Tara McLaughlin and her husband terribly missed their German Shepherd, Sattva, who died last Thanksgiving at nearly 11-years-old of hemangiosarcoma, a rarely curable cancer.
Tara said, "My husband, whom Sattva was truly bonded to, was grieving for her, and so was Zorro, our 4-year-old Standard Poodle. I was too. I was concerned about my husband. Sattva and Zorro had helped my husband through his 3 heart attacks. I knew I had to do something!"
Cindy Lou was that something. She entered the McLaughlin home.
"I had my eye on a breeder that was in California for over a year. I would go to her website and just watch her videos of her puppies and think, “One day, I will definitely get a puppy from her.” And, after Sattva died, I called her and made arrangements to get a little female black Standard Poodle from her next litter." said Tara.
Cindy Lou was the perfect puppy. She was 'the easiest and most relaxed puppy we've ever had' according to Tara. At this point her temperament was excellent and I was enjoying her video clips on Facebook.
The video clips showed her interacting confidently with other dogs, although Tara said "She was a little fearful of big dogs, but we worked with her and helped her develop confidence."
One day the video clips stopped. I had gotten attached through these videos to little Cindy Lou and wanted to see more of her training and progress. When Tara wasn't on FB for a prolonged period I knew something was wrong and emailed her.
"When Cindy Lou started getting her adult teeth in, she was retaining a lot of her puppy teeth and her breath had a very bloody, unusual smell. We checked with our vet and made arrangements for a dental with a board certified dentist that visited the practice. She was 6 months old. Cindy Lou’s adult teeth were also coming in stained." explained Tara.
"It turned out that the enamel on her teeth was stained permanently, most likely from a fever she may have had, or a vaccine before 8 weeks of age. She had one puppy tooth removed during her dental, and she had gingivitis. Gingivitis is an unusual dental problem for such a young puppy, but that was an early sign of things to come."
Then the dog aggression began.
"Right after her dental, she became unpredictably aggressive towards our other dogs," said Tara, "mainly by guarding." She said there were no bites, but very dramatic lunging, growling and whale eye.
Of course, Tara immediately contacted her veterinarian who spoke with the dentist, but he felt that her mouth would not be causing her discomfort to affect her behavior like that.
Tara's first thought was there was a medical problem because her behavior changed so suddenly.
A veterinarian at the practice she goes to specializes in behavior and she had a long phone consultation with her.
The journey started to find out what Cindy Lou's behavior was indicating.
Tara said, "First we did a complete blood panel including a tick panel, and checked her thyroid levels. Everything was fine. It was all perfect. It just wasn’t right that Cindy Lou’s behavior had changed so suddenly. We put behavior modification and management into immediate practice. But, it didn’t help. Actually, some things made it worse, such as the Gentle Leader head collar which I usually find to be effective."
How could this be? This gentle, perfect puppy was becoming increasingly unmanageable around other dogs.
"Over the next few days things changed and I let my vet know that Cindy Lou just wasn’t acting right – she was starting to act sick and depressed and she wouldn’t eat. So, thankfully, my vet had me start Cindy Lou on a painkiller. It was over the weekend and I had Deramaxx left over from one of my other dogs and I gave it to her. Within 2 hours, Cindy Lou was acting normally again. It was amazing! So, now we knew she was in pain. And, it was her mouth. And, of course, the Gentle Leader didn’t help because it caused more pain."
In my practice I see this all the time, the misunderstanding of why a harness, or a head halter or even a collar isn't working because the dog may be in pain. I also see senior dogs become snarky or aggressing toward other dogs and it is often because they are in pain from arthritis. This perky little pup, Cindy Lou, was in pain.
"At the time, we just thought it was gingivitis, but recently she developed more severe problems with her mouth, Tara said. "Her mouth was raw and ulcerated and bled easily if I brushed her teeth. I brought her in to see the dentist and he diagnosed her with Chronic Ulcerative Paradental Stomatitis (CUPS). What the dentists believe is that the dogs are allergic to their own plaque. Even meticulous brushing can’t possibly remove all of the plaque and eventually the dogs require prednisone because their mouths become so raw and ulcerated they have a difficult time eating."
To add to the worry, Tara said, "Ultimately they’ve found that removing the dog’s teeth is the best solution."
What? Remove a puppies teeth? Tara didn’t like the prognosis, and wanted to pursue other possibilities.
The tip off was that Cindy Lou is really too young to have CUPS. This is a disease older dogs get. And, besides, said Tara, "I’m very stubborn!"
This all has led up to last week's (November 2010) biopsies of Cindy Lou's mouth to get a clearer diagnosis. Here are the recent results from Tara's veterinarian:
The pathologist says she has immune mediated disease and thinks it is Erythema Multiforme (EM). There is some difference in opinion from the specialists about what this means. The dentists say this can be caused by CUPS - the disease is treated by excellent oral care and eventually extraction of the teeth.
The dermatologists say this is a disease that can occur just in the mouth but is often primarily a skin disease. It usually has a cause that includes: vaccine reactions; drug reactions most commonly (reaction to any drug but mostly antibiotics); disease - like a virus - less likely; occasionally dyes, preservatives, and stabilizers in dog foods.
With the prognosis the McLaughlins are listening to the dermatologist and looking for a trigger.
Could it be the distemper vaccine she received at 20-weeks-old? While she'd had minimal vaccinations after that time, she did get a rabies vaccine at six-months-old.
The did and are removing anything that could possibly trigger an autoimmune response. This means she is off ALL drugs, Front line, heart worm medication and supplements.
The list includes any toys that have dye or anything suspect.
Her diet has been changed. Tara said, "We’ve started her on a novel protein (for her) – lamb. I’ve ordered organic ground lamb from a farm in WI and am cooking for her (she doesn’t want to eat it raw) as well as using a freeze dried raw lamb diet. (She loves Stella and Chewy’s Freeze Dried Lamb! I was having a hard time getting her to eat, so I was thrilled to find something she was happy with.)"
She had to take away all of her bullysticks and flossies because they contain beef. She’s now chewing Sam’s Yams and deer antlers instead.
"I’m glad I had the knowledge and information to know to keep looking for a reason for Cindy Lou’s change in behavior. It may seem obvious from my story, but at the time, it just didn’t make sense that her mouth could be hurting that badly after her first dental. My older Poodle, Zorro, had mild gingivitis when he had his teeth cleaned when he was 4, and you would never know it! He wasn’t bothered by it at all. So, I do understand why the dentist wouldn’t think her mouth could be causing her so much pain initially. It’s just not typical. Now I know that if she gets grumpy with our other dogs, it’s a clue that she’s not feeling well," said Tara in hindsight.
Today, at this writing in November 2010, the good news is Cindy Lou is back to her happy, playing, and eating self.
Tara says, "She loves to play - fetch and catch are her favorites, take walks (runs) in the woods, and play with Zorro, and my friend’s Poodle, Baci. Cindy Lou loves to be loved and snuggled. She would rather be with people and be loved than be rewarded with food. She sleeps curled up above Tim’s head on his pillows and rests her head on his. Nothing could make him happier and he adores her. She enjoys training with me and is easy for me to groom. My vet thinks she’s incredibly tolerant of the pain in her mouth. She’s a great dog and we love her dearly.
We’re hoping for this to resolve, but mainly we’re watching to be sure she’s not in pain, because we won’t let her be in pain. I bring her back to the vet in 2 weeks to see if there is any improvement. I’ll be pursing alternative treatments as well."
The story is far from over and realizing Cindy Lou is in pain affects everything in her life. Understanding the underlying cause of why a behavior is occurring is the key to effectively modifying it or treating it.
Tara McLaughlin is a dog trainer with a CPDT-KA, CDBC and owner of Good Dog Training at http://www.gooddog-training.com/. She works with aggression in dogs, but says "Cindy Lou's experience contributed to making me change how I work with people with aggressive dogs - I now only take veterinary referred clients that are aggressive. Too many people don't take their dogs to the vet first."
In order to change behavior there has to be a clean bill of health, because pain, a thyroid condition, and many other maladies can cause a dog to act temperamental, aggressive, irritably. Many trainers, including myself, require a veterinary examination, thyroid panel, blood work before taking a case. Our dogs can teach us many things and Cindy Lou educated the McLaughlin family and continues to do so. This Thanksgiving the McLauglin's will not only remember Sattva but be thankful they now know how to treat Cindy Lou's health issues and resulting aggression.
This season take note of all the items your dog comes into contact with in their lives. Could there be lurking danger?