dog bite prevention week

April 8-14, 2018 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week® sponsored by the National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition. Although any dog can bite, this post is based on recent research into the causes of dog bite injury and is devoted to helping readers recognize situations where a bite injury is imminent. If this blog prevents even one bite injury, it will have achieved its goal.

Telltale Signs
Animal behaviorists talk about a canine body language ladder of aggression. The higher the behavior on the ladder, the level of aggressive behavior increases. Low-risk behaviors include blinking and lip licking. At the top of the ladder is biting. The rungs in between include crouching, hair standing on end, ears pinned back, yawning, tucking the tail between the legs, and spinning. Recognition of canine body language cues is critical to protection against bite injuries. A recent study of an adult’s ability to recognize these canine body language cues found adults observing child-dog interactions do not always recognize anxious or fearful dogs. Important point: be sure you monitor your dog’s interactions with children and remove her if she exhibits anxious or fearful behaviors.

Snarling = Bite Danger
In the past, bite injuries have been linked to dogs tied up on the family’s property. Veterinary researchers at Ohio State University studied the bite history of dogs confined to their family’s property by fences, tethers and electronic fences. Four percent of dogs had bitten a person in the past, and twice that number had bitten another dog. The type of confinement system was not related to a past history of biting, but dogs greeting other dogs or humans by snapping, snarling or growling were more likely to bite than dogs greeting others by sniffing or licking. Important point: protect yourself by steering clear of snapping, snarling or growling dogs.

Children at Risk
The National Trauma Data Bank contains a large amount of information on traumatic injuries. In a paper published just last month, nearly 8,000 dog bite injuries in children under 17 years of age were studied over a seven year period. One-third of the injuries were to children less than two years of age and another third were girls six to twelve years of age. Eighty percent of the bites occurred at home and by a dog known to the family rather than a stray dog. Important point: always supervise dog-child interactions as children may be too young to recognize warning signs of an impending dog bite.

Friendly Dogs Can Bite
A dog that is normally very friendly may bite if put in the right situation. Resource guarding and pain are two common reasons a friendly dog may bite. A tragic story from a local television channel reported bites to the face of a toddler who tried to take a bone away from a friendly dog. Important point: never take food away from a dog. Teach your dog the “drop it” command for the times when he picks up some undesirable treat from the sidewalk. If a friendly dog is sick, injured or painful, he may bite. Important point: if you find an injured dog, alert the authorities and let professionals transport the injured dog to a veterinary hospital.

Download a cute, informative and FREE poster on dog body language.

Poison Prevention Week 2018: 31 Admissions in 62 Days

poison prevention

Every morning at about 5 am, the Animal Medical Center’s overnight admissions list is distributed via email. The list is a fascinating snapshot of our emergency room. I have written about this list in a previous post highlighting AMC’s ER.
Since March 18-24 is National Poison Prevention Week, I have used the overnight admissions list to collate all the pets hospitalized for poisoning between December 21, 2017 and February 21, 2018. In those 62 days, 31 pets were sick enough to require hospitalization following ingestion of a toxic substance. The admissions list did not capture those pets treated in the ER and immediately discharged. Even so, the numbers tell how serious an issue poisoning is in our ER.

Every Age and Type of Pet Can Be Poisoned
The majority of hospitalizations for poisoning were dogs. I would have guessed the list would be composed of lots of silly puppies with indiscriminate eating habits. Wrong. Yes, there was a 2-month-old puppy, but the list contained several 12, 13 and 14-year-old dogs who should have known better than to eat what they did. The list also included three cats and a cockatoo.

Chocolate takes gold, while medications and marijuana tied for silver
Of the 31 pets admitted for poisoning, 11 had overindulged in chocolate. Six dogs, including a cute two-month-old mixed breed puppy and an 11-month-old poodle sniffed out their family’s marijuana stash and helped themselves to earn their spot on our ER list. Six different dogs overdosed on some form of human medication; and the most surprising to me was the dog who ate a bag of cough drops while his flu-stricken family struggled to recover from their illness.

Cats and Lilies
Only three cats were hospitalized during this time period and all three cats came to the ER because they had eaten lilies. Any form of lily, including Easter lily, tiger lily or Asiatic lily, can cause kidney failure if ingested by a cat. Happily, all three of these cats recovered and were discharged from the hospital to relieved families.

AMC’s ER has a wealth of experience in managing poisoning in pets, but many of these pets would not have required medical attention if chocolate and medication were stored carefully and floral arrangements selected judiciously.

Accidents do happen and here are the contact numbers for animal poisonings:
ASPCA Animal Poison Control

Pet Poison Hotline

For more in-depth information common toxicities in pets, please view a lecture by Dr. Carly Fox, staff doctor in Emergency & Critical Care at AMC.

The Horrors of Halloween: The Pet Version

halloween pets

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen. The moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween. – 19th century postcard

Although black cats are one of the spooky creatures connected with Halloween, many cats and dogs may not be as excited about Halloween as their families are. Halloween has become one of America’s premier holidays, and according to the National Retail Foundation, the total spending for the holiday in 2017 is expected to reach $9.1 billion. But have pets fallen under the magical spell of Halloween like their families have? Candy, costumes, witches and wizards can make Halloween downright frightful for pets.

Tricks Not Treats
About one-third of the money spent on Halloween goes towards the purchase of candy. But the trick or treat bags should be off-limits for pets. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine. The amount is lowest in white chocolate and highest in dark chocolate, but any chocolate consumption is risky in pets because chocolate causes vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity. Some health conscious spirits distribute little boxes of raisins as an alternative to candy. But when dogs consume raisins, these healthy little snacks become tricks, not treats, and can damage your dog’s kidneys. If your dog eats sugar-free Halloween treats containing xylitol, expect a hair-raising trip to the animal ER because xylitol can be lethal in dogs.

Keep the candy cauldron out of your pet’s reach to prevent grave consequences.

Creepy Costumes
Most pets rush to the door when the doorbell rings, but the appearance of ghosts, goblins and the Grim Reaper at your door screaming “Trick or Treat” may be your pet’s version of a zombie apocalypse. Keep your pet safely confined and well away from the front door to prevent an accidental escape when unexpected apparitions startle your pet.

Of the 179 million Americans celebrating Halloween, 28 million will purchase a costume for their pet. Not all pets think dressing up is bloody good fun. Hazardous hats and tight tu-tus may turn your pet’s Halloween into a nightmare. Do a costume trial run before the big night to prevent Halloween from becoming a bad dream.

Which Witch is Pet Safe?
To create a haunting aura on Halloween, half of Americans plan to decorate their homes this year, although not all decorations are pet safe. Jack-O-Lanterns add to the eerie atmosphere of Halloween night, but the candle inside can easily set a curious cat or dog’s fur on fire. Use battery operated flickering lights in place of the traditional candles in your carved pumpkin. I love to decorate with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders. If you have cats, I don’t recommend using this scary décor since cats love to eat anything that is stringy. Strings can easily lodge in your cat’s intestine causing a blockage.

All of us at the Animal Medical Center wish you and your pets a safe and fun Howl-oween.

Pet Poisoning in the News

pet poisons

March 19-25 is National Poison Prevention Week, sponsored by the Poisoning Prevention Council. The Council seeks to educate Americans about the risks of unintentional poisoning. I think this week is a good time to remind pet families of potential hazards in the home and to help pet families protect their favorite fur baby against unintentional poisoning.

Xylitol: Not So Sweet for Dogs
The first news of pet poisoning comes from our neighbors to the north, Canada. In Saskatchewan, a handsome German shorthair pointer named Ryker helped himself to 52 pieces of chewing gum. While most think this would simply be a sticky mess, the act was life-threatening. The chewing gum contained xylitol, a substance known to cause low blood sugar and liver failure in dogs. By the time Ryker arrived at the animal ER, he was already having seizures from low blood sugar. With prompt veterinary care, Ryker recovered, but not all dogs are so lucky. Xylitol is safe for humans, but can readily be consumed by your dog since it is an ingredient in many low-calorie products like mints, candies, peanut butter and low carb baked goods.

Pot Poisoning On the Rise
This story did not surprise me one bit since marijuana intoxication is common in AMC’s ER. Ingestion of marijuana plants, compost, trash food containing marijuana, or inhalation of marijuana smoke can affect dogs; they become glassy eyed, uncoordinated, and may be very sleepy. These dogs need intravenous fluids to maintain hydration and warming blankets to maintain their body temperature. Often, dogs intoxicated by marijuana dribble urine. Some dogs become hyperactive. Severely affected dogs may suffer seizures or become comatose requiring ventilator treatment until they regain the ability to breathe. Dogs typically recover in one to three days. Deaths from marijuana intoxication have been reported in dogs consuming concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) butter.

Lamp Poisoning?
The third news story on salt poisoning in cats was news to me. First, I had never heard of a salt lamp, but checked Amazon and found I could scroll through pages of Himalayan salt lamps in various configurations. Second, turns out that cats seem to like to like salt lamps, and since those furry gymnasts can get on your highest bookcase or into your smallest corner, they have the opportunity to lick enough lamp to develop salt poisoning. Ingestion of an excessive amount of salt in both dogs and cats results in clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, lethargy, staggering, abnormal fluid accumulation within the body, excessive thirst or urination, potential injury to the kidneys, tremors, seizures, coma, and even death if salt poisoning is not treatment immediately. Other sources of excessive salt include paintballs, homemade playdough and regular old table salt.

Prevention Accidental Poisonings in Your Pet

  • Read the labels of all food and candy you purchase to protect your dog from unintentional xylitol poisoning.
  • Securely dispose of medical marijuana waste.
  • Don’t expose pets to marijuana smoke.
  • Never use table salt to induce vomiting in your pet.

Hot Tips for Keeping Your Pet Warm During Winter Storm Niko

dog in boots

Winter Storm Niko is forecast to dump up to 10 inches of snow on the Northeast tomorrow. With blowing and drifting snow and a travel advisory issued for our area, pet owners are looking for ways to keep their pets safe and warm. Here are seven hot tips for a cold winter week.

Coats or Boots?
When you go out on a cold day, you zip into a warm coat and lace up your furry boots. Does your pet need the same? Maybe, especially if Fido does not have the luxuriant coat of an Artic breed dog. I see many dogs wearing coats and sweaters designed to slip easily over their head and front legs; however, some dogs are not into wearing clothes and getting those dogs dressed to go outdoors can be a struggle. Ditto for putting boots on four paws before heading out for the morning walk. Despite the challenge of booting four paws, I actually think dogs, at least city dogs, benefit from wearing boots which protect their sensitive paw pads from the harsh chemicals used to keep the streets free of ice and snow.

Try a Self-Warming Bed
If your apartment or house is a bit nippy, consider a getting your pet a self-warming bed. These beds reflect lost body heat back onto your pet, keeping them toasty warm. Electric beds are available for pets, but I am always worried about electric cord chewing. A self-warming bed avoids this potential danger.

Bang on the Hood
When the mercury falls, outdoor cats look for a cozy place to snooze. Your car or truck engine is toasty after you drive home from work or the grocery store. Agile cats will shimmy up into the engine block for a nap, but when you turn the engine over they can easily be injured by the fan belt or other moving parts. Be sure to bang on the hood or scrape the snow off the windows before starting the engine to give a sleeping cat a wake-up call. Providing shelter for outdoor cats may lessen the risk they will use your car engine as a sleeping spot.

Don’t Forget the Backyard Cats
Not so much in Manhattan, but definitely in the other boroughs of NYC and all over the country, people host feral cats in their yards. The winter months are tough for outdoor cats due to the cold and decreased opportunities for hunting. Water becomes scarce if the temperatures are low enough to freeze the water in puddles, bowl and other reservoirs. Providing shelter and insulation for backyard cats can be as simple as creating a cozy space using bales of straw. More elaborate structures can be purchased and filled with straw. Straw is an excellent bedding choice for outdoor cats since it is both inexpensive and moisture resistant. Move the cats’ food and water bowls to a spot where the sun will prevent freezing.

Additional Tips

Can Bath Time be Dangerous for Pets?

Cat in Christmas sweaterNothing is better than a soak in the tub after a long, hard day: warm water, nice smelling soaps and shampoos and that squeaky clean feeling as you dry off. Your pet probably likes being clean and fresh too, but if you are not careful, bath time could result in an animal ER visit.

Brush Before Bathing
If your pet is matted, you might be tempted to just to pop him into the tub and hope the mats detangle when you rinse him off. Wet mats tighten as they dry and pull at the underlying skin. Really dense mats hold moisture against the skin. The combination of tension and moisture can result in nasty infections underneath the mat, so never bathe without brushing or clipping out mats. Don’t use scissors to cut out tightly adhered mats. Every veterinarian can recite a list of patients requiring suturing after a do-it-yourself mat removal.

Scrub Safely
Don’t succumb to the desire to use any shampoo or conditioner you find on your shower shelf. Human hair products are not designed for pets. Think about it. We don’t lick our hair after washing, but for sure your pet will and your shampoo is probably not formulated with ingestion in mind. Certain ingredients in human shampoos, like tea tree oil or anti-dandruff medications, may be too harsh for your pet’s skin. If you are in a jam and find yourself without pet shampoo, use only a no tears baby product to bathe your pet.

Spot Cleaning
When your pet has just one dirty spot – spilled food, a muddy paw or a messy behind, you might want to skip a full bath and use a spot cleaner. A quick Google search will reveal a number of waterless shampoos, dry shampoos, and wipes specially made for pets. Two of my current favorites in the exam room are the Quick Bath product line and the nice smelling no rinse, waterless shampoos from Wahl. More on spot cleaning Spot.

Protecting the Eyes
Bathing your cat or dog may not be a Zen experience. If they tend to flail about in the tub, shampoo can easily splash into their eyes causing irritation, or worse, a painful ulcer in the clear part of their eye, also called the cornea. If you see your pet squinting following a bath, try rinsing the eye with some saline eye wash. If the squinting persists for more than an hour, you need to make a trip to the veterinarian’s office for special testing to identify an ulcer. To help prevent a shampoo-induced ulcer, you can apply a small bit of sterile ophthalmic lubricant (petrolatum and mineral oil) before bathing to protect the delicate cornea.

Dry On Cool
In the wintertime, you may decide to shorten drying time using your own blow dryer. Some of them can get pretty hot and burn your pet’s tender skin. First, towel dry your pet and then use the blow dryer on a cool setting. You might even consider using the diffuser to decrease the tangles from blowing.

Now that you can safely bathe your pet, all you need is a cute holiday collar or bow and she is ready to be part of the annual family photo.

Five Must-Dos to Prepare Your Pet for Severe Summer Weather

animal medical centerSummer is a lovely time of year full of outdoor activities and happy, sunny days. But severe storms can ruin summer fun and be frightening to people and pets alike. In the New York City area, we frequently have severe thunderstorms and occasionally hurricanes, which send many pets under the bed or into the closet. Here, tornadoes rarely happen, but in some parts of the United States, families head for their storm shelter when the risk of tornadoes is high. Pet families should plan ahead for these summer events, and the plans should include the family pets. Here are five must-dos to prepare your pet for severe summer weather:

  1. Protect your pet with ID
    Many dogs suffer from noise phobias, and if frightened can run away during a storm. Make sure your pet has a collar with an ID tag that includes your phone number and address. Double his protection by having your veterinarian place a microchip under the skin. Placement of a microchip does not require surgery, and is a permanent form of identification. Animal control officers and animal shelters have chip readers, but following a weather-related disaster, an easily read name tag may return a lost pet to you more quickly.
  1. Collect pet necessities
    Your pet emergency kit should contain, at minimum, a carrier for smaller pets and a spare collar and leash for larger pets to facilitate moving to a safe haven. Pack a container that can be used for food or water and a three day supply of food, as well as emergency medical supplies.
  1. Include pet medications in the first aid kit
    If your pet receives any chronic medications, be sure your emergency first aid kit contains at least a three day supply of these drugs. Some of the contents of a normal first aid kit can do double duty for pets, for example: triple antibiotic ointment, antiseptic solution and saline flush. Bandage material can be used on pets too, but you might want to add extra bandage material to your kit as pets have twice as many feet to get cuts and sores as humans do!
  1. Practice with your pet
    Schools, businesses and even the Animal Medical Center practice for an emergency evacuation. Not only should your family have an escape plan, but you should practice loading your cat into the carrier and walking down your apartment stairwell or into your storm shelter with your dog to acclimate him to an unfamiliar situation. The best plan would be to leave your pet carriers out and open so your pet will readily go inside. If you have a large dog, walk down your apartment stairs regularly to be prepared for an emergency.
  1. Know your municipal evacuation policies for pets
    After Hurricane Katrina forced pet families to choose between evacuation and their pets, New York City changed the hurricane evacuation policy and all evacuation centers now allow pets. While many municipalities followed suit, a safe evacuation depends on knowing in advance where you and your pets can find shelter.

Preparation can help to make severe summer weather safer for both you and your pets. Get ready now!

What to Do if Your Dog Bites Someone

May 17 -23, 2015 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. The United States has 70 million dogs, all of them wonderful companions, but any dog can bite. Animal bites are a serious problem, affecting 4.7 million people per year, most of them children. Senior citizens are the second most common age group affected by bite injuries.

Preventing Bite Injuries
The best defense against dog bite injuries is prevention. Responsible dog owners follow these general guidelines to prevent their dog from becoming a biter:

  • Train your dog. Obedience trained dogs are less likely to bite.
  • Keep your dog in control and on a leash when walking on the street or in the park.
  • Leave your sick dog home. Sick dogs a prone to biting because, just like you, they are cranky when they are sick.
  • Neuter your male dog. Unneutered male dogs are more often involved in bite incidents than neutered ones.
  • Supervise all children-dog interactions.
  • Teach your children how to safely interact with dogs.

Invest in Insurance
If, despite your best efforts, your dog bites a person, you may be fined for having a dangerous dog, in violation of a local ordinance for having a dog off leash or other violations. There is also the potential for the person bitten to bring a lawsuit against you. Check your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy to make sure it includes coverage for the family dog. According to the Insurance Information Institute, one third of all homeowner insurance claims paid in 2013 were for dog bite injuries. New York State had the highest average cost per claim, at $43,122.

Keep Rabies Vaccination Up to Date
Should your dog become involved in a bite incident, provide the injured party with a copy of your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate as soon as possible.  Their physician will need to know this information when determining what treatments are necessary for the bite injury. If the injured party needs emergency medical care, the ER may be required to report the bite to the local health department. Officials from the health department will monitor your dog’s health and as long as the rabies vaccination is up to date, may put your dog under home quarantine for a specified period of time.

Teaching Children Safe Dog Interaction
Join us on May 30, 2015 from 10am-1pm for AMC’s annual PAW Day: Pet And Wellness fun at Carl Schurz Park on E. 84th Street and East End Avenue in Manhattan. This event is family friendly, including your furry friends!  At PAW Day, specially trained dogs will be available for children to practice safe dog interactions. The event features a stuffed animal veterinary clinic, Clifford the Big Red Dog, face painting and a whole lot more.

Dog Park Dangers

Dog parks are popping up all over suburban and urban areas, and for good reason. Daily exercise helps keep your dog healthy and gives her a chance to get out and socialize with other dogs and humans. In urban areas, dog parks provide a safe space for daily doggie exercise, but recent research suggests dog parks may not be as safe as we might think.


A recent study of dog feces collected from Colorado dogs suggests gastrointestinal parasites may be on the list of dog park dangers. Two intestinal protozoa, Giardia and Cryptosporidium, were found more commonly in dogs frequenting dog parks than in dogs that did not. These two organisms are not controlled by heartworm preventatives as are hookworms and roundworms. Identification of these critters is one reason for your veterinarian’s recommendation of an annual fecal examination for your pet.

Infectious disease

A coughing dog visiting a dog park may be a dog park danger, if he is infected with the bacteria causing kennel cough or the virus causing canine influenza. These two infectious diseases are easily spread between dogs in a dog park and are characterized by non-stop coughing. Parvovirus infection is another infectious disease readily transmitted to a healthy dog when it comes in contact with the feces of an infected dog. The good news is vaccinations are available to prevent these diseases and diligent pooper scooping is critical to prevent transmission of parvovirus as well as intestinal parasites in dog parks.

Dog bites

I anticipated dog bites or other injuries related to aggression would be common in dog parks, but a 2003 publication reported on 72 hours of dog park observations and found little evidence to support my theory of dog to dog aggression as a major problem in dog parks. The authors hypothesize dog owners with aggressive dogs avoid dog parks because they recognize the danger their dog poses to others.

Dog parks danger for other animals

A study of California sea lion strandings showed leptospirosis (a waterborne infectious disease) was more likely to occur in sea lions found in areas with a high density of dog parks. The authors of the study suggest exposure to dogs in dog parks may be in some way associated with the infection in sea lions. Leptospirosis is a life-threatening disease of the kidneys and liver. Dogs, humans, and possibly even cats can be infected, usually through urine-contaminated water. Dog owners should ask their veterinarian if leptospirosis is a concern in their neighborhood and should consider having their dog vaccinated against this disease.

If you live in New York City, a list of dog parks by borough can be found here.

Be sure to tell your veterinarian if your dog plays in dog parks as this information will help direct your dog’s preventive healthcare plan.