Impact of Exercise on Puppy Growth Plates


By Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA

When it comes to puppies, it may be tempting to exercise them so to drain that boundless puppy energy, but it’s important to consider the impact exercise may have on puppy growth plates. When can I take my puppy jogging with me? When can my puppy start competing in agility classes? When can my puppy follow me on a bike? These are all important questions that puppy owners often ask. While there’s no question about the fact that puppies love romping and moving about, even up to the point of exhaustion, as with most things in life, too much of a good thing can have an impact, and in this case, the impact can have deleterious effects to the the pup’s developing skeletal system.

What are Puppy Growth Plates?

Puppy bones are surrounded by layers of soft developing cartilage tissue that are found towards the end of most long bones. These areas of soft cartilage are known as growth plates or more technically, epiphyseal plates.

Scottish surgeon John Hunter studied growth plates in great detail in the late 1700s. His studies on growing chicken revealed that bones do not develop from the center outwards, but rather bones grows lengthwise as new bone is generated at the end of long bones, right where the growth plates are located.

John Hunter’s studies granted him the nickname of “father of the growth plate” and his contributions have surely helped both humans and animals.As one may imagine, since growth plates are made of soft, developing cartilage, they are vulnerable and can be quite prone to injury.

Puppy Growth Plate Damage

When it comes to the skeletal development of puppies, it’s important that the puppies’ bones go through even growth, basically, synchronized growth that occurs evenly and as close to the same rate as possible.

If an injury to a growth plate occurs, the growth of damaged cells may slow down and come to a halt meaning that there may no longer be growth on one side. When the growing of the affected side is delayed and stopped, the unaffected, healthy side may continue to grow and this unevenness may lead to potential deformity.

Most commonly, the forearm area is the affected. When the injured growth plate of the ulna stops growing, the radius bone will keep growing potentially leading to one bone that is slightly longer than the other and causing bowed legs, explains veterinarian Dr. Gary.

Puppies are particularly prone to injury during strenuous exercise because they lack coordination and don’t have a lot of muscle strength. On top of from excessive strenuous exercise, injury to a puppy’s growth plates may occur from a fracture as can happen from a fall or being hit by car. While these fractures may heal, the bone may grow unevenly which, as we have seen, can lead to a deformity of the bone. If you therefore suspect injury to your pup’s growth plates or witness any abnormalities, see your vet at once.

Did you know? Some dog breeds have a mutation in their genes responsible for transforming cartilage to bone. This causes shortened legs, a condition known as achondroplasia as seen in basset hounds, dachshunds and corgis.

Too young for agility?

Preventing Puppy Growth Plate Injuries

Puppies need proper exercise as they grow and develop, but moderation is key. It’s therefore important to be careful especially with high impact activities such as repeated jumping as to catch a Frisbee, hurdling through obstacles or jogging, especially over hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete. Turf offers a more forgiving surface and better traction compared to hard cement or asphalt. Sustained vigorous exercise, leg-twisting activities or very rough play should be avoided.

When can my puppy start competing in agility? Many puppy owners may find it surprising when trainers tell them that their puppies are too young to start competing in agility. However, puppy owners may start their puppies on some pre-agility basics such as getting familiar with agility obstacles and other skills/ foundation exercises that aren’t high impact and therefore won’t put strain on those delicate growth plates. Consult with your vet and agility trainer for when you can get started.

Did you know? In a study involving 203 agility dogs, it was found that the tibia, radius and ulna were significantly longer than the femur and humerus, respectively, in dogs that were spayed or neutered at or prior to 8 months of age as compared to intact dogs.( Source: M.C. Zink)

When Do Puppy Growth Plates Close?

As puppies develop, their growth plates close as calcium and minerals harden the soft areas but exactly when do these puppy growth plates close? Since dogs develop at different rates based on size and breed, there is no one rule that fits all.

For example, growths plates in a Chihuahua will close much sooner than a larger breeds such as a great dane. Generally most skeletal growth occurs when puppies are between 3 and 6 months of age. Afterward, longitudinal growth decreases, and by 10-12 months or up to 18 months in the large/giant dog breeds, most growth plates have fused and closed. However, some suggest the process can taken even up to 20 months.

How can a dog owner know for sure whether a dog’s growth plates have closed or not? The best option is to talk to the vet before starting puppies on any rigorous exercise or sport training regimens.

For the best peace of mind, consider than with an x-ray it is possible to see whether the bones have fused or not. On an x-ray the vet will be able to tell whether the growth plate has morphed into a solid, integral part of the bone leaving its only trace of existence under the form of an epiphyseal line, as seen in the picture on the right.

“Most sports medicine veterinarians recommend to not begin training until growth plate closure which depends on the size of the breed and can be anywhere from 10 months to 18 months of age.”~Dr. Wendy Baltzer

Effects of Hormones 

Hormones are known for playing a role in a puppy’s growth plates and skeletal development. As we have seen, growth plates tend to generally close when a dog is 12 to 20 months old depending on breed and size. This coincides with the end of puberty, therefore in intact dogs growth plates close after exposure to hormones.

Male and female sex hormones are known to play key roles in closure of bone growth plates. Therefore, if a dog is altered (spayed or neutered) prior to puberty, there is a delay in the closing process, which causes affected dogs to develop a rather leggy appearance which makes them more likely to suffer from orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia, CCL injury and possibly even bone cancer.

Delaying  neutering in larger dog breeds may help reduce the incidence of these orthopedic conditions.

“The effects of neutering during the first year of a dog’s life, especially in larger breeds, undoubtedly reflects the vulnerability of their joints to the delayed closure of long-bone growth plates, when neutering removes the gonadal, or sex, hormones.” ~Benjamin Hart
Did you know? A Salter-Harris fracture is a fracture involving the growth plates. This classification system categorizes dog growth plate fractures into several types as seen in the chart below.
  • Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH (2014) Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102241. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102241
  • O’Brien, T. R., Morgan J.P., Suter P.F. (2008). “Epiphyseal plate injury in the dog: a radiographic study of growth disturbance in the forelimb.” Journal of Small Animal Practice 12(1): 19-36.
  • Von Pfeil DJF, DeCamp CE. The epiphyseal plate: physiology, anatomy and trauma. Comp Contin Ed 2009;31:E1-7.
  • Carrig CB. Growth abnormalities of the canine radius and ulna. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 1983;13:91-115. 25.
  • Smith RN. The developing skeleton. J Am Vet Rad Soc 1963;9:30-36. 26. Hare WCD. The age at which epiphyseal union takes place in the limb bones of the dog. Wien Tierärztl Monatsschr 1961;49:210- 215.
  • Joint disorders, cancer and urinary incontinence in early neutered German shepherd dogs, Advances in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, 2016, 29, 10, 7

Photo Credits;

  • Wikipedia Commons Xray of lower leg of 12 year old child showing growth plates by Gilo1969 at English Wikipedia, CCBY3.0
  • Salter Harris Fracture Types SalterHarris.png: Dr Frank Gaillard (MBBS, FRANZCR) The original uploader was Benweatherheadat English Wikipedia derivative work: Zerodamage This file was derived from Salter Harris Fracture Types CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s Up With Dogs Licking the Air?


Among the many odd things dogs do, dogs licking the air or dogs snapping at the air are behaviors that often leave owners baffled, wondering what may be going on. If your dog is licking and snapping the air, and he’s not in playful mood or feeling threatened, don’t just assume it’s an odd, perhaps even funny behavior, and leave it as that. Licking the air may seem like one of those behavior “quirks” dogs often display, but it can be triggered by some underlying medical condition. If your dog is sitting quietly and then gets these “spells” of licking the air, this behavior warrants investigation. A regular vet may help find the underlying cause, but sometimes, in challenging cases, a consultation with a board-certified veterinary specialist is needed.

Air Snapping in Dogs 

Dog owners often describe their dogs as if biting at some imaginary fly hovering in the air, but in reality there are no bugs around. For this reason, this behavior of air licking is also known as “fly biting” or “fly snapping.” Other dog owners describe it as a dog who is chasing imaginary things, up to the point of making them wonder whether their dogs are responding to some sort of paranormal activity!

Dogs who are repeatedly licking their lips are sometimes said to be lip smacking but this behavior is a tad bit different than air snapping.

In air snapping, as the name implies, the dog is watching something and then moving the head forward and snapping as if trying to catch something; whereas, in lip smacking, the dog is only repeatedly passing his tongue over his lips and making smacking noises as if there’s peanut butter stuck to the roof of the dog’s mouth.

With this distinction pointed out, following are are several causes for dogs licking the air:

Possible Partial Seizure

We often imagine seizures as the abrupt onset of uncontrollable muscle activity with the dog falling to his side, paddling and foaming at the mouth. These dramatic and scary episodes are known as gran mal seizures, but partial seizures are a type of seizures that are more on the discreet side.

Also known as focal seizures, partial seizures are limited to only a part of the brain’s hemisphere and therefore produces symptoms based on what part of the brain is affected. Affected dogs may just twitch a part of their body or engage in fly catching.

Diagnosing seizures is not easy in dogs as it would require recording the brain waves produced during the epileptic event in hopes of detecting the associated brain wave abnormalities, but it’s not like dogs can sit still for extended periods of time with electrodes stuck on their bodies while waiting for a seizure to happen!

Generally, if the episodes are infrequent, and therefore, quite sporadic, they’re not much cause for concern unless they increase in frequency or are accompanied by grand-mal seizures, explains board-certified veterinary neurologist, David O’ Brien.

However, if the dog’s seizures happen frequently enough, dogs are often put on an anti-seizure medication trial. The dog owner therefore observes the dog while he’s on an anti-epileptic medication and reports to the vet any seizure activity occurring during the trial. If the the dog air licking episodes subside, then it’s indicative that the spells were likely indeed seizures.

“The fly-biters are still a bit of a question mark for veterinary neurologists. We think they are a type of complex partial seizure, but the evidence is not conclusive.”~David O’ Brien

Presence of Vitreous Floaters

Floaters are not limited to humans, they can affect dogs as well. What exactly are floaters and how do they affect dogs? Just like us, the dog’s eye is filled with a gel-like substance known as “vitreous.”

As dogs age, this substance thins and pulls away from the retina, a condition known as posterior vitreous detachment. When this occurs, floaters, which are small particles of vitreous gel, may be present.

In humans, floaters are described as being seen like debris that floats on the eyes and disturbing vision. In dogs, there’s belief that floaters may not be well understood and dogs may therefore believe that there are actual objects floating around triggering the instinct to want to catch them.

For this reason, vitreous floaters are sometimes referred to as “flying flies.”  While floaters can be easily diagnosed  by a vet by carefully looking into the dog’s eyes using an opthalmoscope, there are chances that fly biting behaviors are not due to eye problems. Vitreous floaters are not only uncommon, but also fly biting is more likely to occur because of some dysfunction of the dog’s temporal or occipital lobe, explains Kirk N. Gelatt, a veterinary ophthalmologist in the book “Essentials of Veterinary Ophthalmology.

A Digestive Disorder

In some cases, licking the air has been found to be indicative of a digestive disorder.  A study conducted by researchers from the University of Montréal Veterinary Teaching Hospital evaluated 7 dogs with a history of fly biting with their episodes lasting anywhere from once daily to an episode every hour.

Recordings of their fly biting events showed that the dogs were raising their heads and extending their necks prior to snapping at the air, a behavior that was suggestive of some sort of discomfort with their esophagus. When these dogs were examined, they were all found to have a digestive abnormality. Medical treatment successfully solved most of these dog’s underlying digestive issues and therefore tackled the fly biting behavior.

” All dogs with oral repetitive behaviors should undergo a complete medical work-up to rule out GI disease before evaluation for behavioral disorder.”~John Ciribassi

A Behavioral Disorder

In behavioral medicine, licking the air and fly biting have been reported to possibly be caused by a compulsive behavior disorder. It’s a mistake to assume fly biting is behavioral issue from the get-go without first having the dog evaluated for underlying medical problems. Once medical problems have been ruled out, then, the next step may be consulting with a veterinarian specializing in behavior problems.

Dogs are known for often exhibiting odd, repetitive and bizarre behaviors such as chasing lights, flank sucking, chasing tails, spinning and fly biting is one of them. Fly biting when performed repeatedly by the dog and intently, so much so that it is difficult to interrupt, may be a sign of a compulsive disorder.

Such compulsive disorders can be problematic as they interfere with the dog’s normal activities. The behavior may start out of conflict or frustration and then become a default behavior that dogs use, often occupying a high percentage of their time.

Treatment in this case entails pharmacological intervention most often using serotonin reuptake inhibitors along with behavior modification in hopes of reducing the behavior and re-directing the dog to normal activities.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is engaging in air licking, air snapping or fly biting, please consult with your vet.



  • Frank D, Bélanger MC, Bécuwe-Bonnet V, et al. Prospective medical evaluation of 7 dogs presented with fly biting. Can Vet J 2012;53:1279-1284.
  • DVM360, Compulsive disorders: Have you considered GI involvement? retrieved from the web on December 10th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr. Creative Commons, Tony Alter, Nose Check CCBY2.0
  • A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. “Steve” Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0

What’s The Normal Color of Dog Urine?


Dogs urinate because of a physiological need but also for communicative purposes, but a dog’s urine color can also tell the attentive dog owner a whole lot about a dog’s health status. Knowing what color is a normal, healthy dog’s urine is important so to early recognize signs of trouble. Dog urine may assume a variety of colors depending on several factors such as how much a dog drinks, what a dog has ingested or being affected by a variety of diseases. Knowing what color of urine is normal for your dog when he is healthy, can provide a good parameter to compare to, so that you can see your vet upon noticing the first signs of something unusual.

The Normal Color of Dog Urinedog-urine-sample

What is the normal color of dog urine? The normal color of dog urine is transparent yellow. The color of your dog’s urine derives from a pigmented substance that is known as “plasma urochrome.” This substance is excreted by the dog’s kidneys and is produced at a constant rate; however, its concentration may vary based on how much a dog drinks.

The quantity of water a dog consumes may therefore change the intensity of the yellow. So if your dog guzzled down a huge amount of water as if there’s no tomorrow, his urine volume would double, causing his urine to be diluted and the yellow color to be half as vivid. However, if your dog happens to drink very little, the urine will become very concentrated, which will lead to darker urine.

So a dog’s urine may normally range from light yellow, yellow to amber and the best way to evaluate the color is by placing a fresh sample in a clear plastic container against a white background, but this is something that should be left for your veterinarian to evaluate.

“Urine color should be evaluated by placing a standardized volume of urine in a standardized clear plastic or glass container and viewing the sample against a white background with the aid of a good light source.”~ Dr. Carl A. Osborne

Discovering Five Abnormal Urine Colors in Dogs

When it comes to the odd urine colors in dogs, there may be several factors that may play a role. For instance, urine color in dogs may appear abnormal because of some underlying medical condition, ingestion of toxins or certain medications and sometimes even ingested substances, even though the latter two are unlikely considering that, by the time they are excreted by the bladder, most foods and drugs lose their colors as they are digested and processed by the dog’s metabolism. While abnormal urine color in dogs may be suggestive of a medical condition or disease, it should also be considered that any unusual colors are not always indicative of health problems, in the same way as dogs may be suffering from medical problems and still retain normal-looking urine. .

dog-urine-orangeOrange Urine in Dogs 

When a dog presents with orange urine, this can be concerning. In this case, the color may not be due to the normal presence of plasma urochrome, but instead the abnormal presence of bilirubin, a substance that is excreted by the liver.

Normally, bilirubin is formed by the liver and is excreted in your dog’s urine and feces, but it is not detected for the simple fact that it is bound with certain proteins. However, if the production of bilirubin is beyond normal levels, the excess will be excreted unchanged and this can ultimately contribute to the noticeable color change, explains Vet Internist, a board-certified veterinarian.

A significant overproduction of bilirubin in dogs can cause jaundice (icterus) to manifest causing the white of the eyes and mucous membranes to gain a yellowish tint. While a bright yellow/orange color of urine may be sometimes due to dehydration, a urine sample should be taken to veterinarian to rule out bilirubinuria, suggests veterinarian Dr. Peter.

“The fact that you are not seeing icterus (jaundice) does not mean there is not bilirubin in the urine; we normally do not see icterus until the blood concentration of bilirubin is higher than 2.5mg/dl.”~Dr. Peter.

Pink/Red Urine in Dogsdog-blood-in-urine

At times, a dog’s urine may assume a pinkish tint or perhaps the presence of red blood in the dog’s urine (hematuria) may be seen. There may be several causes for this. Affected dogs may be suffering from an inflammation of the bladder, a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, crystals in the urine or kidney problems.

Sometimes, what a dog eats may sometimes cause a reddish tint. For instance, betacyanin contained  in beets can cause urine to become red, and people and dogs who ingest them may also get discolored urine. However, affected dogs do not shown any symptoms other than the reddish tint, and the discolored urine should subside within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion, explains veterinarian Dr. Scott.

The best course of action if your dog shows pink urine or blood in it, is to bring the dog to the vet, possibly bringing along a urine sample that was collected in a sterile container so the vet can perform a urinalysis.

dog-brown-urineDark Brown Urine in Dogs 

Brown urine that somewhat resembles the color of tea may be caused by several factors. Dogs with brown urine may be very dehydrated, but in this case, the urine turns back to normal once the dog drinks more or, in case of severe dehydration, when the dog is given intravenous fluids by the vet.

More serious issues that may cause brown urine in dogs is damage to the dog’s red blood cells causing the release of hemoglobin, which may happen when a dog is exposed to certain toxins. As with orange urine, brown urine may sometimes be caused by presence of bilirubin as seen in dogs with liver problems.

Dark urine in dogs may also occur as a result of muscle inflammation along with muscle damage, a condition known as rhabdomyolysis where the damaged muscles excrete  the protein myoglobin in the urine. The muscle damage may be due to crush trauma or strenuous exercise.

 And then, once again, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and  kidney infections can all also cause dog urine to appear brown, but normally with these conditions you’ll likely see frequent urination and straining as well, explains veterinarian Dr. Gabby.

Cloudy Urine in Dogs dog-cloudy-urine

Cloudy urine is another problematic type of urine that requires investigation by a vet. The cloudy appearance is often caused by the presence of pus, crystals, bacteria. Cloudy urine in dogs is most likely suggestive of urinary tract infection, bladder stones or perhaps a prostate infection, especially in male intact dogs.

In a young female puppy, cloudy urine may also be suggestive of puppy vaginitis.

Cloudy urine in a pregnant dog may be sign of the presence of a mucous-like discharge that is common in the final couple of weeks of pregnancy. As with other abnormalities, turbid or cloudy urine in dogs should be checked by a vet.

“Freshly voided urine should be transparent… The transparency or turbidity of urine is commonly estimated by reading newspaper print through a clear container containing the urine sample…Regardless of color, if a freshly collected sample is turbid or cloudy, further evaluation is indicated.”~Dr.  Carl A. Osborne

Clear Urine in Dogs dog-urine-clear

While odd, abnormal urine colors of dog urine may be concerning, a lack of color may be equally concerning such as when the dog’s urine presents as clear, almost water-like. Another warning sign is urine that lacks an odor, that is  clear and produced in large quantities and that the dog has a hard time holding.

In this case, clear urine is often present in dogs who are drinking a whole lot (polydipsia) and also urinating a whole lot (polyuria) and this may be triggered by several medical conditions such as kidney failure, liver disease, diabetes, urinary tract infection, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease to just name a few.

A dog urinating clear should therefore be checked by a veterinarian, as it’s not normal for a dog’s urine to be clear, suggests veterinarian Dr. Bob. 

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog’s urine appear abnormal, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.


DVM360, Discolored urine: What does it mean?, retrived from the web on December 1st, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Wikimedia, Urine Sample by Turbotorque Publc Domain
  • Wikimedia, Orange Urine By James Heilman, MD (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Wikimedia, Hematuria, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
  • Wikimedia, Brown Urine  By James Heilman, MD (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Wikimedia, Cloudy Urine,  By James Heilman, MD (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Wikimedia, U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Ryan C. McGinley Public Domain


Facts about Mast Cell Tumors Dog Owners Should Know


There are various types of tumors that affect dogs, but there is one in particular, the mast cell tumor, which can behave quite erratically and that deserves a dog owner’s attention. Dog owners should keep their vigilant antennas up and pay attention when petting and grooming their dogs as these tumors are not only quite common but also quite unpredictable in nature. Mast cell tumors, also known as mastocytomas, are one reason why, even the most innocent looking bump or lump should be checked out by a veterinarian. This is why it’s never really a good idea to take a wait and see approach with any lumps and bumps, unless a veterinarian has determined that it’s safe to do so. So today, let’s take a look at some surprising facts about mast cell tumors in dogs.

mast-cell-tumorMast Cell Tumors are Copy Cats…

Mast cell tumors in dogs are often referred to as “the great imitators,” why is that? Mast cell tumors gain this reputation from the fact that they can clinically resemble many other types of dog skin tumors. (See pictures for an idea)

Mast cell tumors may therefore look like an innocent bump, a fatty mass under the skin, an ugly ulcerated mass or a bug bite. You name it! Mast cell tumors in dogs can also be smooth, bumpy, solitary or in groups and they may be present on the skin or underlying tissues.

This is again why, one can’t never say what a mass really is until it gets checked out. However, despite having a variety of clinical appearances, if one must describe how a mast cell in a dog looks like on average, a mast cell tumor  can be described as a hairless, pink, raised mass that prefers to show up on the dog’s torso and legs, explains  Steven Neihaus, a board-certified veterinary surgeon.

“Mast cell tumors can occur anywhere on the body. Approximately 50% occur on the trunk, 40% on limbs, and 10% on the head. ” Source, DVM360


And They Can Play Peek-a-Boo too.mast-cell

Dog mast cell tumors can be quite unpredictable tumors. For instance, some mast cells tumors may have a history of shrinking for some time and then swelling up again.

The shrinking may lead dog owners to assume that the growth is something that is getting smaller which may cause them to delay treatment. Then, after a while they get a wake-up call once the growth starts swelling up again.

This history of shrinking and then swelling is due to the mast cell tumor’s tendency to degranulate and release histamine, explains Tracy Geiger, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in internal medicine.


mast-cell-cancerMast Cell Tumors Release Substances…

Mast cell tumors don’t just sit there all day long doing nothing. These tumors originate from the bone marrow but then finish up maturing in the tissues of a dog’s body and this can includes skin, digestive tract and respiratory tract.

Once stimulated by the immune system, mast cells tumors release their granular contents along with several chemicals and these may include histamine, proteoglycans, neutral proteases (enzymes that break down protein) and chemotactic growth factors.

Histamine in particular, is basically the same stuff that causes an area of the skin affected by a bee stings to become red, inflamed and painful.When all these chemicals are released, they can, not surprisingly, wreck quite some have havoc on a dog’s body.

That Can Cause Complicationsveterinary

As mentioned, mast cell tumors are quite insidious in nature causing a variety of problems when they release chemicals.

Among dog mast cell tumor complications, at a skin level, recurrent swelling may occur due to degranulation and associated release of histamine, while local bruising, this time from the release of heparin, may be present as well.

When mast cells tumors release histamine into the dog’s bloodstream, they may trigger the dog’s stomach lining to produce too much acid and this may lead to a decrease in appetite, nausea, lip smacking, drooling and vomiting, explains veterinarian Dr. Dressler.

Because of these dog mast cell tumor complications, anti-acids are often prescribed to manage the excess acid production, while antihistamines are used to block the  release of histamine allowing the body a better chance of coping with the high histamine levels. Both cancerous and non-cancerous forms of mast cell tumors may release histamine.

” Dogs can also develop signs associated with the release of toxins from the malignant mast cells. For example, up to a quarter of dogs with mast cell tumors also have stomach ulcers due to histamine release.” ~Merck Veterinary Manual

dog-mast-cell-tumor-cellsThey Can be Quite Easily Diagnosed

In the case of a suspected lump or bump, it can be aspirated with a fine needle to determine whether the growth is cancerous or not. The needle aspiration is done with a small gauge needle and shouldn’t be painful hence, the term “fine needle aspiration.”

The fine needle aspirate cells can then be evaluated under a microscope (cytology) in house or  the sample can be sent out to be evaluated by a pathologist.

Under a microscope, the sample typically shows a large number of mast cells which is enough to make a diagnosis of mast cell tumor. Mast cells show up as purples granules that contain histamine.Once mast cell tumor is confirmed, a surgical biopsy is needed to discover the grade of the tumor.

“Diagnosis can often be made with a needle aspirate, which collects some cells of the tumor with a needle, and the cells are examined under the microscope. The granules have distinct staining characteristics leading to their recognition. An actual tissue biopsy, however, is needed to grade the tumor and grading of the tumor is crucial to determining prognosis.”~Dr. Wendy C. Brooks

But Removal Requires Wide Marginsdog-surgery

If you think that surgery to remove a mast cell tumor involves just simply removing only the the lump or bump, think again.

In order to get rid of this pesky tumor, wide margins are required. Because it’s difficult to tell where the tumor begins and where it ends, a large area of about 3 inches of ‘healthy’ tissue in all directions must be removed. So this explains why dog mast cell tumor need wide margins.

Getting wide mast cell tumor margins though can sometimes be a problem depending on where the tumor is located. For instance, mast cell tumors on the neck or in the mouth may be problematic.

Should the mast cell tumors have metastasized to other areas, a combo of anti-cancer drugs may be used along with surgery and radiation. For the best treatment plan, it’s often a good idea to consult with a veterinary oncologist.

The Bottom Line

Here are some more dog mast cell tumor facts: mast cell tumors in dogs account for up to 20 percent of all tumors affecting the skin in dogs. While they may mostly affect older dogs, they can be found in dogs of any age dog. Mast cell tumors may also affect any breed,  even though certain breeds such as boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, bull terriers, and retrievers are known for being predisposed. As with other types of tumors, it’s important to promptly report to the vet any suspicious growth, lump or bump for the best possible outcome.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has a growth on his skin, please consult with your vet promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment.


  • Pet Education: Canine Mast Cell Tumors, retrieved from the web on November 19th, 2016.
  • Dog Cancer Blog, Why use stomach medication for mast cell tumors? retrieved from the web on November 19th, 2016.
  • Dog Cancer Blog, Why Benadryl For Mast Cell Tumors? retrieved from the web on November 19th, 2016.
  • DVM360,  Mast cell tumors in dogs and cats, retrived from the web on November 18th, 2016

Photo Credits:

What’s Up With Dogs Licking Their Front Legs So Much?


Let’s face it: when dogs keep repeatedly licking their front legs a whole lot, it can get annoying for owners who must listen to the incessant licking sound. Some dogs lick their front legs when coming home from a walk or right after eating dinner, and for some other dogs, paw licking may be part of their bed-time routine, but then you have dogs constantly licking those front paws as if dealing with a hard-to-get-rid-of habit almost as addicting as the smoking or gambling seen in humans. In light-coated dogs, constant licking of the front legs can lead to unsightly rusty stains courtesy of their saliva. What’s up with these dogs? Today we’ll be discovering more about what potentially causes dogs to lick their front legs so much, both from a physical and mental standpoint.

dog-licking-front-legs-excessivelyA Matter of Allergies

When you think allergies, you think about sneezing, itchy noses and red eyes, but in dogs allergies develop differently. So move over that box of Kleenex and instead, plan to book up a trip to the vet.

Allergies in dogs translate into hair loss, ear infections, skin inflammation and irritation with its associated itchiness, and.. you guessed it, constant paw licking and chewing.

What are dogs allergic to? As in humans, the allergies may be seasonal involving exposure to pollen and other airborne triggers such as molds, fungi, dust or storage mites. In other cases, the paw licking may stem from direct contact with irritants, things your dog walks on such as fresh-cut grass, awns and products used on carpets and yards.

Many times, the issue of excessive paw licking in dogs is a year-round ordeal. Hypersensitivity or adverse reactions to certain components of your dog’s food may play a role in making your dog’s feet constantly itchy, and yes, these sensitivities may develop after many months or years of eating the same foods.

Excessive licking due to exposure to allergens, contact with irritants and food sensitivities may therefore lead to annoying itch and lick cycles that could cause annoying foot inflammation (canine pododermatitis) secondary problems such as bacterial and yeast infections of the skin.

A Painful Disorder


When dogs sense pain, they react differently from humans and their instinct may drive them to lick, lick and lick.

At times, the answer may be right in front of you if Rover allows you to do a thorough inspection of his dog’s front paws and legs. There may be a splinter somewhere embedded in the foot, a broken nail or perhaps a bug bite.

Pinpointing the source of the problem though is not always so straightforward and at times it can be quite challenging, which is why it’s best to see the vet for some good, old diagnostics.

When the issue is not readily recognizable, there are chances that excessive paw licking in dogs may be attributed to arthritis, joint pain, a fractured toe or sometimes pain from other areas of the dog’s body. The pain need not to be necessarily directly coming from the dog’s paws and legs.

For instance, pain in the vertebrae may travel down to a dog’s front leg, causing something known as “nerve root signature.”

At other times, the pain may be internal or in an area hard to reach and the dog compensates by licking his paws.

dog-sleeping-disordersThe Mental Factor

At times, paw licking can be triggered by boredom. With no bones or toys to chew on and with his needs for exercise and mental stimulation not being met, Rover adjusts with what’s readily available and can keep him occupied for minutes on end: his front paws and legs!

It may just casually happen one day that a bored dog discovers this form of entertainment and soon paw licking becomes his default behavior for when he has nothing better to do.

At other times, paw licking may become a coping mechanism for when the dog feels stressed, anxious or frustrated.

Dogs who are socially deprived for a good part of the day, may end up craving attention from their owners when they come home from work, and if they don’t receive their slice of attention, these dogs will do anything to get it.

Attentive dogs who crave attention may soon learn that paw licking causes owners to look at him, talk to him (what’s up Buddy, why are you licking your paws so much?) and this can be reinforcing.  And even attention of the negative type will do for an attention-deprived Fido, such as the owner saying in a derogatory tone of voice “Hey, stop licking your paws once and for all, dude, it’s driving me nuts!”

Getting Out of Handdog-acral-lick-granuloma

Sometimes excessive paw licking in dogs can get quite out of hand and may lead to a compulsive disorder. The paw licking may start innocently as a way of coping with an allergy, arthritis or a mental state of boredom, anxiety or frustration, and soon the dog becomes addicted to it. This repeated paw licking may then lead to what’s known as acral lick dermatitis (ALD), also known as an acral lick granuloma.

Basically, what happens is that the dog’s repeated licking causes erosion of superficial layers of the dog’s skin and infection, which leads to a vicious cycle of more licking. This cycle is possibly exacerbated by the fact that damaged local cells or nerves release endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers which provide a “high” and leads to further licking, explains veterinary dermatologist Ian B. Spiegel.

The areas most affected are the front and top portions of the dog’s legs, respectively the carpus, metacarpus, tarsus, or metatarsus.

idea tipDid you know? The unsightly stains found on the paws and legs of light -coat colored dogs is due to excessive licking because of porphyrin pigments found in a dog’s saliva.

veterinaryCourse of Action

As seen, paw licking  in dogs is something to monitor carefully. It could just be a dog’s way of relaxing before going to bed or just a part of grooming, but if it’s happening more than usual or your dog seems to lick and chew his front legs with intensity and it isn’t easy to interrupt, it’s something worthy of mentioning to a vet.

Allergies, a foreign item stuck to the paws or the onset or arthritis are a few possibilities. Compulsive disorders may require special drugs along with behavior modification.

If your dog gets a clean bill of health, then it’s time to consider whether your dog needs a more relaxing environment or perhaps needs more exercise and mental stimulation to keep occupied. It could be it just boils down to giving your dog a job to do and that job must encompass something other than constantly licking his front paws over and over.

“A behavior that is difficult to interrupt may be more likely to be caused by a medical condition that causes distress than is a behavior that is easily interrupted. However, a true compulsive disorder that has been present for months or years may also be difficult to interrupt.”~Valerie V. Tynes

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog is licking excessively his front legs, please see your vet.


  • DVM360, Just Ask the Expert: How do you combat acral lick dermatitis, by  Ian B. Spiegel, VMD, MHS, DACVD, retrieved from the web on November 5th, 2016.

Photo Credits:

  • Wikipedia, Canine lick granuloma / acral lick dermatitis; self-inflicted as an obsessive-compulsive self-destructive behavior,selfOwn work CC BY-SA 3.0


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)


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


10 Reasons Why Dogs Snore While Sleeping


Life can be as miserable with a snoring dog as it may be living with a snoring partner, especially when Rover is given the privilege to share the bedroom or even the same bed. However, it appears that when the snoring partner is a four-legged companion, dog owners are more forgiving and willing to turn a blind eye, or shall we say, a deaf ear! Many dog owners actually confess to finding their dog’s snoring quite adorable, however, putting the cutesy factor aside, snoring in dogs can sometimes be a sign of problems that need to be addressed. So let’s better understand why dogs snore and how to recognize potential signs of trouble.

dog-snoringFirst an Insight into Dog Snoring..

Why do dogs snore? In order to understand dog snoring, we will first have to take a little lesson in dog anatomy. When dogs sleep, they are constantly moving air in and out through their nose, the soft palate and trachea.

Generally speaking, snoring happens when there is some sort of blockage anywhere along the dog’s upper respiratory tract. As the air moves unevenly past the blockage, it creates that vibrating noise that we commonly refer to as snoring.

In most cases, the noise occurs when the dog breaths in air and it can occur  during any sleep stage. There are several reasons why dogs snore, following are 10 reasons why dogs snore.

“Snoring is rarely a sign of serious problems unless dogs are also having trouble breathing when awake. But it may suggest that your dog’s health- or eating habits -could use some improvements” ~Dr. Matthew Hoffman

1) A Matter of Conformationdog brachycephalic breed

Some dogs are more predisposed to snoring because of their facial features. Brachycephalic dogs  (those canines with pushed-in faces) such as bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese and boxers, are often the poster child for snoring.

While these facial structures are much cherished in the doggy world, courtesy of neotony, they are also to blame for the noises they produce.

The main problem is that these dogs have shortened muzzles which cause them to be prone to breathing problems, remarks veterinarian Matthew Hoffman in the book “Symptoms and Solutions: The Ultimate Home Health Guide–what to Watch For.”

Facial features to blame are these dogs’ elongated soft palates which get sucked into the dog’s airways, their narrow, slit-like nostrils and their small trachea.

Some of these conformation abnormalities can be corrected surgically if they interfere with a dog’s overall ability to breath.

Did you know? A study conducted in a sleep laboratory involving Bulldogs found that the majority of them were suffering from from some degree of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes them to wake up hundreds of times in the course of one night, explains veterinarian Dr. Asaf Dagan.

2) A Matter of Soft Palate

While brachycephalic dogs are more prone to snoring compared to other dogs due to their elongated soft palates, not all dogs who have problems with their soft palates are brachycephalic.  A dog’s soft palate is basically the fleshy area found behind the dog’s ‘hard palate which consists of those ridges on the roof of the dog’s mouth. This area may sometimes enlarge and cause some vibration when a dog is asleep, explains veterinarian Andrea Roberts. 

Foxtail extracted from dog's nose
Foxtail extracted from dog’s nose

3) A Matter of Foreign Bodies
While dogs airways are sometimes blocked due to conformation issues, sometimes the culprits may be foreign bodies, basically stuff that shouldn’t be there and that are inhaled or swallowed from the environment.

If your dog never snored or snored very little in his life, and now he is snoring like a chainsaw, suspect a foreign body, especially if he shows signs of trouble breathing, repeated sneezing, coughing and gagging, even while awake.

What foreign bodies are to blame? One insidious foreign body that can make its way into the dog’s respiratory tract is the foxtail, a spikelet with barbs produced by several herbaceous plants (see picture). Because foxtail tend to travel in one direction only, removal must be done by a veterinarian. Other possible foreign bodies include grass awns and pieces of stick if dogs like to chew on them.

“(Foxtails) They are sharp enough to enter tissue and have barbs that cause them to migrate in one direction if they enter the body.”~Dr. Zwingenberge, veterinary radiologist at the University of California-Davis.

 4) A Matter of Growths

Sometimes, the culprit of the snoring may be something growing inside the dog’s airway rather than a foreign body that was swallowed or inhaled. Presence of polyps in the nasopharyngeal area, benign tumors, cancers or cysts are growths that may grow and may play a role in obstructing a dog’s airways.

5) A Matter of Congestion dog sneezing foxtail

Any medical condition that causes inflammation, swelling or the production of mucus, can cause snoring in dogs. For example, an upper respiratory infection or an allergy may be a culprit.

While most dog allergies result in skin problems, about 15 percent may have the same symptoms humans experience, such as sneezing, nasal discharge and teary eyes.

Allergies can be due to anything in the environment but common culprits are dust, pollen, molds, dander and smoke. When the nasal passages get plugged up with mucus or swell, dogs may start breathing through their mouths which may yield noisy snoring, further explains Dr. Ackerman. Sometimes, a nasal fungal infection may be the cause of snoring.

old dog6) A Matter of Aging

Old age can cause a multitude of problems and this may include a predisposition to snoring. What happens in this case is that. tissues of the dog’s vocal cords and larynx tend to relax as the years go by and lose muscle tone, which may result in these tissues vibrating when air flows though them.

7) A Matter of Dental Problems

Sometimes, even a bad tooth may be an underlying cause of snoring in dogs. According to veterinarian Dr. Kara, an infected tooth root may cause inflammation of the nose and louder snoring. When we look at teeth, we only see the tip of the iceberg. Under that tooth we see, there are long roots which extend and reach areas of the dog’s face and nose. When a tooth is allowed to go bad, those roots therefore reach these areas causing further complications such as increased sneezing and snoring.

8) A Matter of Extra Pounds dog blanket sleep sick

Just as overweight people are known for “sawing logs,” when Rover packs on some extra pounds the snoring can be equally noisy. Why do chubby dogs seem to snore more though? In this case, it seems to be a matter of where their fat is stored.

That extra layer of fat found by the dog’s chest may, in certain sleeping positions, press against the dog’s airways causing the noise, explains veterinarian Lowell Ackerman.

Fortunately, a weight loss program can eventually lessen the snoring along with providing several other healthy perks associated with shedding a few pounds.

how dogs sleep9) A Matter of Sleeping Position

Yes, dog sleeping positions matter! Just like people tend to snore more when they are sleeping on their backs, dogs may also snore more when they are sleeping on their stomachs or backs–move over Rover!

In this case, the problem stems from the pressure on the respiratory tract, which may lead to noisy breathing. A dog sleeping on his side is less likely to snore and gets to catch a more restorative sleep.

10) A Matter of Problems with Larynx 

One of the most serious medical problems associated with trouble breathing and snoring is a condition known as laryngeal paralysis. In this condition, the dog’s larynx does not open properly which leads to breathing issues and snoring, that sadly progressively get worse over time. While there is a surgery to fix this, it’s quite expensive and comes with some risks, explains veterinarian Dr. Marie. 

Tips to Reduce of Stop Snoring in Dogs:dog sleeping

  • Feed your dog less. Slimmer dogs tend to snore less as the amount of fat in their chests starts melting away.
  • Provide more exercise. Along with feeding less, increasing exercise may further help shed those extra pounds.
  • Treat or at least manage the dog’s allergies if these are found to be a culprit.
  • Check your dog’s nose and mouth for any for any foreign bodies.
  • A humidifier may help if your dog’s snoring is triggered by dry air. A dry nose can be an indicator that your air is too dry.
  • In the summer keep  your room cool so to encourage your dog to sleep on his side instead of on his back. In the winter provide a cozy round dog bed so to encourage him to sleep curled up.
  • See your vet to determine whether there is a medical condition triggering the snoring. Recording your dog’s snoring on camera can help your vet’s diagnostics.

The Bottom Line

As seen, there are several causes for dog snoring. Generally, snoring isn’t a major problem unless the dog shows interrupted sleep due to it or shows signs of trouble breathing also during the day. If your dog is snoring and you are concerned about it, please play it safe and see your vet.

If your dog has never snored but all of a sudden is snoring, that should be investigated…. But if your dog has always snored, and he’s otherwise happy and playful and active, and the snoring is only at night, then don’t worry about it.” Dr. Weber



Symptoms and Solutions: The Ultimate Home Health Guide– What to Watch For, What to Do (Dog Care Companions) by Matthew Hoffman, Rodale Books (January 15, 2000)


Is My Puppy’s Rapid Breathing Normal or Should I Worry?


New puppy owners may often be concerned about their puppy breathing fast and may wonder whether it is normal of not. The answer is that it depends. While in many cases rapid breathing in puppies may have a reasonable explanation, puppy owners should also consider that there are also diseases and medical conditions that can cause fast breathing in puppies. A trip to the vet is always the best course action when in doubt, just to make sure everything is OK in the puppy’s health department.

The medical term used to depict rapid breathing is tachypnea. In particular, the term is used to describe any abnormal rapid breathing. Rapid breathing in puppies and dogs may be caused by physiological or pathological causes. Physiological causes often include triggers such as exercise, excitement or stress. Pathological causes, on the other hand include medical diseases. The distinction between physiological and pathological causes is often based on the context in which the rapid breathing in puppies occurs (when, in what precise circumstance?), but not always the distinction is clear cut enough though, which is why when in doubt it is best to consult with a veterinarian.

puppy-breathing-fastIs My Puppy Breathing Too Fast?

Generally speaking, consider that the normal breathing rate in dogs is between 18 and 34 breaths per minute, with puppies generally being at the higher end, explains veterinarian Dr. Lisa.

How does one count a puppy’s breathing rate though? It’s best to do it when the puppy is calm, awake and not panting (that means he has his mouth close without the tongue sticking out as described a few paragraphs below), this way, you have a baseline number you can compare with when you notice any rapid breathing that concerns you.

When puppies breathe, you will see that their chest rises with inspiration and falls with expiration. Therefore, consider that one cycle of inspiration and expiration equals one breath.

If you find it tedious counting your puppy’s breaths for an entire minute, no worries! There’s an easy-peasy way to speed up the process and take a short cut. This tip comes from the Tufts University, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center. Simply, count the number of breaths your puppy takes in 30 seconds (use a stopwatch for this or have a helper count for you) and then multiply that number by two.

Is 30 seconds too much? OK, you can further take a short cut and cut the time even more if you’re good in math. Simply, count those chest motions for 15 seconds and then multiply them by 4.

Along with learning how to take your dog’s pulse, getting a temperature, checking your puppy’s gums and capillary refill times, learning how to take your pup’s respiratory rate is important so you can recognize signs of trouble and report them to your vet immediately.

idea tipDid you know? When it comes to a pup’s respiratory rate, the brain is the primary controller. It receives input from special sensors that are responsible for detecting the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

My Puppy is Breathing Fast After Exercisepuppy-exercise-breathing

If your puppy is breathing fast after a walk, after playing in the yard or because it is hot, the rapid breathing may be perfectly normal. Dogs do not sweat like humans do (they only have a few sweat glands on their feet) and therefore they must rely on other means to cool their bodies down.

With the mouth open and long tongue sticking out, puppies are not only cute, they’re taking advantage of the wonders of evaporation, as the moist surfaces of their mouth and tongue lower their core temperature down.

Don’t get too worried about your pup’s breathing rate when panting. When a puppy or dog is panting, the respiratory rate increases dramatically, which can be alarming for new puppy owners.

According to Dukes’ Physiology of Domestic Animals, when dogs pant, their breathing increases to about 200 to 400 breaths per minute. That’s a whole lot considering that normal breathing rate in dogs is 15 to 35 breaths per minute! 

warning cautionWarning: puppies tend to overheat fast and get tired from lots of exercise compared to adult dogs. Keep an eye on them for signs of being tired or hot, especially in those brachycephalic puppies!

puppy-in-carMy Puppy is Breathing Fast in the Car/Crate

Is your puppy breathing fast in a specific circumstance? For example, is your puppy breathing fast when crated or when in the car (and it’s not hot)? Chances are, your puppy may be stressed.

Puppies can get quite worked up emotionally when they are exposed to situations they are not comfortable with. In this case, the rapid breathing is based on those specific contexts, meaning that it happens specifically in those precise circumstances. Then, once your puppy is let out of the crate or he has reached his destination after a car ride, unless there are no other stressful events going on, he should go back to breathing normally as the process of homeostasis kicks in.

idea tipHere’s a tip: If the car or crate seems to be making your puppy nervous, try taking small baby steps to help your puppy adjust to riding in the car or being crated. Start slow and make sure to add rewards such as toys and tasty treats along with these activities to make them fun. If your puppy is breathing fast or panting in the car, consider that it could also be he is prone to getting car sick. Consult with your vet.

” Excitement, anxiety, fear, pain or even happy anticipation can all increase your pets respiratory rate  via the limbic system of its brain.”~Dr. Ron Hines

My Puppy is Breathing Fast When Sleepingpuppy-fast-breathing-during-sleep

“Help, my puppy is breathing really fast while sleeping!” This was a call we often used to get at the veterinary clinic. Behind this call there was always a very concerned owner wondering if he should be bringing the puppy in.

We were specifically trained on how to reassure these concerned puppy owners after asking a bit of basic “triage” questions such as: Is there also twitching/whining/moving during his sleep? Is the puppy normally active and playful when awake?  Does the rapid, erratic breathing stop once he’s awake?

When the owners answered “yes!”  to all the above, we simply told them that most likely their puppies were healthy, happy campers who were simply “acting out” their dreams.

Yes, because puppies, just like humans, dream and their REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage can be quite dramatic to watch at times. If you feel tempted to wake up your puppy because you think he’s having a bad dream (such as being chased by your next-door neighbor’s kitty), please don’t. Sleep is very important to puppies as that’s when they basically get to do a lot of growing and developing, so yes, as the saying goes, let sleeping puppies lie!

“I personally would not be too concerned about this sort of respiratory rate while a puppy is sleeping, in young animals it can be variable and it can also be variable during sleep periods due to episodes of rapid eye movement sleep { REM } and other factors.  I would be much more concerned about how the puppy is when awake, if the puppy is then acting normally you would have few problems.”~ Dr. Scott Nimmo

puppyIs My Puppy Breathing Fast from Disease?

Dyspnea, is the medical term used to depict fast, labored breathing. Basically, the term is coined to describe respiratory distress caused by some pathological disorder that often warrants immediate veterinary attention. Generally, there is no obvious explanation for this type of breathing to occur, in other words, the puppy didn’t exercise, his environment is not hot and there seems to be no reason for the puppy to be stressed or excited.

Puppies who are breathing fast because of some underlying disease may tend to show signs of trouble breathing by assuming abnormal positions such as keeping the head and neck extended or the elbows held wide apart, away from the body.

What diseases or conditions can cause a puppy to breath fast? There are several respiratory and non-respiratory disorders known for causing this and certain medical conditions. Anemia, heart problems, circulatory problems, presence of heartworm, infections, fever, dehydration, pain, shock may cause changes in a puppy’s normal respiratory rate.

Often these disorders and conditions are accompanied by other symptoms on top of the increase in respiratory rate such as coughing fits, pale gums, lethargy, loss of appetite, increased temperature, congestion, and exercise intolerance, but sometimes puppies may hide their symptoms or they may not be readily recognized by puppy owners. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and see a vet, especially when it comes to something serious as abnormal breathing.

“When a dog’s respiratory rate is persistently high and can’t be attributed to any of the above environmental factors, it can signal a health problem such as anemia, congestive heart failure or various respiratory disorders.” Dr. Marty Becker

Did you know? Rapid breathing may also be seen as a side effect of a medication or a reactions to vaccinations. If your puppy is breathing fast after vaccines or taking a medication, consult with your vet to be safe.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Puppies may breath rapidly for a variety of causes. Some of them are pretty obvious and there is likely nothing to really worry about, while others warrant a veterinary visit. If your puppy is breathing abnormally fast while awake and there doesn’t seem to be an explanation, it’s best to err on the side of caution and contact your vet immediately.


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