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Ask a vet online – ‘My 3 year old yorkie gets very destressed when left on his own howling and barking, neighbours are complaining’

Question from Sue Michele Whitehouse My 3 year old yorkie gets very destressed when left on his own howling and barking, neighbours complain so I try and take him wherever possible with me, but sometimes this isn't possible and he can sense I am going out and starts getting upset before I even leave him.........thanks Hi Sue, and thank you for your question about your Yorkshire terrier. What you have described your dog as suffering from sounds very much like a condition known as Separation Anxiety. I will try to explain what separation anxiety is, how it affects dogs and some ways to try and combat it. Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) So what is Separation Anxiety? Separation Anxiety (SA) as the name suggests is when your pet becomes worried and or distressed when alone. There are many ways in which dogs can show their distress including vocalising (barking and howling), chewing at furniture or themselves (often chew or lick at paws), toileting in the wrong place, pacing around, hiding, drooling and generally being miserable. Why do some dogs suffer from Separation Anxiety (SA)? As with most behaviour related problems there is not a definite explanation as to why a particular dog develops a condition such as SA but it may well be related to poor socialisation as a puppy or changes in the household. The peak socialisation period for a puppy is around 1-2 months of age, during this time it is really important that your puppy is exposed to lots of different people, animals, places and situations. Household changes can include: moving house, new family members, new pets and changes to family members daily routine such as starting a new job. How to try and avoid Separation Anxiety? It is really important to check that your dog is in good health and that you are not assuming a problem to be behavioural when an underlying medical condition exists. If you are in any doubt then take your dog to your vet for a full health examination and also to discuss treatment options. All dogs benefit from a good diet, fresh water, regular exercise and mental stimulation appropriate for its life stage. We assume that once dogs have grown up from being puppies that they are not as interested in playing, if you give your dog to opportunity to play you will realise how much they still love it. It can be helpful to make a weekly chart of games to play with your dog to remind you to keep things varied. Try and choose activities that you and your dog enjoy such as: fetching a ball, finding hidden treats, heel work, agility work, grooming, bathing and massage. It is also worth making sure your dog is slowly introduced to having time apart from you so that they can adjust gradually to longer periods of separation. Always make sure that your dog has had chance to toilet and has a safe comfortable place to rest. It is also worth trying to reduce the triggers for your dog’s SA by leaving the house in a quiet and subtle way. By having your shoes, bag, coat and keys all ready and close to the exit it will be less obvious that you are leaving and hopefully less stressful for your dog. A lot of owners think that by making a fuss over their pet and explaining that they will be home soon they are helping SA but unfortunately this just acts another trigger for your dog to become stressed. It is more important to positively reinforce your dog’s good behaviour on your return home and never punish it for its distressed behaviour. I strongly believe that negative reinforcement does not help owner or dog. Some pets also benefit from background noise such as having the television or radio on so the house is not so quiet and they feel less alone. What can I get to help reduce the symptoms of Separation Anxiety? Pheromones such as the DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) can help reduce anxiety in some dogs. Pheromones are chemicals that are specific to a particular species of animal, the DAP products (plug in diffuser, spray and collars) contains an artificial version of a pheromone that helps to relieve stress in dogs. Correct use of pheromones along with a change to how you approach leaving the house can help reduce SA. Behaviour modifying drugs, these include Valium related chemicals and antidepressants can also help to reduce SA but must be used under the direction of your vet. What do I tell the Neighbours? It is worth talking to your neighbours and explaining that you are aware that your dog barking is really annoying for them and that you are working with your vet to try and reduce the problem. Most people will appreciate you acknowledging the problem and that you are working towards stopping it but that it will take time. I hope that this answer has been helpful and that your dog manages to overcome his Separation Anxiety. Shanika Winters VetMB MRCVS (online vet) If you are worried that your dog is behaving strangely please see your vet or use our online symptom checker for guidance

Ask a vet online – ‘My dog keeps shaking his head and scratching his ears’

Question from Amanda Shaw

My dog keeps shaking his head and scratching his ears, they feel a little bit swollen but they are cleaned often so no mites he is lively and not off his food I'm at a loss.

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet

Hi Amanda and thank you for your question about your dog’s ears. It is great that you are cleaning your dog’s ears regularly. I will discuss a list of possible causes for your dog to be shaking his head, scratching his ears and for the swelling followed by some treatment options.

Why is my dog shaking his head and scratching at his ears?

The symptoms you have described could be due to a foreign body e.g. a grass seed down the ear canal, bacterial or yeast infection, skin allergy, parasites e.g. ear mites, polyps or an aural haematoma (blood blister) all of which can be painful. Grass seeds are a common finding down the ear canal of dogs that go for walks in the countryside. The shape of a dog’s ear canal has an upright tube (vertical canal) and then a 90 degree bend and a sideways tube (horizontal canal) at the end of this is the ear drum (tympanic membrane), this lends itself to getting things lodged inside. A foreign body like a grass seed can usually be seen by your vet with the help of an otoscope (hand held torch with a magnifying lens and a funnel). Grass seeds can usually be removed using a special pair of long grabbing forceps; some dogs will however need sedation or a general anaesthetic to allow the removal and examination to be carried out safely. We often send dogs home with antibiotic and pain relief after foreign body removal to combat any infection and pain. Bacterial and yeast infections of the ear are conditions that affect the skin that lines the inside of the ear canals. The shape of the ear canal along with the ear flap (pinna) tends to funnel in moisture and trap germs. Dogs with a large floppy pinna such as Spaniels have the added feature of a closed lid over the ear canal all leading to a great environment for germs to breed. Infection may be present on other parts of the body and the whole animal may need treatment not just the ears. If the condition is only affecting the ears then ear cleaning solution and antibiotic drops can be a very effective treatment. If you are new to applying ear cleaner and ear drops then ask your vet or veterinary nurse to show you the best way to use them. If the condition is affecting other areas of skin then injectable or tablet medications may be given so that the drugs can travel in the blood stream to reach more areas of the body. When infections are not clearing up your vet might suggest taking swabs from the area. The swabs are sent to the laboratory for bacteriology and sensitivity. This tells us which bacteria and yeasts are present, and which drugs should be effective against them. Skin allergy can affect the ears as the ear canals are lined by skin, diagnosis and treatment of skin allergy can involve swabs, biopsy samples and skin scrapes analysed at your vets or sent to a laboratory. Treatment of skin allergy can involve use of low allergy diets, shampoos, desensitisation vaccines, antibiotics, antihistamines and various immunosuppressant drugs. Parasites including ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) and ticks (Ixodes varieties) can lead to irritation and then bacterial infection of the ears. Ticks are usually visible to the naked eye but ear mites are more easily seen under a microscope. Use of an appropriate antiparasitic treatment and removal of the parasites are the best method of treatment. Aural haematoma, this is a blood blister usually found on the outer skin of the ear pinna, seen as a swollen area which often causes the ear to droop. The swelling is soft and fluid-filled, it is often the result of a trauma such as a dog fight or vigorous ear shaking. The haematoma develops as small blood vessels in the ear burst and the blood leaks under the skin, this separates into a pink tinged fluid and a thicker dark red clot. Some dogs are prone to recurrence of aural haematomas and repeat treatments may be needed. There are two main methods of treatment, draining via a needle or surgical drainage under a general anaesthetic. Antibiotics, steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs may also be given in the form of tablets, injections or directly into the ear. Ear polyps are growths of different size that occur inside the ear canal, they are usually diagnosed on examination using an otoscope. Polyps are usually not cancerous but if there is any doubt then the polyp can be sent to a laboratory for analysis after removal. Small sized and numbers of polyps may not cause a problem to your dog but if there is irritation they can be removed surgically, in more serious cases removal of part or all of the ear canal may be an option. In conclusion it is really important to have your dog’s ears examined by your vet so that a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be started. I hope that my answer has been helpful and that your dog has much more comfortable ears as soon as possible. Shanika Winters VetMB MRCVS (online vet) If your dog has a problem with its ears please book an appointment to see your vet, or use our online symptom checker