All posts by Dr. Marty Becker

dog swimming

Can swimming in a pond or lake kill your dog?

Beware of blue-green algae in water where your pet plays or swims. The algal blooms, often the result of agricultural runoff, produce toxins that affect the gastrointestinal tract and liver, causing vomiting or diarrhea. In severe cases, the animal can suffer liver failure.

Blue-green algae blooms look like blue or green paint spilled on the surface of non-moving water, says Steve Ensley, a clinical veterinary toxicologist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Keep pets (and yourself) away from lakes or ponds with blue-green algae, which commonly develops when temperatures are high and rain falls regularly.

“Rain causes lakes and ponds to become enriched with an excess amount of nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, causing bacteria to bloom at a more rapid pace,” Ensley said in a news release.

Read more, including tips for biking with your dogs, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Freddie and his first bed

9-year-old Chihuahua rescued from puppy mill, gets his very first bed

There are few things that make my blood boil as much as the misery of a dog who is imprisoned in a puppy mill to be used to produce puppies until they can’t reproduce anymore. Dogs are capable of so much love, sociability, and activity — and require enrichment and to have their social needs met — that it’s no surprise many dogs rescued from these places are behaviorally as well as physically damaged.

This little guy was rescued at the age of 9 after a lifetime in a puppy mill by National Mill Dog Rescue, which has been working to save dogs trapped in puppy mill nightmares for 11 years now.

When they brought Freddie into their care, they gave him his very first bed. I got tears in my eyes watching him circle and snuggle and sniff and even try to chew it (although since his previous life had left him without any teeth, no damage was done).

They rescued Freddie last May, but recently announced he has been adopted. You’re a good dog, Freddie! I hope it’s all soft beds from here on out!

Cat looking up

How to know if your cat needs to see the vet (because he won’t tell you!)

Does your cat need to see the veterinarian?

He may not show obvious signs of illness, but you should take him in if you notice the following changes in appearance or behavior:

  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Change in eye color
  • Loss of appetite for more than a day
  • Unusual or excessive vocalizations
  • Blood in the litter box
  • Urinating outside the litter box, especially if the stain has a pinkish tinge, indicating blood
  • Unusually high activity levels
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Unusual thirst or urination
  • Hiding for prolonged periods

Read more, including tips on going camping with your dogs, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Gracie and me

A veterinarian’s letter to Delta about their ban on service dogs who they say are ‘pit bulls’

I’ve flown almost 5 million miles on Delta, and this week I sent a letter to them protesting their ban on service dogs they say are “pit bulls.” This ban is not based in science and it puts an unfair burden on people with disabilities. I strongly oppose this policy and hope Delta will reconsider it.

Dear Delta,

I’m in the top 1% of Delta flyers in miles traveled per year. I’m at your highest level, Diamond Medallion, and have flown almost 5 million miles on Delta.

I was the resident veterinarian on Good Morning America for 17 years, and am the only veterinary member of Core Team Oz on the Dr. Oz Show. I’m the author of 25 books including three New York Times bestsellers, and I write a weekly syndicated pet feature. I’ve also been the proud parent of pit bulls, and along with almost all veterinarians, love to see them as patients.

And I’m deeply disappointed to learn that you’ve chosen to ban legitimate service dogs simply because of myths and prejudices about the way they look.

Along with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), I know that there’s no scientific basis for this policy, and that:

  1. Statistically, breed “is not predictive of the risk of aggressive behavior.” Instead, the AVMA says, dogs should be evaluated individually.
  2. Breed identification based on looks is notoriously inaccurate. Study after study shows that even veterinarians and shelter workers have a terrible success rate at identifying breed in dogs based on their appearance. Behavior should be evaluated individually, not on how a dog looks.
  3. Dogs usually bite because they’re afraid, not because of breed. Owner behavior and how the dog is housed are also important triggers of aggressive behavior.
  4. Areas that impose breed bans don’t see a decrease in dog bites or dog aggression as a result. In fact, many communities have seen an increase in these incidents, and have subsequently repealed the bans.

Please reconsider this policy. People with disabilities have the legal right to access for themselves and their trained service dogs, and you have no right to let foundationless prejudice based on a dog’s looks override that right.

Sincerely,

Dr. Marty Becker

Sweet sad dog

Low thyroid in dogs: What you need to know

Low thyroid, or hypothyroidism, can cause troubling symptoms in dogs who suffer from the condition. Here’s how I explained it to a reader.

Q: My dog has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. What can you tell me about this disease?

A: Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones. Usually it develops when thyroid glands become inflamed (thyroiditis) or when the glands atrophy with age.

In most cases, the body’s immune system reacts by attacking and destroying thyroid gland cells, a condition called autoimmune thyroiditis. This causes thyroid glands to be less able to produce and secrete their hormones, leading to progressive and irreversible damage. The body’s metabolic rate drops, and dogs may gain weight or lose hair. We often see autoimmune thyroiditis in Doberman pinschers, beagles, golden retrievers and Akitas, but any dog can be affected.

It affects less than 1 percent of the canine population, but that still makes it the most common endocrine disease in dogs. It’s a concern in more than 70 breeds as well as in mixed breeds.

Hypothyroidism is challenging to diagnose and can be missed or mistaken for other disorders. That’s because it has a wide range of variable symptoms that are also seen in other diseases. Figuring out what’s going on requires a complete physical exam combined with several diagnostic tests and knowledge of other factors such as breed idiosyncrasies and illnesses and drugs that can influence test results.

Just a few of the common signs are thinning hair on both sides of the body or on the tail; skin that becomes dark, scaly or greasy; unusually heavy shedding; and lethargy. Dogs may feel cold all the time and seek out warm spots. Weight gain is one of the signs that may be overlooked because people associate it with aging instead of possible disease. The good news is that once diagnosed, hypothyroidism can be managed with a synthetic form of thyroid hormone given orally twice a day for the rest of the dog’s life.

Read more, including the best animal books to read this summer, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.