Suburban Wildlife – Backyard Critters

Above and below: Local wildlife captured on a backyard trail cam

If you live outside of a major city, you might be surprised to learn that your home is part of an ecosystem.  Your yard is a place where animals roam, hunt, forage and raise their young; and you are part of it by virtue of the boundaries you place on it, the shelter and food sources that you create, and the dangers that you bring to it.

Set up a trail cam outside your house before you settle down to an evening of television and you will see what I mean.  In the mornings, you will see pictures of animal comings and goings in the night that you probably never knew were happening.  You will find that you are sharing your turf with opossums, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, coyotes, foxes, owls and other critters that you may never have been aware of.  They are your neighbors and live their lives right  under your nose.  They are the reason that your dog wakes you  up in the night and barks to go outside.

What’s your part in this?  The best thing you can do is be responsible and be aware of their behaviors.

First off:  Control your pets.  Always keep your cats indoors and do not let your dog outside at night without keeping an eye on him.  Your cats are predators by nature and will attempt to hunt and kill birds and any other small animals that they can get.  Further, your cat is prey for the larger predators in your area.   By keeping your cat indoors, you are increasing its life expectancy by 12 to 15 years1,2.

Second:  Keep your trash inaccessible and use bins that cannot be opened by wildlife.  We do not need to attract wildlife to our homes or invite them to visit us for food.

Third:  Do not feed them.  If wildlife is present in your neighborhood, that means they have plenty of food and do not need you to supplement their diets.  And, the fact is, the sugar, fat and salt content in our diet is just as unhealthy for them as it is for us.  You are not doing them any favors by sharing it with them.  I am not saying to take down your bird feeder, just don’t share your breakfast cereal or dinner leftovers with them.  And absolutely do not feed your pets outdoors or leave their food bowls outside.  Not only do your pets’ bowls attract wildlife – sharing them with wildlife is an avenue for diseases.

One of the main reasons to admire wildlife from a distance is that they can carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to both humans and our pets.  Not only profoundly serious diseases such as rabies and distemper, but tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, parasites such as mange, fleas and scabies, and other communicable diseases.   You can keep these illnesses and parasites outside by simply taking simple precautions about your pets and their food.

Lastly:  Leave them alone.  Do not try to make friends with them.  In fact, the more wary they are of people, the better.  If you see a critter that seems to be unafraid of you or tame; or if one approaches you, it is probably sick3.   In fact, animal welfare organizations across the country are seeing increases in diseases such as canine distemper4,5, a disease that can be spread to unvaccinated dogs.

Summing it up:  Just recognize that we share the world with wildlife, and we should respect their space.  We can enjoy them from a distance, but for our benefit and theirs we should minimize our intrusion into their lives.  We also need to protect our pets by keeping them from having any interactions with wildlife and keeping their vaccinations up to date.

References:

  1. Watson, S. Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cats: Health and Safety (webmd.com)
  2. www.thehumanesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/indoors_outdoors.pdf
  3. Sick animals being reported throughout Bristol | EastBayRI.com – News, Opinion, Things to Do in the East Bay
  4. yubanet.com/regional/distemper-cases-rise-among-californias-foxes-raccoons-skunks/
  5. patch.com/virginia/arlington-va/newsroom-canine-distemper-confirmed-raccoon-population-north-arlington

 

Suburban Wildlife – Deer

Deer are becoming more and more common in human-populated areas and are establishing themselves as a fixture in our neighborhoods.  In the coming months we are going to see increased deer activity as fawning season begins in late April and May.  Depending on your viewpoint, they’re a nuisance and garden thief, or they’re an attractive addition to your local community.  In either case, there are some do’s and don’ts that you should keep in mind.

First off, do not feed them or do anything to attract them to your home.  For one thing, not all of your human neighbors would appreciate it – particularly those with gardens.  And any food that you might put out would also attract other animals that you might not want to have nearby, such as mice or rats.  The deer in our backyards are feeding themselves very nicely and do not need your help.  In fact, we do not want them to become even more accustomed to human habitats than they already are.   For their own sake, we want them to be cautious around humans and avoid us.  Another reason to keep them at a distance is that they carry parasites and diseases (ticks, mange, lyme disease, leptospirosis, salmonella and giardia, to name a few) that are contagious to us and our pets1.  Your pets belong in your yard; the deer may visit from time to time but do not need to be regulars.  In fact, it’s a bad idea to let them become regulars.

In the spring you might encounter a fawn that is bedded down in a corner of your yard or in a wooded area.  This is common.  The fawn is fine, you should leave it alone and keep your pets and children away from it.   Unlike a lot of other animals, deer do not keep their unweaned young with them 24/7; they will leave fawns in a safe, quiet place while they graze nearby2.  So, if you see a fawn, just assume that it is most likely not orphaned or abandoned and does not need your help.  If you are concerned about it, set up a camera and watch it for a day or two to see if the deer returns.  If she doesn’t, call a wildlife rescue organization.

Summing it up, deer are cute and attractive animals.  Even though they live close to us, they are still wild animals and its better for all concerned if we leave them alone and admire them from a distance.

References

  1. American Veterinary Medical Assocation.  Disease Precautions for Hunters.  Retrieved from Disease precautions for hunters | American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org)
  2. Mizejewski, D. (2015, April 15). Finding a Fawn:  What to do, retrieved from Finding a Fawn: What To Do • The National Wildlife Federation Blog : The National Wildlife Federation Blog (nwf.org)

CBD for Dogs

Does CBD have any medical uses, and can it be used safely for pet dogs?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring chemical substance that is an active ingredient in marijuana.  It is not a narcotic and has no psycho-active effects – unlike THC, the other major compound found in marijuana and hemp. In the past year, it has been extensively marketed as a beneficial treatment for a number of health issues and has turned into a huge industry.  You can’t drive past a strip mall without seeing stores advertising CBD products.

What is it used for?

CBD products are available in capsules, pills, topical creams, lotions, oils and tinctures, food additives, smoothies, gummies, vaping products and pretty much any other form that can be taken internally or applied to skin1.  They are marketed as treatments for a huge array of ailments, including anxiety, PTSD, chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, autism and Alzheimer’s disease2,3, in both humans and animals.

Does it work?

Does it?  We don’t know.

There is clinical evidence that CBD is effective in treating some forms of childhood epilepsy.  And early studies suggest that CBD has some effect on insomnia and anxiety in humans, and in treating anxiety in humans.  Early studies indicated that it may have some use as an anti-inflammatory4.   However, later testing showed no pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory effects in dogs5.

Recent testing has also shown that CBD was not effective in reducing anxiety in dogs, either alone or in combination with other medications.  In fact, it seems to reduce the effectiveness of other medications when used in combination with them6.

The FDA has issued warnings to several companies, ordering them to stop making unproven claims about CBD’s effectiveness.  However, these warnings have little effect, and the FDA is essentially playing whack-a-mole in trying to reign in consumer fraud regarding CBD.

Adding to the confusion is that dogs have entirely different digestive systems than humans and produce different digestive enzymes.  Products designed for human consumption don not always work with dogs.

What are the issues with it?

First of all, there’s a serious lack of testing.  And much of CBD testing has been of questionable quality, relying on owners’ and veterinarians’ impressions of effectiveness rather than objective testing.  An AVMA spokesman estimates that the placebo effect of CBD studies can be as high as 40% 7.   As discussed above, when controlled testing takes place, efficacy claims are placed in serious doubt.

Being an unregulated product, there is no way of knowing whether the contents of a pill, cream or other form of CBD actually match what’s on the label8.   Further, its available in a wide range of forms.  We don’t know it should be administered or what dosage may be effective – if it has any effect at all.

We do know that it can cause liver damage and that it can affect other medications.  It can also cause mood changes and stomach upset9.

What’s the bottom line?

CBD has some interesting possibilities, but we have to wait for the scientific process to prove or disprove the marketing claims.  It is probably safe in that it won’t cause harm to your pets, although side effects have been noted, but we have no reason to believe that it will be effective in treating any physical, emotional or mental conditions.  And we don’t know how it may interact with other drugs, how it should be administered, what form it should take and what dosage is needed.  Further, until it is regulated in some form, we have no way to know what’s in those pills or gummies that are sold online or over the counter.

My advice:  If you think your dog needs medication for some condition, talk to your vet.

References:

  1. Beginners guide to CBD.  Retrieved from Your Guide to CBD (healthline.com)
  2. Mother Jones. (December 2018) Sorry, Hipsters. CBD Will Not Solve All Your Problems. Retrieved from Sorry, Hipsters. CBD Will Not Solve All Your Problems. – Mother Jones
  3. Hazekamp, A., (2018), The Trouble with CBD Oil, Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids 2018 (1). 65 – 72. doi: 10.1159/000489287
  4. Grinspoon, P. (August 24, 2018), Cannabidoil (CBD) – What We Know and What We Don’t. Harvard Health Publishing.  Retrieved from Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing
  5. Mejia, S., Duerr, F. M., Griffenhagen, G. and McGrath, S. (2021). Evaluation of the Effect of Cannabidoil on Naturally Occurring Osteoarthritis-Association Pain: A Pilot Study in Dogs.  Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 57 (2), 81-90. doi:  5326/JAAHA-MS-7119
  6. Morris, E. M., Kitts-Morgan, S. E., Spangler, D., McLeod, K. R., Costa, J. H. and Harmon, D. L. (2020), The Impact of Feeding Cannabidoil (CBD) Containing Treats on Canine Response to a Noise-Induced Fear Test. Frontiers in Veterinary Science (2020).  doi:  3389/fvets.2020.569565
  7. DVM360, CBD in Pets, retrieved from CBD in Pets (dvm360.com)
  8. Grinspoon, et al.
  9. S. Food and Drug Administration. What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-Derived Compounds, Including CBD.  Retrieved from:  What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD | FDA

Cropping Ears and Docking Tails: Canine Cosmetic Surgery

Working at an animal shelter, you see a steady stream of dogs that have had their ears cropped and tails docked.  These are often pit mixes, or dogs that resemble pits regardless of their breed, with their ears cropped to satisfy some previous owners’ wishes.  The ears are sometimes cut so severely that they are reduced to tiny points, termed a “battle crop”.   Tail docking seems to be done somewhat less often and I have seen it done at random lengths – we have gotten dogs with tails cut so short as to be almost non-existent.

Of course, this “surgery” is done at the behest of breeders to make their dogs more marketable and to satisfy breed standards, or by owners to satisfy some desire to change their dog’s appearance.  At any rate, this subject is hotly debated by animal welfare organizations, breed clubs, veterinary organizations and dog fanciers in general.

Why is it done is the first place?

The practice began centuries ago, based on an ancient use of war dogs, a 5th century understanding of infectious disease, a 17th century understanding of religion and an 18th century tax code.

The Romans believed that docking dogs’ tails (and clipping their tongues) was a means of protecting them from rabies infection1 (Mills, Robbins, von Keyerlingk).  Dogs’ ears were cropped throughout the ancient Mediterranean civilizations as a means of keeping them from being harmed in fighting or hunting large game.  The puritans of colonial America docked dogs’ tails in the belief that they were possessed by demons2.

Figure 1 Statue of Molossian dog with cropped ears.  Believed to come from Epirus, 2nd Century BCE

One of the more practical historic reasons for tail docking goes back to 18th century England, in which it was determined that working dogs would not be taxed, but that a tax would be imposed on pet and hunting dogs.  It was further determined that working dogs would be identified by their docked tails.  This created an incentive for tail docking, although wealthier people who kept hunting dogs made a point of leaving their tails intact to demonstrate that they could afford to pay the tax3.

Over the centuries, these practices of cropping ears and docking tails became traditions and in Victorian England they were incorporated in written standards when the Kennel Club was established and developed the concept of dog breeds and their physical criteria for canine perfection4.  These established standards were adopted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) upon its establishment in 1884.  The AKC first published conformation standards for purebred dogs in 1929, and continues to do so today, including requirements for ear cropping and tail docking5.

Why is it done now?

In many countries, it isn’t done.  Ear cropping was prohibited in England in 1899 and tail docking became highly restricted under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006.  These surgeries are prohibited for cosmetic reasons in the European Union, Australia, and a total of 40 developed countries; and are highly restricted in others.  In fact, there is currently a movement in the UK to close a loophole in their laws by banning the import of cropped and docked dogs from countries where this is still legal6.  The United States is distinctive as having no restrictions on these practices.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)7 and The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)8 are actively opposed to cropping and docking dogs’ ears and tails unless necessitated by illness or injury.  In fact, the ASPCA requested that the AKC remove cropped ears from breed standards as early as 1895, and the AVMA made a similar request in 19769.  That said, a number of veterinarians still perform these surgeries, possibly reasoning that they can at least ensure that the operations are performed safely.

The docking and cropping of dogs is primarily championed by breed clubs and show organizations in the United States.  Although the American Kennel Club has no rules requiring these surgeries or prohibiting the showing of dogs with natural ears and tails,     it has published a position statement stating, “These are important in not only defining and preserving breed character, but also to enhance good health.” That same position paper goes on to deny that cropping and docking surgeries are done for “aesthetic reasons”10 ,  ignoring the fact that AKA standards for showing dog breeds only address aesthetics.  In fact, the only justifications providing for cropping and docking in early AKC publications are to give dogs a more pleasing appearance.  To this day the AKC judging guidelines include clear standards for ear and tail modification in select breeds11.  And various breed clubs have published statements advocating cropping and docking dogs12, and standards for showing dogs that recommend severe penalties for failing to dock tails or crop ears13.

Proponents of ear cropping have stated, without any evidence, that ear cropping for specific breeds reduces the risk of ear infection later in life.  The fact is that although some breeds have a higher incidence of ear infection than others, and that the shape of the ear has not been shown to be a factor.  In fact, breeds such as German Shepherds with naturally pricked or erect ears, have been found to suffer from ear infections more frequently than others with floppy ears14.

Ear cropping has also been rationalized as a means of preventing injury to a dog, on the basis that a working dog’s ear can be wounded or injured.   The thinking behind this is performing surgery on the ears of all dogs in about 20 particular breeds will prevent a small fraction of them from needing some veterinary care later in life.   If you take time to examine some breed associations’ justifications for injury prevention, you will find that the possibility of “injury” is associated with organized dog fighting, which was the basis for modifying the ears of breeds such as cane corsos, Staffordshire terriers, and others.

Injury prevention is also used as a rationalization for tail docking, on the theory that some 50 breeds are at risk for injuring their tails in the normal course of work or play, so amputating their tails shortly after birth prevents some of them from needing veterinary care later in life.  And yet, this thinking is applied only to specific breeds, ignoring the fact that related breeds or breeds with similar working lives are left with full tails:  Schipperke’s tails are docked close to their bodies, while Keeshonds have full natural tails.  Pembroke corgis’ tails are docked so close as to be nonexistent, while Cardigan corgis’ tails are left alone.  German shorthair pointers’ tails are docked while English pointers’ are not.  A Rottweiler fancier once gave me a heated lecture about the need for their tails to be removed because they were once used at cart dogs.  He was unable to explain why Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Swiss Mountain Dogs, which are still used to haul carts, are left with full natural tails.

This advocacy of tail docking as a means of preventing future injury has been thoroughly debunked.  A survey conducted by the AVMA found that tail injuries requiring surgery are extremely rare and are experienced by only one out of 500 dogs.  The study calculated that a dog has a 0.23 percent chance of needing tail surgery any time in its life15, 16.  A Scottish study of undocked spaniel dogs concluded that it would be necessary for 230 dogs to have their tails proactively amputated in order to prevent injury to one of them17.  Another rationalization for tail docking is that it is done on puppies without anesthesia when they are only a few days old, and they don’t feel pain because their nervous systems are undeveloped18.  This has also been thoroughly debunked.  Studies have shown that they experience severe pain during the surgery19, 20; but at that age they are simply unable to communicate it as well as older dogs21.

The fact is that these surgeries are done solely for cosmetic reasons, to satisfy breed standards that were established two centuries ago and have been discarded by the country that originated them as being unnecessary, harmful and cruel. Dog fancier publications from as early as the 1850s denounce these as cruel practices done for purely cosmetic reasons22 and publications from the early days of Kennel Clubs list dogs’ appearance as the only reasons for cropping and docking23 .   And the notion that these surgeries are needed to preserve a historic or traditional function for the dogs is simply ridiculous.  There are innumerable cruel and inhumane practices that were once justified as “tradition” and are now outlawed.

Is docking and cropping harmful?

In a word, yes.

For starters:  It is unnecessary surgery.  In addition to the pain and trauma to the dogs, these procedures entail the risk of applying anesthesia, post-operative complications and infection24.  Tail docking has been shown to have long-lasting effects on the dogs’ musculature and development, affecting the use of their hind quarters and elimination.  And early trauma has been demonstrated to have long-term effects on dogs’ emotional lives and fear responses25.

Perhaps the greatest damage caused by these surgeries is the effect that is has on dogs’ ability to socialize and communicate.  In the years since cropping and docking were adopted, we have learned that dogs have highly sophisticated means of non-verbal communication involving their postures and facial expressions.  Ear and tail position and movement are key factors in their ability to express themselves to others26.  By removing or cutting them, we are rendering them incapable of socializing with other dogs, leaving them vulnerable to aggression or outright attack.

These pictures are of two young pit bulls that were recently placed in a shelter from the same household.  The one on the left, who was given a “battle crop” by a previous owner, is left with his ears permanently fixed in an upright and forward position, giving other dogs a clear signal that he is aggressive and about to attack.  His younger brother, on the right, has natural ears that give him a softer expression and allow a range of communication with other dogs.  A recent study found that humans have a natural tendency to consider dogs with cropped ears as being more aggressive and dangerous than those with natural ears27.

Figure 2 Side by side comparison of young pitbull terriers.  The dog on the left has a “battle crop” and the dog on the right has natural ears.

Similarly, dogs use their tails to convey their moods and intentions.  The position of the tails conveys detailed information about their emotional states, ranging from relaxed and confident to fearful.  The simple act of wagging their tails communicates information to us and other dogs about how they are feeling and how they are likely to react to situations, including showing friendliness, willingness to play, fear, anxiety or submissive behavior.  By removing them, we limit their ability to get along peacefully and happily with other dogs.  We limit their social development and put them at risk.

In conclusion:

In spite of claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that ear cropping or tail docking has any beneficial effects, or prevents illness or injury.   In fact, there is growing evidence that these procedures entail risks to the dogs and can have long-lasting adverse physical effects.  The popular assertion that tail docking does not cause very young puppies to experience pain or trauma has been thoroughly refuted.  And the notion that performing veterinary surgery on an entire breed of dogs in order to avoid veterinary care for a small fraction of them defies logic.  These surgical procedures also severely inhibit dogs’ abilities to interact with each other safely and peacefully.  At this point, there is a legitimate question as to why the American breed associations still advocate these cosmetic procedures in the face of all the evidence that should convince them to stop, along with the breeders and fanciers in the rest of the developed world.

A last word:  In colonial America, ear cropping was a common punishment given to people for petty crimes.  This practice was later abandoned as being cruel and inhumane.  Why would it be considered overly cruel for human criminals, but acceptable for dogs that have committed no offense?

References:

  1. Mills, K. E., Robbins, J. & von Keyserlingk, M. A. G., 2016, Tail Docking and Ear Cropping Dogs:  Public Awareness and Perceptions, PLoS One 11(6),  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158131
  2. Brasch, W. March 18, 2009, The Painful Cost of ‘Breed Standards’, The Scoop. Retrieved from The Painful Cost of ‘Breed Standards’ | Scoop News
  3. Broughton, A. L., 2003, Cropping and Docking: A Discussion of the Controversy and the Role of Law in Preventing Unnecessary Cosmetic Surgery on Dogs, Retrieved from Cropping and Docking: A Discussion of the Controversy and the Role of Law in Preventing Unnecessary Cosmetic Surgery on Dogs | Animal Legal & Historical Center (animallaw.info)
  4. Worboys, M., March 25, 2019, Dog Breeds are Mere Victorian Confections, Neither Pure nor Ancient, Aeon, retrieved from Dog breeds are mere Victorian confections, neither pure nor ancient | Aeon Ideas
  5. American Kennel Club, Judges’ Study Guides, retrieved from www.akc.org/sports/conformation/judging-information/judges-study-guides/
  6. Petition to Stop the Rising Numbers of Ear-Cropped Dogs in the UK, retrieved from petition.parliament.uk/petitions/574305
  7. Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs, AVMA Policies, Retrieved from www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/ear-cropping-and-tail-docking-dogs
  8. Ear Cropping and Tail Docking, AAHA Position Statements and Endorsements, Retrieved from Ear cropping and tail docking (aaha.org)
  9. Veterinary FAQ: Ear Cropping and otitis in Dogs.  DVM360.  Retrieved from Veterinary FAQ: Ear cropping and otitis in dogs (dvm360.com)
  10. Dog Ear Cropping/Tail Docking/Dew Claw Removal. Retrieved from Microsoft Word – crop and dock- 1 page.doc (akc.org)
  11. AKC, Judges’ Study Guides
  12. Ear Cropping. Retrieved from Ear Cropping (canecorso.org)
  13. Boxer Standard, Cropping & Docking. Retrieved from Boxer Standard, Cropping & Docking — US Boxer Association)
  14. Veterinary FAQ: Ear Cropping and otitis in Dogs.  DVM360.
  15. Diesel G, Pfeiffer D, Crispin S, et al. Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in Great Britain. Vet Rec 2010;166:812-817.
  16. Canine Tail Docking FAQ.  Retrieved from Canine Tail Docking FAQ | American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org)
  17. Cameron, N., Lederer, R., Bennett, D. & Parkin, T (2014). The Prevalence of Tail Injuries in Working and non-Working Breed Dogs Visiting Veterinary Practices in Scotland. Veterinary Record 3 (174), doi: 10.1136/vr.102042.
  18. AKC Staff (2013), Issue Analysis: Dispelling the Myths of Cropped Ears, Docked Tails, Dewclaws and Debarking.  Retrieved from www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/issue-analysis-dispelling-myths/
  19. Noonan, G. J., Rand, J. S., Blackshaw, J. K. & Priest, J. (1996), Behavioral Observations of Puppies Undergoing Tail Docking. Applied Animal Behavior Science 49 (4). 335 – 342, doi:  1016/0168-1591(96)01062-3
  20. What are the Animal Welfare Issues With Docking Dogs’ Tails? Retrieved from What are the animal welfare issues with docking dogs’ tails? – RSPCA Knowledgebase
  21. Brasch, W. (March 18, 2009) The Painful Cost of ‘Breed Standards’. Scoop Independent News, Retrieved from The Painful Cost of ‘Breed Standards’ | Scoop News
  22. Youatt, W. (1852). The Dog.  Retrieved from The Dog by William Youatt – Free Ebook (gutenberg.org)
  23. Lane, C. H. (1901), All About Dogs, A Book for Doggy People, London and New York, John Lane
  24. What are the Animal Welfare Issues With Docking Dogs’ Tails?
  25. Tail Docking FAQ
  26. Handelman, B. (2008). Canine Behavior.  Norwich, VT.  Woof and Word Press.
  27. Fratkin, J. L. and Baker, S. C. (2013). The Role of Coat Color and Ear Shape on the Perception of Personality in Dogs.  Anthrozoos  26 (1). doi: 10.2752/175303713X13534238631632

Seresto collars

There has been great deal of interest and reporting about the EPA’s report on dog illnesses and fatalities linked to the Seresto flea and tick collar.  Like most dog owners, I’m interested in this reporting.  But I’m bothered by the reporting for much different reasons than most others whose comments I’ve seen.

The story, which first appeared in USA Today on March 2nd,  (www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2021/03/02/seresto-dog-cat-collars-found-harm-pets-humans-epa-records-show/4574753001/ ), states that 1,700 pet deaths have been attributed to Seresto collars.  As stated in the article “Seresto, one of the most popular flea and tick collars in the country, has been linked to hundreds of pet deaths, tens of thousands of injured  animals and hundreds of harmed humans, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents show.   Yet the EPA has done nothing to inform the public of the risks.”  The article provides a link to the EPA’s website, containing an aggregate summary of pet deaths attributed to Seresto collars from 2012 through 2020.   The report contains information about the total number of reported illnesses and deaths, along with reported severity of the illnesses.  However, that’s all the information that was provided.  The article doesn’t provide any amplifying information about the data collection.

For example, the article provides a link to the aggregate reporting of pesticide incidents attributed to Seresto, but does not state the source of those incident reports.  There is no explanation as to whether the incidents were reported by private citizens, veterinarians, state agencies or the manufacturer.  Every one of these potential sources can contribute to the EPA’s database, with varying degrees of reliability ( www.epa.gov/pesticide-incidents/introduction-pesticide-incidents ).  And, although part of the data collection for incident reporting, the aggregate database cited in the article contains no information about the probability that the incident was accurately reported.

The fact that the article apparently used raw data without further examination leads to some questions about the data itself.  For example, in previous investigations of flea and tick treatments, the EPA has found that a significant number of incidents were based on improper use of the products, including applying the wrong amount of treatment for the animals’ weight or age, or using the product for the wrong species of pet ( www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/safe-use-flea-and-tick-products-pets  ).  The EPA has addressed concerns with other topical flea treatments by requiring modifications to their safe use ( EPA Evaluation of Pet Spot-on Products: Analysis and Plans for Reducing Harmful Effects | Protecting Pets from Fleas and Ticks | US EPA ).

Although the article questions the safety of Seresto collars, it fails to consider how many reported incidents may be inaccurate.  Or how many deaths and illnesses are attributable to other causes.  Or how many reported incidents are the result of incorrect use.  For example, one active ingredient in Seresto collars, imidacloprid, has been found to have no adverse side effects when applied topically, but is extremely toxic when ingested ( www.dogaware.com/articles/wdjmdr1.html ).  This raises the possibility that dogs licked or chewed on a collar, or that the insecticide was ingested by excessive grooming or licking a hot spot, rather than becoming ill through normal use.

All this is not to say that the Seresto collars should not be re-examined for safety concerns and that mitigations may be needed.  And there is clear evidence that the EPA has been lax in enforcement in recent years.  But the article took one data element that is used to evaluate product safety, and drew somewhat inflammatory and potentially misleading conclusions from it.  We need to be mindful that this is only part of the story.

Dog thefts

 

Dog Theft:  Is it really on the rise?

Like everyone else who watches the news, I was shocked by the recent assault on Lady Gaga’s dog walker and the theft of her French Bulldogs.  I was heartened by their quick return (Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs have been returned safely, LAPD says – CNN), and more so by the fact that her dogwalker is getting the best of care and seems to be out of danger.

In light of all the press coverage, I had to wonder how prevalent dog theft really is, and how the pandemic is affecting the frequency of pet theft in the United States.  There is a great deal of information on the seriousness of dog theft in the United Kingdom; the reporting of pet thefts has increased over one hundred percent in 2020.  This is due to several factors:  The stringent pandemic lockdowns in the UK have created an increased demand for puppies and dogs as Covid companions; while the lockdowns and European travel restrictions have created a shortage of purebred dogs for purchase or adoption (Huge increase in UK dog theft blamed on COVID-19 restrictions | Euronews).  This has resulted in an increased demand and a sort of black market for desirable dog breeds.  There is little doubt that the rate of dog theft is drastically increasing (Puppy shortage amid COVID leads to uptick in animal thefts (radio.com)).

With regard to the United States, it turns out that it is hard to determine whether the pandemic is resulting in an increase in dognapping.  There simply isn’t a lot of available data on this subject.  Most states do not have dedicated statutes for pet thefts – these are considered to be crimes against personal property.  Only fifteen states have specific criminal codes regarding dog theft.   I have seen some reporting that dog thefts in the United States has increased substantially, but haven’t been able to locate any actual figures to support those claims.  Many of the claims are anecdotal and, frankly, the media accounts are generally written to maximize their emotional impact.  Also, since the AKC’s statistics have been derived from media reporting, this has the potential of being a self-licking ice cream cone:  As public interest in dog theft increases, media outlets are more inclined to cover these thefts which, in turn, increases the number of thefts that appear in media-derived statistics.

Here’s what we do know:

Small breeds are very vulnerable to theft, simply because they are easy to snatch and hide (ref).

Stylish breeds, such as French bulldogs, are targeted by thieves because of their size and popularity.  They are easy to sell.

Small, pure-bred dogs are generally stolen by dog-flippers, who sell them for profit, or by people who simply want one for themselves (Dognapping: How to Keep Your Dog Safe When Pet Theft Is on the Rise (akc.org)).

Only about ten percent of stolen dogs are recovered and returned to their owners (The Alarming State Of Stolen Dog Laws & How To Prevent – CanineJournal.com ).

The number of thefts has been steadily increasing in recent years, so it is reasonable to assume that we have had a significant increase in the number of thefts in 2020.  Although our lockdowns have not been as widespread and draconian as in the UK; there has been a definite increase in the demand for small companion animals (ref) and breeders and rescues have had difficulties in transporting dogs.

And the fact is, from the standpoint of the criminals, dog theft is a relatively low-risk crime.  Even in states with criminal statutes regarding dog theft, they are generally considered misdemeanors with minor penalties.  Also, without compelling evidence such as high-quality video recording of the theft, these crimes are hard to prove.  A thief can simply say that he found the dog wandering on the street (The Alarming State Of Stolen Dog Laws & How To Prevent – CanineJournal.com ).

So, if you have a puppy or a dog that happens to be a popular breed, what can you do?

First off:  Microchip your dog. Although this may not prevent your dog from being stolen, it greatly increases your ability to positively identify him or her.

Second:  Don’t leave your dog unattended in a public place.  Don’t leave them tied up outside a store, or in your car.  And if your yard is plainly visible from the street and can be accessed by passers-by, don’t leave your dog unattended outside for any length of time.

Third:  Be conscious of your surroundings while walking your dog.  Make sure that you are aware of cars that are driving too slowly, or that you see more than once.  Be aware of who is walking behind you.  Carry a whistle or other kind of alarm.

Lastly:  Be aware of your dog’s social media presence.  Do you really need to show him off to the entire internet?  You do not know who is looking for available dogs in your neighborhood.

Stages of puppy development

A friend of mine recently expressed some exasperation that her 10 month-old puppy suddenly seemed to forget everything he had learned and was actively resisting training.  I asked her what she was like when she was an adolescent.  My friend’s dog is somewhere in the adolescent or juvenile stage, and is being a brat.  Its just a good thing he’s cute.

Like us, dogs go through stages of emotional and physical development, and their behavior changes during those phases.  Here’s an excellent brief on the subject, courtesy of the Arizona Humane Society.

Developmental-Stages-of-a-Dog

Alternative Veterminary Medicine – Homeopathy

Various pharmacy bottles of homeopathic medicine on dark background

I was thinking about hitting a hornet’s nest with a stick, but decided to stir up some real trouble instead.  So, I’m working on a few pieces regarding the use of alternative veterinary medicines, starting with today’s article on homeopathy.

First off:  What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a field of veterinary medicine that has a loyal following and a number of professional practitioners.  Homeopathic remedies are widely marketed as curatives for a wide variety of physical, emotional and behavioral conditions; but the general public has very little knowledge of this field or its principles.

Homeopathy is the creation of Samuel Hahnemann (1755 – 1843) a German physician, building on previous studies by Anton Von Stork, who proposed that poisonous plants can have medicinal values when administered in small doses.  The basic principles that Hahnemann proposed are:

  • Like Cures Like:  Meaning that a very minute dose of a toxin can cure the symptoms that it would cause in larger doses, or would cure similar symptoms caused by a disease.  Putting it another way; poison ivy causes itching, therefore a minute dose of poison ivy would cure a rash. 1
  • Water Memory:  The concept that water is able to retain and remember the shape and characteristics of medicines that it once contained.1
  • Dilution:  The principle that the more a substance is diluted in water, the more powerful it becomes in treating symptoms.2  The process of “succussion” (being shaken between dilutions) and successive dilutions is a key characteristic of homeopathic “remedies”.

Example:  Lets suppose that a homeopath chooses to treat a patient’s fever with a plant substance that can induce a sensation of heat:  Chili peppers.  He wants this treatment to be very effective, so he will subject is to 30 succussion and dilution steps (called 30X, a very common homeopathic dilution, homeopathic remedies are often distilled far more than this).  He would create a ten-to-one mixture of 10-to-one chili peppers and distilled water; then take one part of that mixture, shake it and dilute it in ten parts distilled water.  This step of shaking and diluting would then be repeated twenty-nine times.  The final result would be that the each drop of chili pepper solution would be diluted by 10 to the 30th power (or, one in a million trillion trillion).  Put it another way, it would be pure distilled water.  But the homeopath would state that this dilution would make the treatment of the fever even more effective.

What is it used for?

Veterinary homeopaths and alternative medicine practitioners will prescribes homeopathic treatments for behavioral problems, phobias, wounds, diarrhea, viruses, gallstones, fibroid tumors, allergies, asthma, colitis, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, chronic infections and a host of other conditions.3

Does it work?

In a word.  No.

Homeopathy is based on an 18th century understanding of disease, nervous systems, immune systems and physics.  The fact is, a homeopathic “remedy” is simply distilled water, or a drop of distilled water poured on a sugar pellet. There is no active ingredient in a homeopathic treatment, so it can’t do anything.

This is, however, a major industry that has spent enormous sums of money attempting to prove that homeopathic remedies are effective.  This has been studied by the Federal Trade Commission4,  The National Institute of Health5, the British National Health Service2, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council7 along with other national and international medical associations, have all concluded that no evidence exists to support claims that homeopathic treatments are effective in treating any diseases or medical conditions.  Each of these bodies has concluded that homeopathy has never been found to be more effective than placebo.

So, in summary:  Like does not cure like, water does not have a memory, and dilution doesn’t make medications stronger.  (A note on those last points:  Proponents of homeopathy would have you believe that water retains a memory of a substance that it touches, but does not retain a memory of every bladder and bowel that it passes through.  By homeopathic principles, a small cup of water from your kitchen faucet is actually a tremendously powerful dose of mastodon pee.)

Is homeopathy harmful?

In and of itself, no.  Since a homeopathic remedy has no active ingredients it can’t be directly harmful or interact with any medications.  However, if an animal is treated for a medical condition only with homeopathic treatments, it is harmful in that it amounts to withholding effective care from the suffering animal. 6

Conclusion

The takeaway from all this:  If you believe that your animal is suffering from a condition that would be cured by a drop of distilled water or a sugar tablet, then use homeopathy.  Otherwise, seek help from a qualified veterinarian.

  1. What is Homeopathy? | Live Science
  2. Homeopathy – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
  3. Veterinary Homeopathy | Homeopathic Treatment For Animals | Alternative Veterinary Services (alternativevetservices.com)
  4. Staff Report on the Homeopathic Medicine & Advertising Workshop (ftc.gov)
  5. Homeopathy | NCCIH (nih.gov)
  6. 1,800 Studies Later, Scientists Conclude Homeopathy Doesn’t Work | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine
  7. Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds | Homeopathy | The Guardian

Eastern Coyote Myths and Reality

Its coyote season again.  This is the time of year when coyotes mate and establish dens and territories in preparation of new puppies arriving in the spring.  We can expect new encounters and sightings in our neighborhoods in the coming months.  So, I thought this might be a good time to discuss some commonly held notions and beliefs about them.

Myth Number One:  Coyotes roam in packs. Everyone knows that.

Actually, they live in small groups of about 5 individuals, consisting of a dominant male and female pair, with a few lower status members and any puppies that have been born that year.  In some cases, the “pack” may consist only of the breeding pair and any pups they may have.  The size of the pack is limited by the availability of game and the level of danger in that environment – in areas in which they are hunted or more likely to be killed by automobiles, their “pack” size tends to be smaller.

A third to a half of the coyotes that you may encounter don’t belong to packs at all, and are solitary animals.  They may be individuals who have left their packs and are looking for mates, or a looking for a pack to join, or just like being alone.1

The misconception that they live in larger groups may be due to their vocalizations.  When they get together for a good howl, two or three of them can sound like ten, as seen in the below video:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtsZoIe3Czk

Myth Number Two:  Coy-wolves. They’re enormous.

Not so much.  Coy-wolves are not a thing.

Before Americans started moving west, coyotes were rare east of the Mississippi River.  Starting over 100 years ago, coyotes from the American west began moving into Ontario, CA, taking over the space left by other predators being forced or hunted out.  As they drifted eastward, they intermingled with hybrid wolf populations in Canada, and became genetically distinct from the western coyote populations.  These hybrid coyotes are generally referred to as Eastern Coyotes.

A genetic study of coyotes in the New York area found that they generally 64% coyote, 13% gray wolf, 13% eastern wolf and 10% dog.  This should not be interpreted as meaning that they are interbreeding with domestic dogs.  That DNA was picked from the hybridized wolves they interbred with on their way east.  There is some speculation that species that are endangered or under pressures to survive, such as wolves, are more likely to breed with other, more successful species.  2

As a result of this genetic mixing, the coyotes we see in the US northeast are somewhat larger than their western counterparts and have slightly larger heads.  The ones that you are likely to see in your neighborhood will be between 20 and 40 lbs, about the same as a small- to mid-sized dog.  But they’re not coy-wolves.

Myth Number Three:  Coyotes attack people. Everyone has a story.

No.  They don’t.  They really want nothing to do with us.  You and your kids are safe from them.

Coyote attacks are, in fact, very rate.  There is only one recorded incident of a human being killed by coyotes in the United States.  Most cases in which humans have been bitten by coyotes are instances in which the coyotes were being fed (its never a good idea to feed wildlife) or in which people were attempting to save their pets from a hunting coyote.3

There are stories of people who claim that they were “stalked” by a coyote while out walking or hiking.  It is more likely that the coyote was simply curious, or had been fed by someone, or has simply become habituated (accustomed) to humans and is less fearful than it should be.

Myth Number Four:  Coyotes are rabid. One bite and you die.

Not really.  There is a coyote strain of rabies, but that is limited to a population in Texas.  They are considered to be a disease vector for rabies, but no more so than any other wild predator.  The primary risk of a rabid coyote is one that was bitten by an infected animal of another species.6,8

Not a Myth:  Coyotes can prey on pets and livestock

Yes, this can happen.  Coyotes are opportunistic predators and will attempt to make a meal out of any small prey they encounter.  This can include your pets, including smaller dogs or cats, or any other pet animals that you may leave out in your yard.

Dogs can be particularly vulnerable.  We encourage them to be social with their fellows and they may approach coyotes that they encounter.  Particularly so at this time of year then coyotes are mating – a fertile female coyote can be very interesting to a male dog. 4,8

That said, they don’t make a practice of eating our pets.  Nor, contrary to popular belief, do they live largely on our garbage.  Studies of eastern coyote scat from urban and suburban areas show that they live primarily on rodents, fruit (Yes, they have a sweet tooth and like berries or apples and pears) and deer (whether they hunt deer, or are scavenging road-killed deer carcasses is unclear).  2,5,7

The easiest way to protect your pets from coyotes to not let them roam, and don’t let your rabbits and chickens freely wander around your yard.  Keep them in protected runs.  And take particular care to have them secure at night.  Eastern coyotes hunting habits are shifting in response to human behavior and they are becoming more and more nocturnal –  when we are less active. 3,4

Lastly, we also share our suburbs with other predators, including feral cats and dogs, raccoons, foxes, weasels, minks, owls, etc.  Although coyotes are becoming more and more common in our neighborhoods, its likely that they are being blamed for predation done by other species.

What’s the takeaway?

The reality is that they are present in your neighborhood.  They are getting used to the flood of noises, smells and activity that we create, and are thriving in our urban and suburban ecosystems.  They are somewhat beneficial as they prey on rodents such as rats, mice and moles that can become nuisances if left unchecked.  They’re not going away and we need to cohabitate with them, just like we do with foxes, raccoons, opossums, weasels, raptors and other local predators.

So what to do?  First off, do not – not – ever feed them.  That is that unkindest thing you can do to them.  Having them become unafraid of humans and seeing us as a food source is dangerous for both them and us.

If you encounter one or more?  Scare them.  Make yourself look as big as possible and make a lot of noise.  The more they fear humans and avoid us, the better for all concerned. 9

1 General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research

2 Nagy, C.,  (2017)  New York’s Newest Immigrants:  Coyotes in the City.  Anthrozoology Graduate Program, Canisius College

3 Coyotes and people: What to know if you see or encounter a coyote | The Humane Society of the United States

4 Coyotes are everywhere and breeding season is here, so watch your pets (newbernsj.com)

5 Gerhart, S. and McGraw, M. (2007) Ecology of Coyotes in Urban Landscapes.  Proceedings of the 12th Wildlife Damage Management Conference

6 urbancoyoteresearch.com/coyote-info/disease

7  Suburban coyotes, foxes favor wild prey over pets and trash – THE WILDLIFE SOCIETY

8  How to Protect Your Pet from Coyotes | PetMD

9 What To Do If You See A Coyote – CoyoteSmart (coyotesmarts.org)