Training Your Dog to use a Ramp

As our dogs get older, they can begin to lose some of their mobility and have trouble with stairs or jumping up into cars.  In my own case, my nearly twelve-year-old collie has developed severe arthritis in her lower back and hips and is no longer able to hop into my SUV and climb up on the back seat.  We’re addressing her age-related health issues with medication and physical therapy, but we still need a pain-free way to transport her to the places that she needs to go.

The solution for short trips around town was to place her in the SUV’s rear cargo area rather than the rear seat.   For her comfort, and to spare us the need to vacuum her fur out of the car every week, I put down a canvas sheet with an old wool blanket on top of it.  With the back seat folded down, this gives her a comfortable place to lie down with familiar scents and protects our vehicle.  Which left the issue of how to get her into the vehicle.  I’m a large individual myself and have no difficulty in lifting and carrying a 65-pound dog, but the same isn’t true for my spouse.   Therefore, we decided that it was time for our old girl to start using a ramp.

Some dogs are very accepting of new experiences and will take to using a ramp very easily.  They’ll see the ramp, say “Challenge accepted!” and will scamper right up it.  However, there are a lot of others who will be apprehensive about using it.  So, when planning to implement the use of a ramp for a geriatric dog, keep in mind that she is already uncomfortable and is losing strength and mobility; she is becoming unsure of her footing and will be nervous about walking up a narrow surface that is suspended in the air.  There are things you can do to make it easier for your dog.

Selecting the right ramp is very important.  They come in different sizes and lengths and a made of a variety of materials.  I have some suggestions for picking the right one:  First, it must be of a size and weight that can be managed by anyone who handles the dog and drives the vehicle that will be used to transport her.  Second, the walking surface should be composed of a non-slip surface that won’t be torn by a dog’s claws.  Avoid any fabric coverings that can become loosened or ripped.  Third, the ramp should be wide enough for your dog to walk on it with a fairly normal gait and posture.  Lastly, when fully extended, it must be long enough that it securely overlaps the bed of your vehicle and has a gentle slope to the ground – I recommend that it be less than the 35-degree angle commonly used for residential stairs.

The next issue is helping your dog to use the ramp.  As I indicated earlier, older dogs are likely to be reluctant to start using one.  They can experience a certain amount of discomfort when they’re walking or using stares and are losing some of the mobility they had in their younger days.  They’re also likely to be apprehensive about walking up a ramp with empty air on either side of them.  So, start slowly and let your dog become accustomed to using a ramp.

Begin with laying the ramp flat on level ground, folded or collapsed to its smallest dimensions, with the walking surface on top.  In the illustrations, I used a telescoping ramp that I had slid closed.  Put your dog on leash and walk him on it, with encouragement and treats, so that he becomes used to walking on the ramp’s surface.  Do this several times a day with only a few repetitions in each session.  Once he’s comfortable walking on it, repeat this process with the ramp opened to its full extension but still lying flat in the same location.  Again, take it slow.  Have several sessions each day with only a few repetitions each time.  Keep in mind that your goal is to have your dog comfortable with walking on the ramp, there’s no reason to rush him.

Once he is comfortable walking on the ramp when it is laid on a flat surface, you begin to get him familiar with walking on the ramp when it is suspended in the air on a small incline.  The objective is to help him learn to trust the ramp when he is walking above ground level.  Find an outdoor location where you can put the ramp on a small incline, such as the front stoop of a house or a small set of steps.  Just make sure that this spot is stable and the ramp won’t shift under the dog while he’s using it.  Then put on his leash and walk him to the bottom of the ramp.  Shorten your grip on the leash so that he can walk easily but you can prevent him from falling off either side.  Give him a verbal cue, such as “Up!” and walk him up the ramp, staying close to him and using treats and praise as incentives.  Once he’s at the top, turn him around and give him another verbal cue, and repeat the process as he goes down.  Repeat this only a couple of times.  You want the duration of these sessions short in case he has any anxiety about using the ramp, so that his nervousness doesn’t build while you’re training him.  Repeat these short sessions a couple of times a day until he willingly goes up and down the ramp.

At this point, you’re ready to use the ramp to get him in the car.  Repeat the same familiar process of using the ramp when you take him into the car:  Shorten your hold on the leash, stay beside him and use the same incentives and verbal cues.  And continue with short sessions several times a day.  He may balk at first, and you may find that he is nervous or hurries up and down the ramp.  But with repetition and positive reinforcement, he’ll get accustomed to using it.

Thinking about putting out your dogs’ shedded hair for birds’ nesting material? Think again.

With spring coming, two things will be happening around our homes:  Birds will be building their nests and our dogs will be shedding their winter coats.  This would appear to be a happy coincidence, as the dogs are apparently providing soft, comfortable nesting material for our returning bird population.  However, we need to be extremely careful about this.

Dog fur, particularly their undercoat, is extremely soft and provides insulation – until it gets wet.  When that happens, it hardens into a hard wad.  And longer hairs are very strong and can wrap tightly around birds’ wings and legs – particularly nestlings.   This can act like a tourniquet and tighten until that limb is lost or crippled[i].

These two factors make combed-out dog fur very undesirable for nesting material, but are not the worst danger associated with leaving their combed-out hair out for the birds.  Many of us use flea and tick treatments to protect our dogs from those parasites.  These treatments contain insecticides that are targeted at blood-sucking insects and the eggs that they lay on our pets’ skin.  They are safe and effective in keeping our pets free from insect parasites, but they can also be highly toxic to birds and deadly to new hatchlings.  And those insecticides are present on our dogs’ fur for weeks after each treatment.

I’m not going to address the issues associated with specific brands of flea and tick treatments, as they are generally considered safe for dogs and this article addresses only the use of their combed-out fur for nesting material.  However, I do ask that, before discarding your dog’s spring shedding or putting it our for the birds, you become familiar with the ingredients of your preferred treatments and the risk to wildlife in disposing of that fur.

Check the manufacturers’ websites and the ingredients list on the flea treatments’ packaging.  Commonly used insecticides in flea and tick treatments include Imidacloprid[ii], fipronil[iii] and fluralaner[iv]; all of which are highly toxic to birds and would be dangerous to their hatchlings.  Encouraging birds to use fur that has been treated with these chemicals, even if its with the best of intentions, would be very cruel and harmful.   If you are not sure what the ingredients of your flea/tick treatments are, then please play it safe and dispose of the fur in your household trash.  Also, if you buy these treatments from anything other than a reputable veterinary pharmacy (either in-person or online), you really have no assurance what the ingredients really are or what their dosage is, making them risky to both your pet and to wildlife.[v]

Thanks for reading this.  The key takeaway is that, although these treatments are safe, effective and beneficial to your pets, they can have undesired effects if your backyard wildlife is exposed to them.  Be aware of their ingredients before putting your dogs’ shedded coats out for birds to use.

 

 

 

[i] Langas, A.  (April 22, 2019)  What Nesting Materials are Safe for Birds?  Audubon.  Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/news/what-nesting-materials-are-safe-birds

[ii] NPIC (n.d.) Imidacloprid.  Retrieved from Imidacloprid General Fact Sheet (orst.edu)

[iii] NPIC (n.d.) Finpronil.  Retrieved from Fipronil General Fact Sheet (orst.edu)

[iv] Fox, M. W. (August 13, 2014) Researching the Possible Hazards of Products Made to Stop Fleas and Ticks.  Washington Post.  Retrieved from Researching the possible hazards of products made to stop fleas and ticks – The Washington Post

[v] Silvia, B. (February 15, 2021) Is it Safe to Buy Discounted Pet Medications Online?  Consumer Reports.  Retrieved from Safe to Buy Discounted Pet Medications Online – Consumer Reports

Reiki for Animals

This article is the latest in my discussion of alternative medicine approaches that have become commonplace in the care and treatment of our companion animals.  Today, we will discuss the art of Reiki.

What is Reiki?

According to its practitioners

“Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.”  (What is Reiki, nd)

The origin of Reiki dates back to the early 20th century Japan and is credited to Mikao Usei.  Usei is said to have investigated ancient, lost healing arts and rediscovered the art of directing Universal Life-Force Energy (Rowland, 2010) for the purpose of healing illness and injury.  The research he is supposed to have performed in recovering this healing art is not documented and a plethora of legends have sprung up about it.  Some accounts invented by later Reiki practitioners say that he journeyed to India to study with healing mystics there and others imply that he learned the methods by which the Buddha performed healing miracles (Monckton, nd). He is said to have trained a few disciples in this healing art who, in turn, trained others.  Over the years, this practice has become both refined and varied in its application.

What is a Reiki practitioner?

There are three levels of Reiki “mastery”, each of which can be learned from a course of instruction.  There is no oversight or professional certification for Reiki; students are certified by whichever organization they enroll in for courses of training (Nelson, nd; Crowhurst, nd.)  Many of these courses are available online for home study.  Reiki practitioners are said to be “attuned” by the Reiki master who trains them, either in person or by correspondence (Adams, 2016)

How is Reiki administered?

There really is no standard of treatment for Reiki practitioners.

  • Touch: Traditional Reiki is administered by the practitioner physically touching the person who is under treatment and channeling healing energy to that person through his or her hands.

    Non-touch animal Reiki

    There are standard locations for this touching to take place (the seven chakras of the human body), however the practitioner is also able to place his hands anywhere that he feels the flow of energy is required (Cutler, 2011)

  • Non-touch: In cases of physical injury, Reiki practitioners will often position their hands over the injury, claiming that healing energies are being channeled into the wounded or injured area.   This is often done in Reiki treatments of animals.  This is often done from a considerable distance, for the safety of the Reiki practitioner (Adams 2016).  Practitioners will also “beam” Reiki from across a room for safety reasons (Paul, nd).
  • Remotely: Reiki is also administered remotely, over great distances, across time and space, by the practitioner holding a piece of paper with a “patient’s” name and address, or even a picture of that person, while manipulating symbols or crystals.  This is done by means of “The Hermetic Law of Similarity” which states that we are all made of energy and are therefore all connected (Johnson, 2015).

What is the standard of treatment?

Given that Reiki is administered either by touch, without touching, across a room or across great distances, there is no standard of treatment.  Nor are there any specific standards for addressing particular injuries or ailments; this is all left to the subjective judgement of the Reiki practitioner.

And there is no standard of training.  Every Reiki instructor certifies his or her own students in whatever methods are included in that course of training.  There is no measurement of effectiveness except for the subjects’ feelings of whether they have been helped by the treatment.

How is it used in veterinary treatment?

Canine chakras

It is used to treat animals for a variety of conditions, by the same touch, non-touch, distance methods discussed above.  Some Reiki practitioners have identified the locations of animals’ chakras, which would server to determine where the healing energy should be directed.

Does Reiki work?

There are very few quality studies of Reiki.  Most have been found to be seriously flawed by lack of control groups, subjective interpretation of data and other flaw.  A 2008 review of clinical trials of Reiki treatment for a variety of conditions concluded:

“In total, the trial data for any one condition are scarce and independent replications are not available for each condition. Most trials suffered from methodological flaws such as small sample size, inadequate study design and poor reporting…In conclusion, the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.” (Lee, Pittler & Ernst, 2008)

One 2017 review of studies, performed by a member of the Australian Usei Reiki Association, claimed that the majority of clinical trials indicate that Reiki is ‘a safe and gentle “complementary” therapy that activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind.’  (McManus, 2017).  However, it should be noted that the author of this review has no medical qualifications, and that the parasympathetic nervous system controls resting heart rate and digestion and performs no healing functions.

A 2011 study examined the use of Reiki in which a group of people undergoing chemotherapy underwent treatment by certified practitioners, while another group were treated by untrained persons performing “sham Reiki”, with a third (control) group of patients undergoing standard care.   This study found that the persons treated by both the certified and “sham” (placebo) groups reported the same results in terms of well-being and comfort in comparison with the control group.  The study concluded that there is no medical benefit derived from Reiki, but that patients derive a sense of well-being from one-on-one care from a nurse practitioner, regardless of the care being provided (Catlin & Taylor-Ford, 2011).  I was also able to find a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study found that Reiki had no effect over placebo on subject’s heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and stress (Bat, 2021).

So, based on the evidence, we can only conclude that Reiki is a placebo. And, despite its popularity and the mythology surrounding it, there is no indication that it has any medical or therapeutic value.  As the Catlin and Taylor-Ford study indicated, the value of Reiki is simply the one-on-one presence of a supportive person.

But, if it’s a placebo, how can it work on pets?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t.  The placebo effect is felt by the animals’ owners.  The owners are primed by the Reiki practitioner to see signs of improvement in their animals and, being inclined to believe in this treatment, fall victim to confirmation bias.  This is particularly the case with dogs.   Dogs are very attuned to our moods and are adept at reading our body language and facial expressions, and they look to us for social cues.  If a dog sees that his owner is encouraged or relieved that a treatment is perceived to be working, then that dog will respond to the owner’s change in mood – further reinforcing the owner’s belief that Reiki has worked wonders.

Conclusion:

I am sure that many Reiki practitioners are sincere and honestly believe in their work.  But the simple fact is that there is no medical value in this “therapy”.  And, if it is used in place of proven, science-based veterinary medicine, then it is harmful and amounts to withholding care from suffering animals.

References:

Adams, T. (January 4, 2016).  Reiki for Animals.  Retrieved from Reiki for Animals | Intuitive Understanding

Bat, N. (2021).  The Effects of Reiki on Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, Body Temperature, and Stress Levels: a Pilot Randomized, Double-Blinded, and Placebo-Controlled Study.  Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 43 (5).  doi:  10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101328

Catlin, A. and Taylor-Ford, R. L. (2011).  Investigation of Standard Care Versus Reiki Placebo Versus Actual Reiki Therapy to Enhance Comfort and Well-Being in a Chemotherapy Infusion Center.  Oncology Nursing Forum 38 (3).  doi:  10.1188/11.ONF.E212-E220

Crowhurst, M. (nd). Reiki Level I, II and Master Certification – Energy Healing.  Retrieved from Reiki Certificate: Master Certification in Energy Healing | Udemy

Cutler, N. (2011). Reiki Hand Positions. Institute for Integrative Healthcare.  Retrieved from Reiki Hand Positions | Massage Professionals Update (integrativehealthcare.org)

Johnson, K. (2015).  The Awesomeness of Distance Reiki.  Retrieved from https://universoulheart.net/soul-journeys-2/the-awesomeness-of-distance-reiki.html

Lee, M. S., Pittler, M. H. and Ernst, E. (2008).  Effects of Reiki in Clinical Practice:  A Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials.  The International Journal of Clinical Practice 62 (6).  P 947-954.  doi:  10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.x

McManus, D. E. (2017). Reiki is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy.  Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine 22 (4).  1051 –  1057.  doi: 10.1177/2156587217728644

Monckton, G. (nd). The History of Reiki.  Retrieved from The History of Reiki (georgianamoncktonreiki.com)

Nelson, D. (nd). Reiki Infinite Healer.  Retrieved from Reiki Infinite Healer Course | Chakras, Symbols + Certification

Paul, N. (nd). Using Reiki for the Family Pet. Retrieved from Using Reiki for the Family Pet – dummies

Rowland, A. Z.  (2010).  The Complete Book of Traditional Reiki, Practical Methods for Personal and Planetary Healing.  Kindle Edition, Retrieved from Amazon.com

What is Reiki? (nd), The International Center for Reiki Training.  Retrieved from What is Reiki? | Reiki

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

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,  (https://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 ( https://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 ( https://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 ( http://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.