Grr… Food Aggression in Dogs

Anyone who has more than one dog at home knows that dogs are very possessive over a few things in life.  This is called “resource guarding,” and resources can be anything from food to attention, or even toys.  At Rita Ranch Pet Hospital, one of the most common concerns pet owners discuss with us is how to handle and prevent food aggression at home.  First, it is important to understand why your dog may start acting aggressive around food and how to recognize the signs to stop it in its tracks!


Signs of food aggression

Food aggression manifests itself just as any other type of aggression.  You need to monitor your dog for his or her reactions to challenges.  Clear signs of aggression include:

  • Tension of the body
  • Leaning forward when standing
  • Raised lips / wrinkled muzzle
  • Growling
  • Raising of the hackles, the fur on the back
  • Lunging
  • Biting

Sources of food aggression

In the wild, many predators may eat from the same carcass after one or more of the pack have brought down a prey animal.   If the predators are very hungry, they may not be as willing to share, and each of the members of the pack will attempt to horde and guard as much of the food as possible, rather than ration it equally as humans might do.  Any time a dog feels that he or she is in a situation where others might steal his or her meal or treats, food aggression can result in fighting.

Although your dog no longer lives in a wild pack, he or she may or may not realize that another meal is just around the corner.  This is particularly common in dogs rescued after living on the streets.  They were never sure where their next meal would come from, and they have a hard time adjusting to regular meal times with plentiful food.

Food aggression is yet another way in which a dog may try to assert himself or herself as the leader of the pack.  It is a serious problem because it can result in injury to the dog as well as to others who happen to be around.

Even without multiple dogs in the home, your dog may guard his or her food against people in the home, which might include you or even your children.  Without training specifically targeted at resolving this issue, it will only get worse.  Training to teach the dog alternate ways to respond to his primal drives should be provided by a reputable trainer or animal behaviorist.

At Rita Ranch Pet Hospital, we use and recommend Dr. Vanya Moreno, PhD of Animal Magnetism.

Clear Communication

Every member of your family who is old enough to understand the problem needs to be part of the solution.  If one of the children in the home thinks it’s cute when the dogs growl at each other at mealtime, the dog will interpret his laughter as reinforcement and the behavior will be reinforced and repeated.

Feeding multiple dogs

You may never know what starts a food fight.  Some dogs have had to struggle with getting enough food their whole lives, others have never known really hunger or struggle.  Regardless of the reason your dogs show possession issues over their food, chances are that these issues will lead to choking, overeating, vomiting, or swallowing everything in sight, which can lead to a very sick pet.

The easiest way to prevent fights over food is to feed your dogs separately.  Whether you put their dishes in different rooms or crate each dog until his or her turn, keeping the dogs apart when food is presented is the safest way to handle the issue.

Make sure to pick up the empty food bowls before another dog has access to each dog’s feeding area.  Even having one dog lick another dog’s bowl for crumbs may lead to a problem.  You may also want to feed the dogs in different spots so that each dog doesn’t develop a habit of considering one spot in the home as “mine.”

If you are accustomed to leaving food down until the dish becomes empty, you may want to consider limiting the amount of time over which food is made available.  Your dog will soon learn that he or she is to eat when the food is presented, rather than leaving it for whenever it’s convenient.  Again, this lets the dog know that you, not the dog, are in charge of the food.  Even picky eaters can generally eat an appropriate portion of food in ten to twenty minutes.

Additionally, pets that are fed free choice or that “graze,” are at a much higher risk of obesity.  About 80% of free fed pets are obese.  It also makes it more difficult for the owner to pick up on subtle changes in appetite or routine that may clue you in that your pet is sick.  At Rita Ranch Pet Hospital, we recommend feeding your pets a measure portion of food at specified meal times each day to avoid this confusion.

The Wrong Way to Handle the Problem

Again, if you are witnessing an alarming behavior change in your pet, please seek professional help and training.  Turning to “Dr. Google” can be very dangerous and can really lead even the most well-meaning pet owner astray.

The traditional method of dealing with resource guarding is so backwards that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so deadly.

Food aggression is often treated as a dominance problem: by protecting his food, your dog is asserting himself as the alpha and the owner must show him who’s boss.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Resource guarding actually stems from insecurity.

The solution that is then suggested is to punish the dog for showing guarding or aggressive behavior. The dog protects his food bowl? Step in front of the dish and push him away to show him that the food belongs to you. The dog snaps when you try to get him off the sofa? Be the “alpha.”  This battle of wills is the kind of thing you see on a lot of dog training “reality” shows. While it does make for dramatic television, it offers absolutely no long-term solution.

This isn’t something that can be solved with punishment or corrections. All you accomplish when you do this is confirm your dog’s suspicion that you ARE a threat and he has to protect himself from you. The solution becomes the problem, creating a vicious cycle. There are three things that can happen when people try the dominance approach:

1. The problem gets worse and your dog actually hurts somebody, which could result in your dog being euthanized.

2. The problem doesn’t get any better and the owners give up, switching to a management approach (i.e. “leave the dog alone when he’s eating”).

3. It actually “works” and suppresses the behavior. It does nothing to CHANGE the behavior, so Fido’s owners now have a dog that is shut down: upset, but unable to show it. Suppressing behavior is cruel and dangerous in dogs and people alike.

Punishing a dog for growling is dangerous.

Growling is a Good Thing

Growling is not aggression. Growling is a dog’s way of avoiding aggression. A growl is the equivalent of saying “knock it off” or “something’s not right.”  When you punish a dog for growling, all you’re doing is teaching him not to give warnings before he bites. Bad news!

Read more about growling here.


Source: &


Perineal Hernia or Rupture in Dogs

Perineal (around the rectum) hernias result from weakening or complete failure of the muscular diaphragm of the pelvis. Normally, the pelvic diaphragm allows for rectal support and keeps the abdominal contents from encroaching on the rectum. Pets with perineal hernias will demonstrate a swelling adjacent to the rectum on one or both sides coupled with signs of constipation, lethargy, difficulty urinating, and altered tail carriage.

The underlying cause for weakening or failure of the pelvic diaphragm is unclear at this time. However, many theories are proposed, all of which may be working separately or in unison to allow for pelvic diaphragm weakening or failure. The disease primarily affects older pets, usually between the ages of 7 to 9 years. Non-castrated (a.k.a intact or not neutered) male dogs and cats are also over-represented.

What are the clinical signs?

Clinical signs can include:

  • Perineal swelling – this can fluctuate in size
  • Perineal bruising
  • Pain/discomfort associated with the swelling
  • Pain or discomfort when passing of faeces
  • Constipation
  • Urine retention – an inability to empty the bladder properly
  • Acute illness due to obstruction of urine flow from the bladder
  • Generalised malaise

 What animals are affected?

The condition predominantly affects middle aged to older male dogs, particularly entire (uncastrated or not neutered) males. However, younger male dogs, female dogs and cats can also be affected.

What are the causes?

There is a strong association between perineal rupture and the male hormone levels in middle aged to older entire male dogs. Any disease process that affects the levels of male hormones can therefore predispose to perineal rupture.


What treatment options are available?

Treatment of non-emergency perineal hernia may consist of either medical or elective surgical therapy. Medical therapy is indicated for preparing a patient for surgery, but is generally unsuccessful at permanently controlling the disease process. Medical management will consist of a combination of enemas, stool softeners, IV fluid therapy, dietary management, and analgesics.Surgery is aimed at repairing the pelvic diaphragm and potentially suturing or tacking the colon and the bladder to the abdominal wall to help prevent re-occurrence and colon or bladder entrapment. The surgery may involve placing sutures to restore the pelvic diaphragm, or a plastic-like surgical mesh may be implanted. In severe hernias, it may be necessary to transfer a flap of muscle from one of the rear legs to aid in closure of the hernia defect. It is recommended that all patients be castrated during the surgical procedure to help decrease the risk of re-occurrence.

At Rita Ranch Pet Hospital, we recommend this complicated surgery be performed by a boarded soft tissue veterinary surgeon.

What is the prognosis (outlook)?

Over 90% of uncomplicated cases receiving rupture repair and castration resolve following the surgery.

The prognosis is good for the majority of cases; however, in 10-15% of the cases, recurrence of the hernia may occur within a year. Prevention of over activity and self-trauma may help lower this recurrence rate.

There is no proven means to prevent perineal hernias from forming. The problem is rarely seen in castrated male dogs so early castration in dogs not intended for breeding purposes is recommended.

Source: &

The Dangers of Fox Tails

Does your dog love to romp in the yard and play ball?  The weather is cooling off, and there is an outside hazard you should know about!  A serious hazard for field dogs, or any dogs in the field, are the hard seed-bearing structures of some kinds of grasses, often called “foxtails”. These structures have sharp points at one end, and microscopic barbs, so that they easily move in the direction of the point, but not the other way. They “work in,” but they don’t “work out”. They can become embedded in the hair, especially the paws and ears, and in nostrils and even eyes. As they work their way in, they cause infection, and if not treated can sometimes be fatal.

The most troublesome grass is the actual “foxtail” or “wild barley” (Hordeum murinum). The individual reproductive structures are small and easy to overlook. This grass is common in weedy areas around roads, paths, and other disturbances. It is an annual, and is soft and green from January through March or April. As the seed heads dry in the late spring, they become dangerous, and they stay that way throughout the summer and early fall. Here are some closeups.



They can dive deep into a dog’s nostril or ear canal (beyond sight) in the blink of an eye. And a foxtail camouflaged under a layer of hair can readily burrow through the skin (a favorite hiding place is between toes). Foxtails can wind up virtually anywhere in the body, and associated symptoms vary based on location. For example, a foxtail within the ear canal causes head shaking, under the skin a draining tract, or within the lung, labored breathing and coughing. Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing foxtails, these plant awns are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction. Unless caught early, they, and the bacteria they carry, either become walled off to form an abscess or migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage. Once foxtails have moved internally, they become the proverbial needle in a haystack—notoriously difficult to find and remove.


If you suspect your dog has a foxtail-related issue, contact us at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital right away to find out what steps can be taken to rid your dog of this unwanted plant material. Whenever possible, avoidance of foxtail exposure is the best and only foolproof prevention.  Keeping your yard clean and free of weeds is the best prevention you can provide your dog against foxtails.


If your dog does have access to foxtails, carefully comb through his or her haircoat—checking ears and toes, too —a couple of times daily to remove any that are embedded and poised to wreak havoc!



The Importance of Parasite Testing

Every year, your reminder about your pet’s annual physical examination comes with a note: “Please bring stool sample.”  It’s not a pleasant part of bringing your pet it, but it is a necessary one.  Even if your pet stays indoors, he or she should be tested annually for common parasites, some of which can be detected by analyzing your pet’s stool.

How Can My Indoor Pet Get Parasites?

Even if your pet never goes outside, regular parasite testing is important.  Parasites are common in wildlife and people and other animals that do go in and out of the home can bring in microscopic parasites and eggs from the outdoors.  Animals can become infected when they groom themselves or eat something off the floor when you’re not looking.  Nursing puppies & kittens that have never gone outside can also get parasites from their mother; in fact, this is very common.  Puppies & kittens usually require deworming at their initial veterinary visits.

What We’re Looking For

Intestinal parasites are the main targets of fecal analysis for parasite testing.  These parasites include many kinds of worms, such as tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms & whipworms.  Worms large enough to be seen with the naked eye can live in your pet’s intestines & are not often found in the stool; however, we can detect their eggs in the stool using a microscope.  Other parasites that may be found by fecal analysis include microscopic organisms.

What We Need

The sample you bring for testing should be fresh – preferably from the same day.  This is important because the tests do not work with dry material.  The good news is that we don’t need much.  A piece about the size of a whole walnut is big enough.  Please bring it in a clean, leak-proof plastic baggie or disposable container.

What We Do

There are a variety of ways we check your pet’s stool for evidence of parasites.  One, called a direct smear, involves examining a tiny piece of the sample under the microscope.  Another, known as fecal floatation, requires mixing a small piece of the sample with a special solution using a machine called a centrifuge to help separate any parasite eggs, which can also be seen under the microscope.  Some parasites & eggs do not show up on all tests because there are too few of them or because the testing process damages them.  If we think that your pet may have one of these parasites, we may ask for another sample so we can either send it to a laboratory or conduct further tests ourselves.

Why We Do It

When you see that note on your annual reminder, you may think, “I did that last year, and my pet was fine.  He’s still healthy…do I really need to bring in another sample this year?” The answer is yes!  Often parasites do not cause signs of illness in pets.  However, many kinds of parasites can infect dogs & cats, and some can even infect people.  Also, even if you haven’t introduced any new pets into your household, you may unknowingly bring parasites or their eggs inside (on your clothes or shoes), where they may be transmitted to your pets.

Year-round parasite preventatives are effective, and we recommend them.  However, if your pet becomes infected and begins to have gastrointestinal problems (e.g., diarrhea), multiple treatments may be necessary to get rid of the parasites.  You may also have to take special steps to clean your home to prevent reinfection, and other pets may be infected & need treatment.  Remember, although it’s not common, many of the internal parasites we see in dogs & cats can affect people, too.  This is another reason why parasite prevention and control and such important parts of your pet’s overall health.

Regular testing can help ensure that your pet is as healthy as he or she looks!

Grief Management in Children

The death of a cherished pet creates a sense of loss for adults and produces a predictable chain of emotions. The stages of grief are typically denial, sadness, depression, guilt, anger, and finally, relief or recovery. However, the effects on children vary widely depending upon the child’s age and maturity level. The basis for their reaction is their ability to understand mortality and death.


Two and Three Year Olds

Children who are two or three years old typically have no understanding of death. They often consider it a form of sleep. They should be told that their pet has died and will not return. Common reactions to this include temporary loss of speech and generalized distress. The two or three year old should be reassured that the pet’s failure to return is unrelated to anything the child may have said or done. Typically, a child in this age range will readily accept another pet in place of the deceased one.

Four, Five, and Six Year Olds

Children in this age range have some understanding of death but in a way that relates to a continued existence. The pet may be considered to be living in the sky, underground or in heaven while continuing to eat, breathe, and play. Alternatively, the child may believe that the pet is asleep at another location.  A return to life or to the home may be expected if the child views death as temporary.

Children at this age often feel that any anger they had for the pet may be responsible for its death. This view should be refuted because they may also translate this belief to the death of family members in the past. Some children also see death as contagious and begin to fear that their own death or that of others they care for is imminent. They should be reassured that their death is not likely.

Manifestations of grief in this age group often take the form of disturbances in bladder and bowel control, eating, and sleeping. This is best managed by parent-child discussions that allow the child to express feelings and concerns. Several brief discussions are generally more productive than one or two prolonged sessions.

Seven, Eight, and Nine Year Olds

The irreversibility of death becomes real to these children. They usually do not personalize death, thinking it cannot happen to them. However, some children may develop concerns about death of their parents. They may become very curious about death and its implications. Parents should be ready to respond frankly and honestly to questions that may arise.

Several manifestations of grief may occur in these children, including the development of school problems, learning problems, antisocial behavior, hypochondriacal concerns, or aggression. Additionally, withdrawal, over-attentiveness, or clinging behavior may be seen. Based on grief reactions to loss of parents or siblings, it is likely that these symptoms may not occur immediately but several weeks or months later.


Ten and Eleven Year Olds

Children in this age range generally understand death as natural, inevitable, and universal. Consequently, these children often react to death in a manner very similar to adults.


Although this age group also reacts similarly to adults, many adolescents may exhibit various forms of denial. This usually takes the form of a lack of emotional display. Consequently, these young people may be experiencing sincere grief without any outward manifestations. It is important to encourage adolescents to discuss their feelings about death.

If you are having difficulty with your child’s grief, please contact Rita Ranch Pet Hospital at (520) 624-6100. We can provide assistance and contact numbers of professionals who can help you and your family.