hunting your dog down to give him a bad-tasting pill day after day, is not only a daunting and unnerving task, but it can also lead to problems.

All dogs CAN and WILL bite under the right circumstance (yes, even the angelic ones with halos over their heads.) While it’s true that some dogs have a higher bite threshold than others, a time may come when that threshold lowers either because the dog is not feeling well, or  because he’s cornered against a wall and his “please-stop-that” signals given to you to as a plea to not make him bite are being totally ignored.

And if say, you manage to force a pill down his throat one time and he doesn’t put up a struggle, keep in mind that things can change the next day once your dog discovers that you are trying to give him another pill. Of course, not all dogs necessarily think this way, but we can’t say that giving them a pill is something dogs enjoy, so there’s always a risk factor into play when doing things dogs don’t understand or appreciate having done.

Giving your dog bitter, bad -tasting pills can therefore potentially  negatively affect your future interactions with your dog. Next time you come close to him, he may be reluctant to open his mouth (crocodile jaws, anyone?) or he may even turn his head the other way or decide to take flight and hide somewhere. A dog reluctant to having his mouth handled, often translates into difficult future veterinary exams when the mouth needs to be checked.

So what’s left to do? Keeping on trying to get your dog to swallow the bitter pill will only further convince your dog that you’re not trustworthy, making matters only worse next time the infamous pill time is around the corner. Your dog may engage in avoidance or become defensive and even bite. A better approach is therefore to rely on the “catch more flies with honey than vinegar” philosophy.

Six Options for Giving Your Dog Bad-Tasting Pills

The best option in giving your dog a bad tasting pill is to simply camouflage it with food. Your dog’s taste buds should be deceived as your dog wolfs the food down without giving his taste buds enough time to detect the bitter taste. The secret is to getting your dog to gulp the bad-tasting pill down quickly. Stanley Coren says that a dog’s taste buds that sense bitter are located on the rear part of the tongue, therefore, “a fast gulp will not register the bitter taste,” whereas, “prolonged chewing will let the bitter work its way back to where it can be tasted.” So yes, covering the pill in food is the best way to go, but if your dog has allergies, a sensitive stomach or a medical condition, ask your vet first before trying any of these foods.

how to give your dog a pill1) Wrap ‘Em In Cheese

Does your dog adore cheese? If so, he’ll love these cheese balls! Before trying this option though, make sure that your dog is not prone to getting digestive problems from eating cheese or milk products and that the pills are OK to take with dairy products. This latter piece of info should be found on the medication bottle’s or the accompanying medical leaflet that comes with the medication. When in doubt, ask your vet.

Simply get a slice of cheese and wrap it around the pill, closing it tightly so it doesn’t unroll in your dog’s mouth. Even better, here’s something I came up with when I was boarding a dog whose owner provided me with cheese slices to roll up to hide her dog’s pills.

Basically, I had this slice of cheese in my hand ready to give it to the dog, when this dogs ran to the door to tell me he had to go potty. So I went out with him with the cheese in my hand and being that it was about 90 degrees outside and the dog took his sweet time to potty, the cheese started softening up to the consistency of play dough. So now, I was able to make cheese balls! I placed the pill in the middle and made a tight ball.

You can mimic my 90-degree adventure by leaving a slice of cheese out of the fridge for a bit and then warming up the sealed slice between your hands. This should the do the trick in turning the cheese into play dough consistency. Don’t feel like handling cheese? Look up “Flavordoh” for dogs.

2) Hide ‘Em in Hot Dogshot-dog

Many dogs won’t turn down hot dogs when offered and hot dog chunks are often big enough to hide the biggest capsules.

If you are concerned about sodium, look for the low-sodium variety or some of the healthier varieties.

Just as with cheese balls, it’s important to hide them well as all it takes is for the dog to detect the pill to start losing “trust” and even developing taste aversion which can lead to a dog refusing hot dogs even if he loved them all his life!

So make sure the pill doesn’t stick out of the chunk of hot dog and that the hot dog doesn’t break apart. If your dog ever happens to taste the hidden pill and all his alarm bells go off, scroll below for a few more tips on how to remedy this.

hide-dog-pill-in-meat3) Hide ‘Em in Meatballs

If you’re not to eager about cheese ball or hot dogs, why not try meatballs? The best part is that you make them with different ingredients.

For instance, you can soak your dog’s kibble in water and then make a ball to hide the pill inside. You can use dog canned food as well. Dog having digestive problems? You can ask your vet about using something bland such as meat-based baby food with no onion or garlic mixed with some rice to make meatball to hide the pill.

What if you feed your dog raw food? If you feed your dog raw, you can easily make a meatball with ground meat or you can just tuck a pill into a chicken heart. For a gourmet version, you can coat the meat ball with a touch of grated cheese.

4) Go With Creamy Textures

dog peanut butter risks

Some creamy foods come extra handy in hiding pills as they stick well to the pill and the dog will hardly detect it, plus it’ s hard for the dog to separate the pill from these foods. And pitting the pill out is difficult when the creamy food sticks to a dog’s mouth!

What creamy foods are we talking about? Peanut butter is an option, but make sure it’s not one of these varieties which contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. Cream cheese is another option and for dogs who love pumpkin or dogs who are constipated, plain pumpkin (not the pie variety with all the added spices) can also come handy.

Veterinarian Karen Becker also suggests using coconut oil to hide pills.

5) Make Savory Toppingsdog eating

For this option, make sure you carefully read your dog’s medication label and enclosed instructions carefully as not all tablets should be crushed or capsules opened. If you’re not sure, it’s always best to consult with your vet.

If that’s fine, then you can simply sprinkle the ground tablet or content of a capsule onto your dog’s food in hopes that he’ll eat the whole concoction. This method may work with some dogs, mostly those dogs who gulp down food with no questions asked, but be aware that some finicky fellows may nit pick and separate the topping from the food, and even if you mix them throughout, you risk your dog refusing the whole meal.

Some dogs though will have no problems eating if the powder is well mixed within some tasty dog canned food. Also, it’s close to impossible separating the two once mixed!

6) Try Pill Pockets

Don’t feel like touching sticky foods or want a quick solution to conceal those pills? Pill Pockets are an option. Produced by Greenies, Pill Pockets are hollow treats sold at most veterinary offices nowadays and they come in tantalizing flavors such as chicken, peanut butter and hickory smoke. For allergic dogs, there’s even a hypoallergenic version made with duck and peas. How to use them? Simply place the pill inside the Pill Pocket, pinch it shut, and feed it to your dog. There are Pill Pockets for capsules and Pill Pockets for tablets.

idea tipTip: have some nasty tasting pills ? You can also try inserting them into empty gel caps that are safe to use in dogs so to mask the bitter taste.


 Troubleshooting Problems

OK, not always things go as planned. Your dog may be outsmarting you and you are not sure what to do next. Many dog owners have a hard time hiding pills in food, so rest assured, you’re not alone. Your dog may not eat all of the food in one sitting or the bitter medication can make the food taste bad. Don’t give up! Here are a few tips for those challenging cases. Consult with your vet if you cannot get your dog to get his pills no matter what.

dog-bitter-pillWhat if Your Dog Discovers There’s a Pill Inside?
So your dog has been doing great taking pills and now he accidentally chewed up one and he is suspicious, carefully sniffing the food and looking at you as if saying “, Hey, who are you trying to trick?”

Here’s a way to solve the problem. Offer your dog a small piece of food WITHOUT the pill inside, just a small piece that he can  sniff and see that there’s nothing inside. Let him eat it. Then, gradually give bigger and bigger pieces shaped as if there was a pill inside but always without the pill. Give them quickly in a row, praising lavishly for eating them. Then, within this series, casually offer a pill covered in the food, IMMEDIATELY followed by one without it.

Feed them one at a time as you show him the next piece coming.  The secret is making him gulp the pill down in his eagerness to eat the next piece of food. Prepare these pieces in advance and lie them on a table so that you’re ready. Preferably feed them in an area away from the place where your dog discovered the bitter pill in the first place.

Another option if your dog loves catching food, is to toss the pieces of food in the air and letting him catch them with his mouth. As he’s catches the one with the pill, get his attention to another piece of food without the pill coming his way. In his eagerness to catch them and eat them, chances are, he won’t notice the pill. Some dogs will be more eager to get their “treat” if they’re asked to perform a behavior first such as doing a “sit” before being given the food-covered pill.

Did you know?  According to research conducted by  AAHA, the American Animal Hospital Association, the rate of compliance from dog owners giving their pets medications for chronic conditions is just 76 percent, which means an astounding 24% of pets aren’t being treated with the medications they need!

What If Your Dog is Sick and Won’t Eat?dog blanket sleep sick

If your dog has lost his appetite, or you need to give him a pill prior to surgery and he needs to be on an empty stomach, things can get challenging. In this latter case, ask your vet. Sometimes vets will allow you to give just a teeny piece of food if it’s only to give the pill. However, there may be pills you cannot give with food or your dog is strictly NPO (nothing by mouth). If your dog won’t eat or can’t eat, things can get more challenging.

Sure, you can always hold your dog’s muzzle upwards facing the ceiling while you quickly push the pill as back as possible while you gently massage your dog’s through to encourage him to swallow as seen in the video below, but this may not be easy with some dogs.

You can work in advance on  making giving your dog pills relatively more acceptable by gradually conditioning your dog to associate a tasty treat every time you grasp and open his upper jaw. Chirag Patel of Domesticated Manners has a great video on getting dog used to having their mouth handled: Getting Ready for Vet Visit which can turn handy. Then, when the day comes to give your dog a pill, chances are, your dog may be more collaborative.

If this is your only option, make sure you praise your dog during and afterward and if your dog is healthy and active, you can even play a game with him. It’s important to ensure your dog swallows the pill, as some dogs astutely hide it in their mouth, only to spit it out later.

An alternate option is to use what’s known as a pill popper. It’s simply a syringe that delivers the pill, without the need to pry your dog’s mouth wide open to push the pill down.

Warning: If you are afraid your dog might bite you, skip this option and inform your vet! If worse comes to worse, you can always take your dog to the vet and have him or a technician administer the pill for you for a small fee. Don’t be ashamed to do so, it’s very important that your dog gets his medication! Alternatively, your vet may offer the option below if feasible.

Veterinarian Shows Different Ways to Give Dog a Pill

dog-pillLook for a Compounding Pharmacy

Wouldn’t it be great if bitter tasting pills could turn into tasty treats dogs won’t object to eating? Well, maybe it’s time to visit an apothecary! What is an apothecary? It’s simply a pharmacy that formulates and dispenses medications and specializing in compounding medications.

When working for the vet, I often referred owners of finicky cats and dogs to skilled pharmacists, and from what I heard they really did their magic. We used to refer to Pleasant Hills Apothecary back then, and they were even able to transform pills into transdermal gels that could be absorbed by the skin. Ask your vet if this is an option for you.
Wedgewood Pharmacy is a great place offering creative alternatives to bitter tasting pills. From gourmet tasting medications (Gourmeds) to medications smaller than a tic-tac® (Tiny Tabs) and melt-in-your-mouth options (Medi Melts) things are really on your side when it comes to getting compliance from your dog with these tasty options. Don’t have a compounding pharmacy near you? You can always look if your local Walmart, Walgreens or CVS pharmacy offers the Flavorx System for pets and ask your vet if the prescribed medication is eligible for that special touch…

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as substitute for professional veterinary or nutritional advice. If you need help giving your dog a pill, please consult with your vet for options.



  • Albers J, DVM, Hardesty C.Compliance: Taking Quality Care to the Next Level, Lakewood, CO: AAHA Press; 2009:5
  • Psychology Today, How Good is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste, retrieved from the web on October 23rd, 2016


Can A Litter of Puppies Have More Than One Father?


The appearance of a single pitch-black pup in a litter of immaculate white puppies might have people wondering whether it’s possible for puppies to have more than one father. Who’s your daddy, little pup? While you won’t find puppies taking paternity tests on the Maury or Jerry Springer show to help solve a family mystery, in dogs genetics may often pitch in and provide a plausible explanation. If you’re scratching your head in disbelief wondering whether Sophie, your purebred dam messed around with some determined mutt in the neighborhood, or if you’re plain curious, read on to discover  a little more about the world of canine reproduction and genetics.

are-dogs-monogamousMonogamy, Not a Doggy Thing

The world of animals is populated by several romantic examples of monogamy coming from beavers, otters, foxes, bats and wolves , but dogs, even though related to wolves, are far from being monogamous beings. Why is that?

While dogs and wolves share the exact same number of chromosomes (78 arranged in 39 pairs) they are quite different beings, courtesy of the thousands of years separating them. Indeed, there are more than a dozen of differences between wolves and dogs which sets them apart. Many of these differences are due to domestication. Just as with dogs now shedding for the most part year-round rather than seasonally as they used to, domestication has likely also played a role in making them more promiscuous.

What’s the purpose of being monogamous in the wild? Most likely, monogamy offers some advantage in altricial species who give birth to young that are particularly vulnerable and benefit from extra parental supervision and protection.

This remains the most commonly accepted explanation since offspring appear to have a better chance of surviving when both parents are involved in raising them, according to Live Science. 

idea tipDid you know? When it comes to being faithful, urban coyotes win the title as most loyal partner.  According to a study conducted by scientists with Colorado State University,  “coyotes living in cities don’t ever stray from their mates, and stay with each other till death do them part.”

Wolf Versus Domestic Dogwolf-versus-dog

According to Steven Lindsey, wolves tend to reach sexual maturity at around 22 months. Wolves are monogamous and females go into heat only once a year during peak breeding season giving birth to pups when the rigors of the winter are over.

When the wolf pups are born, they are in a helpless, underdeveloped state and are raised in their maternal dens so they are safe from predators.

Helping raise the pups is a family affair that involves the older siblings, aunts, and uncles and also the pups’ father. Since the pups are too young and vulnerable to venture out of their dens, it’s the job of dad and extended family to bring back to the pups tasty meals of regurgitated meat, according to The Field Museum.

When it comes to dogs though, things are quite different. Dogs are polygamous and female dogs can go into heat between 6 and 12 months of age and for the most part bi-annually (the basenji is an exception) pretty much at any time of the year. Female dogs are often willing to mate with multiple partners, given the opportunity. And when the puppies are born, they are raised in comfy, temperature-controlled whelping boxes. Dog owners have replaced the extended family that a dog’s ancestors relied on and are readily available for assistance. For many years, indeed dog owners have assisted with the whelping process, taking care of struggling pups and, instead of regurgitating food, weaning pups are provided with a nice bowl of puppy mush! How’s that for convenience?

“Wolves breed only once a year, during the winter months so the pups will be born in the spring, when food is plentiful and the weather less severe. The season begins in late December and proceeds until late February or early March.”~Wolf Education and Research Center

The Making of A Multi-Sired Litterdifferent-looking-puppies-in-same-litter

So we know for a fact that dogs are polygamous. Indeed, for centuries, humans have been selectively breeding male dogs with multiple females and females with multiple males. With females, though things can get tricky, so for those folks professionally breeding, it’s best to let them breed with only one particular male during a heat cycle and then keep’em under strict supervision as accidents have been known to happen even under the nose of the most observant and responsible breeders.

If allowed to breed with multiple males, a female dog may therefore give life to what’s known as a multi-sired litter or dual-sired litter. Here’s a little sneak peak into what happens.

When a female is in heat, she produces several ova (eggs) that are readily available to be fertilized for several days. Since one ovum (egg) and one sperm is all it takes to make an embryo and ova are released over a 24 hour time span, Sophie can have some eggs fertilized by Romeo and then some others fertilized by Homer, giving life to a litter of pups fathered by different dogs. So yes, puppies can have more than one father, meaning that within the same litter, some puppies may be sired by one male while the rest may be sired by another, but never both.

It can therefore be quite upsetting for a breeder, who paid a nice amount of money for stud services (so that Princess the purebred poodle could be mated with handsome Happy jack, a multi-champion poodle) to discover that Scruffy the neighbor’s mutt was able to breed with Princess a day later when she escaped the yard. The breeder may therefore not be too enthusiastic when he discovers 63 days that Princess gave birth to a part purebred, part mixed-bred litter!

The Truth Comes Out

If you really need to know whether you’re dealing with a multi-sired litter, you can skip all the drama associated with a lie detector test and instead invest in a good dog DNA testing kit for dogs which should be able to tell you whether your female dog had an “affair” with more than one dog. Some DNA test should be also helpful in matching up the DNA of a particular puppy with the DNA of a suspected biological father. With this proof in hand, you can therefore register a multi-sired litter and provide the proof to any buyers.

idea tipDid you know? Some breeders purposely breed their female dog to two different studs either because of poor-quality or low sperm count or so to attain more genetic diversity without having to breed too many times. These multi-sired litters can even be registered with the American Kennel Club under “Multi-sired litter registration” as long as both parent dogs are purebred breeds and all criteria are met including proof of parentage determined through the AKC’s DNA Profile Program.



  • The Field Museum, Dedicated Animal Dads That Care for Their Young, retrieved from the web on October 22nd, 2016
  • International Wolf Center, Wolf Families. retrieved from the web on October 22nd, 2016
  • American Kennel Club, Stud Double, retrieved from the web on October 22nd, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr Creative Commons, Petful, Bride and Groom Dogs, CCBY2.0
  • Sally Wehner, DSC04988 CCBY2.0



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