The Risk of Retractable Leashes

A friendly reminder from Rita Ranch Pet Hospital to be cautious when using a retractable leash, as they can be a danger to your pet, other pets, and yourself. A few things to consider when using them:


• Before using a retractable leash, make certain you have one that’s strong enough to handle your dog. The leash should not be used with an untrained dog. Dogs that have a tendency to bolt or take off running should never be restrained with a retractable leash. Should you drop the bulky leash handle in an already-busy area, its sudden retraction and the noise the handle makes when dragging on pavement can terrify even the most even-keeled dogs. That means your dog is much more likely to bolt even further away from you.

• You might have the best-behaved dog in the world, but what about that other dog down the block? Retractable leashes allow your dog to approach other dogs uninvited, and other pet parents may not want their dogs to greet your dogs for a variety of reasons, including your own dog’s health and safety. When you use a retractable leash, you’re opening your dog up to all sorts of dangers, including those posed by less-friendly dogs, bikes and cars. You may not be able to hit the brakes on the leash in time.

• Retractable leashes, especially the thin string variety, can very easily cause leash burns. This could happen when your pooch races past you with the retractable line zipped up across your bare skin. Unwarranted injuries, however, can be prevented if you try the flat, tape style retractable leash. If you grab the cord/tape while it is being pulled from the handle, you might suffer from immediate injury like cuts and burns. Poor handling can also cause the cord/tape to twist around you, someone else, or their pet resulting in deep wounds or lacerations.

• The extra length of leash can easily get twisted around a dog’s neck or legs. Even worse, if your pooch panics and jerks the moment they get tied up, it could cause the leash to pull even tighter and cause wounds or strangulation.

Retractable leashes are great for trips to a wide open space like a park. They let your dog sniff and explore more freely. However, there are times that you should not use one. If you take your pet on daily walks or to crowded areas, it might be better to use your good old six-foot leash. There are many varieties of leashes on the market, so we ask that you please do some research and choose the safest and best option for your pet.

What if my pet accidentally ingests human medicine?

Many of the calls we receive here at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital are regarding accidental medication exposures that are easily preventable.


Here are some tips to reduce pets’ chances of ingesting a medication that’s not theirs–or ingesting more than they should:

1. Separate pets when one or more of them need to be medicated.Otherwise, if one dog spits out his pill the other dog may grab it and eat it before you can pick it back up.

2. Do not put medications in food bowls unless the pets are being fed in separate rooms, with closed doors. If they are not separate, Fluffy might eat her dinner and medication then go snack on Bella’s medication and dinner, thus giving herself two doses of medication.

3. When you remove your medication from the bottle and then take it, do so in a room with a closed door (with your pet on the other side of the door). If you drop a pill, or the entire bottle, your pet will not have a chance to gobble up the pills before you can pick them up.

4. Do not take your pill out of the bottle and set it on an end table, night stand, or in a dish somewhere. Pets will often grab the pill and chew or swallow it. Cats may bat at and play with the pills or even lick and chew at them.

5. Read the medication and patient name on the bottle before you administer the medication. Every time. Human and animal prescriptions may come in similar looking or identical bottles and may even be from the same pharmacy. Many pills look very similar and unfortunately, many medications have similar spellings. In technician school, we were taught to read the medication name off the bottle three times before we administer it to a patient: as we take the bottle off the shelf, as we are taking the pill(s) out of the bottle, and as we are putting the bottle back on the shelf. If you have trouble telling the bottles or medication names apart, try color-coding the bottle tops by putting a colored piece of tape on them and then writing the pet’s name (or your name) on the tape.

6. Do not store your own medication next to your pet’s medication. Fluffy may end up accidentally getting your blood pressure medication or you may end up taking Fluffy’s heart medication.

7. If you use daily or weekly pill containers, store them well out of reach of any pets in the household. When you are filling the containers make sure your pet is another room so he can’t eat pills that spill.

8. Do not leave baggies and bottles of medications in suitcases, purses, gym bags, and so on. If you do have baggies or bottles of medications in a bag, store the bag up high or in a closet or cabinet that pets can’t access. When guests arrive, ask them to please make sure their medications are kept in a location that is out of reach of any pets in the household.

9. Periodically go through medicine cabinets and other places you keep medications. Properly dispose of any medications that are out of date or that you no longer need. If the medication requires no special disposal, make sure you take the garbage out as soon as you are finished sorting so Fido doesn’t get into the trash and inadvertently–or intentionally–eat the pills while he snacks on last night’s dinner scraps.

10. Do not place new medications into an old medication bottle. Doing so can make it very difficult to determine what medication was ingested and how much of it was ingested. Also, if the bottle used to contain one medication and now contains a different medication, it’s easier to accidentally administer the wrong medication.

11. If you have Fido with you as you are picking up your prescriptions and then have to run into the grocery store, make sure the prescriptions are locked in the trunk or Fido might think that rattling bottle makes a great chew toy to pass the time while you’re away.

Some of these actions may seem unnecessary, but keep in mind pets ingest medications that are not theirs every day. Many of those medications can cause life-threatening problems, even if only one pill is ingested. This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure!

source: Pet Poison Helpline

Behavior Problems of Senior Pets

As pets get older, they may develop new, undesirable behaviors.  Causes of these behaviors include changes in your household, new stressors, or the effects of disease and aging on virtually any organ of the body, including the brain.  In fact, even subtle behavior changes in eating, elimination habits, sleep habits, and activity levels might be the first signs of an emerging health problem.


Health care for the older pet

Giving a little extra attention to your senior pet’s health care may help him to live a longer and healthier life.  It is critical that you identify and report any changes in the health or behavior of your pet to your veterinarian immediately, so that the earliest possible diagnosis can be made.  Your veterinarian will also work to detect any emerging problems during your pet’s annual examinations, and may recommend blood and urine screening tests, which can help detect abnormalities even before there are noticeable physical signs of disease.

The good news is that a wide range of therapeutic options is now available from special diets that might slow the decline of problems such as renal failure or brain aging, to drugs that control medical problems such as thyroid disease, diabetes, and arthritis.  Early diagnosis and intervention allows your veterinarian to treat these diseases before there are any serious complications, and perhaps even slow the progress of disease.

Medical problems that might affect behavior

The behavioral effects of disease and aging can be manifested in the way a pet eats, drinks, or sleeps and in his activity level and personality.  For example, pets that are in pain from arthritis or dental disease may be more irritable, more aggressive, more fearful, less active, or less hungry.  Pets that begin to lose their hearing or sight may be less attentive, sleep more soundly, and startle when approached.  Diseases that affect the nervous system, such as brain tumors or brain aging, can have a wide variety of effects on behavior, including personality changes and disorientation.  Endocrine imbalances, disease, and deterioration of virtually any organ (e.g., heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, brain) can have a wide variety of effects on your pet’s behavior.

Brain aging

As the body ages, so does the brain.  Changes in the brains of older dogs and cats are similar to change in elderly people.  Recent studies of dogs indicate that, as in humans, the effects of aging on the brain range from no effect at all to severe dementia.  Older pets may become less aware of their environments, develop signs of memory loss, and exhibit a decline in learning ability.  This can occur as early as eight to nine years of age in some dogs, while others retain healthy brain function throughout their lives.  In cats, signs associated with brain aging generally emerge at a slightly older age.

There is a wide range of signs associated with brain aging, including

  • Disorientation – Your pet might be disoriented if he gets lost in familiar places, gets stuck behind furniture, or shows decreased responsiveness to sights and sounds.
  • Activity changes – Pets may begin to sleep more and play less.  As cognitive function declines, there may be an increase in activities such as restless pacing, licking, or repetitive barking.
  • Sleep cycle alterations – Your pet may experience restless, unsettled sleep or waking at nights.
  • Changes in social interactions – Your pet may become less interested in greeting or social play with familiar people or pets.  Some pets may become more irritable.
  • Apathy and depression – Your pet may have less interest in people, other animals, toys, eating, and grooming.
  • Anxiety – Signs of anxiety include fear of sounds, people, or environments; a desire not to be left alone as much; and an increase in irritable aggression.
  • Learning and memory – The ability to adapt to new environments and learn new tasks may be greatly impaired.  Dogs may no longer respond to some of their previously learned commands, be less able to perform tasks learned in agility or which they were trained.  Housesoiling may also be a sign of declining memory in both dogs and cats.

Your veterinarian can determine the cause of these physical signs by completing a physical examination, a neurological examination, and diagnostic tests.  Depending on the finding, more specialized testing, such as ultrasound or brain imaging, may also be needed.

Treating behavior problems in the older pet

Fortunately, treatment for these problems is now available in the form of a prescription diet or a special drug that may improve the physical signs and perhaps even slow the progress of cognitive dysfunction disease in dogs.  Currently, there is no treatment for signs of brain aging in cats, but research continues in this area.

In addition to medical therapy, you may need to make some alterations in your pet’s environment.  For example, if your dog has renal failure or diabetes, he may need to make more frequent trips outdoors or need a doggie door.  Cats might need to have their litter boxes cleaned more frequently, need a larger littler box, or require a litter box that is more easily accessible if they begin to have failing sight, develop arthritis, or become weak.

Recent data suggest that keeping pets physically and mentally active may also improve cognitive function.  Exercise your pet daily, play games with him frequently, review simple obedience commands during his daily walks and play, and occasionally provide new toys.  And, of course, be sure to give your pet lots of love and attention during his golden years.

Ear Infections in Dogs


How common are ear infections in dogs?

Infection of the external ear canal (outer ear infection) is one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. It is called otitis externa. Some breeds, particularly those with large, floppy or hairy ears like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Poodles or Old English Sheepdogs, are more prone to ear infections, but ear infections may occur in any breed.

What are the symptoms of an ear infection?

Ear infections are painful. Many dogs will shake their head and scratch their ears trying to get the debris and fluid out. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

Don’t these symptoms usually suggest ear mites?

Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. However, ear mite infections occur most commonly in puppies and cats. Adult dogs may occasionally contract ear mites from puppies or cats that are infected. Ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal that often leads to a secondary bacterial and yeast (fungal) infection.

Since these symptoms are similar and usually mean an infection, why can’t I just get some ear medication?

There are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus which commonly cause ear infections. Without knowing the kind of infection present, we do not know which medication to use. In some cases, the ear infection may be caused by a foreign body or tumor in the ear canal. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. It is important that your dog be examined to ensure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured. This can only be detected by a thorough ear examination by your veterinarian.


How do you know which drug to use?

First, the ear canal is examined with an otoscope, an instrument that provides magnification and light. This examination allows your veterinarian to determine whether the eardrum is intact and if there is any foreign material in the canal. When a dog is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the examination, it may be necessary to sedate or anesthetize the dog for a thorough examination.

The next step is to examine a sample of the material from the ear canal under a microscope to determine the type of organism causing the infection. Microscopic examination is important in helping the veterinarian choose the right medication to treat the inflamed ear canal. Culture and sensitivity tests are often used in severe or chronic ear infections.

How are ear infections treated?

The results of the otoscopic and microscopic examination usually determine the diagnosis and course of treatment. If there is a foreign body, wax plug or parasite lodged in the ear canal, the dog is sedated for removal. Some dogs must be sedated to allow a thorough ear flushing and cleaning. Cytologic study of debris from the ear canal determines which drug to use. Many dogs will have more than one type of ear infection present (e.g., a bacterium and a fungus, or two kinds of bacteria). This situation usually requires the use of multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication.

An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. Many dogs with chronic or recurrent ear infections have allergies or low thyroid function (hypothyroidism). If underlying disease is suspected, it must be diagnosed and treated or the pet will continue to experience chronic ear problems.

What is the prognosis?

Nearly all ear infections that are properly diagnosed and treated can be successfully managed. However, if an underlying cause remains unidentified and untreated, the outcome will be less favorable. Several examinations may be needed before the process is complete and we can expect ultimate success.

How important is it to treat an ear infection?

Dogs with ear infections are miserable. Their ears are a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching. Head shaking and scratching can also cause broken blood vessels in the ear flap called an ear hematoma, which requires surgical treatment. Chronic ear infections can penetrate the eardrum and result in an internal ear infection and permanent hearing loss.

My dog’s ear canal is nearly closed. Is that a problem?

Closing of the ear canal is another result of a chronic ear infection. This is known as hyperplasia. There are medications that can shrink the swollen tissues and open the canal in some dogs. Severe cases of hyperplasia will eventually require surgery.

Is there anything I need to know about administering medication in the ear?

It is important to get the medication into the horizontal part of the ear canal. Unlike our ear canal, the dog’s external ear canal is “L” shaped. The vertical canal connects with the outside of the ear and is the upper part of the “L”. The horizontal canal lies deeper in the canal and terminates at the eardrum. Our goal is to administer the medication into the lower part of the “L” – the horizontal ear canal.


The ear canal may be medicated by following these steps:

  • Gently pull the earflap straight up and hold it with one hand.
  • Apply a small amount of medication into the vertical part of the ear canal while continuing to keep the earflap elevated. Hold this position long enough for the medication to run down to the turn between the vertical and horizontal canal.
  • Put one finger in front of and at the base of the earflap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.
  • Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.
  • Release the ear and let your dog shake its head. Many medications will contain a wax solvent and you will observe debris leaving the ear as your dog shakes its head.

If a second medication is to be used, apply it in the same manner.

When all medications have been applied, clean the outer part of the ear canal and the inside of the earflap with a cotton ball soaked in some of the medication. Do not use cotton tipped applicators to do this, as they tend to push debris back into the vertical ear canal.

  This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest Ward, DVM.

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.