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Dr. Kara
Dr. Kara, Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 14832
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian.
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I adopted a 10 lb, 1 year old male dog 3 months ago. I don't

Customer Question

I adopted a 10 lb, 1 year old male dog 3 months ago. I don't know anything about his history except that he was found in a feral cat trap and was underweight when he got him. He has some strange behaviors, so I am wondering if his symptoms are caused by mental or physical illness. He accepts affection and licks, but he is at times overly attached. He stares at things up close for long periods of time (faces or legs). He has moments of intense twitching. He is very clumsy and falls a lot. Should we be concerned?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 1 year ago.
Hello, my name is***** and I have over 20 years of experience as a veterinarian. I'm sorry to hear that your adopted fellow has some strange behaviors and symptoms including twitching, staring and clumsy, uncoordinated behavior.
It is very common for rescue dogs to have separation anxiety. It makes sense that when they finally find a very beloved family they get very nervous about losing them, and often cling to their family when they are around. Is he destructive or does he bark and whine when you are gone? If so we need to work on building his self confidence and learning to be without you with out panicking.
If he does well in a crate (not destructive) then I would use it while you are gone and at night. Many dogs can see a crate as a den. It's a secure place that they can be while the family is gone or when he needs to be alone. He needs to learn that if he goes in her crate you always come back and he is safe. Sometimes if they are out in the big house alone they just don't know what to do with themselves, get anxious and that can lead to trouble. If you had a camera on most normal dogs while owners are gone you would see they spend most of their time sleeping. They are pack animals and if their pack members are gone then they rest up waiting for their "pack" to come home and play. So don't feel guilty about giving him a place he can feel secure in and rest in. In time as he realizes you always come home and come back for him then he may be able to be out in the
house but for now if his crate keeps him secure and out of trouble then let him use it.
If however he is tearing up his crate and is very anxious in it then that's not the way to go. Another option is to use a small bathroom where he cannot get into much trouble.
Ideally while you are working on training him he should only be left for short periods at a time anyway. If you must leave him for longer periods you'll need a friend or dog sitter to come in and check on him, let him out to eliminate and make sure he's OK.
Work on leaving him for short periods of time (initially minutes) and always try and make coming and going boring, don't make a huge deal of it as that increases anxiety.
Change your routine so that he cannot ramp up his anxiety about your leaving before you've even left. Pick up your car keys and walk around the house. Put on your coat and shoes and walk around the house.
Practice him going in and out of his crate and staying there for a few minutes even when you are home. Give him indestructible play things (like a king ball stuffed with a treat she has to work to get out) to do while you are gone.
Leave a radio or TV on for company, initially both while you are home and away and especially at night so that the noise level is the same, home or not. It also blocks family noise at night so he doesn't hear you and get frustrated he cannot be with you.
Make sure that you ignore him for the first several minutes when you get home. Busy yourself with mail, or putting things away so that coming and going is never a big deal. Once you've been home for a bit then sit down and give him attention. In the morning too don't make a big deal greeting him, just let him out and then take him out to eliminate. You can then praise him and give him a treat for that.
Some of the OTC products for separation anxiety are safe and effective, but they must be used in conjunction with training. Medication alone almost always fails. Here are some links with training ideas that may help you:
http://www.bestfriends.org/theanimals/pdfs/dogs/separationanxiety.pdf

http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=1393
As far as over the counter medications I do like DAP products (dog appeasement pheromones) which are synthetic analogs of a calming pheromone a bitch produces while nursing. These come in sprays, collars and diffusors. See this link for information about these products: 
http://www.dogappeasingpheromone.com/
See this link for some examples: 
http://www.google.com/#q=dog+appeasing+pheromone&hl=en&prmd=imvns&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u
&sa=X&ei=_yGDT5KCBIiqiAL7jPn5Ag&sqi=2&ved=0CIgBEK0E&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=83ec0cc01db0c140&biw=1249&bih=569
I also like products made by Bach's Rescue Remedy: http://www.bachflower.com/Pets.htm
These products must be used in conjunction with training methods. If not they won't work alone. They simply calm him down enough so that he is able to learn. If he is terriified and extremely anxious then he won't learn to comfortably be alone.
If these aren't enough I would discuss medications, such as clonicalm or amitriptyline, with your veterinarian. He is fairly young and they likely won't need to be forever, just until he learns to trust that you are coming back and it is OK for him to be alone in his safe place.
We need to focus on building her confidence in general. A program that may help with that is called "nothing in life is free". This gives him confidence in your fairness and his ability to please you and where he fits in your home. Here is a link that better explains the program: http://k9deb.com/nilif.htm
Taking him to a positive focused, fun obedience class may be helpful as well. He learns to please you, work with you and basic commands that are important to everyday life as well as socialization with other dogs and people.
Some of his behavior can certainly be attributed to traumatic events before he came to you. But the intense twitching and staring may be indicative of him not being well. These may be seizure episodes.
It is possible with your description of twitching and staring that your fellow is having petit mal seizures. These seizures affect a small group of muscles in a particular area of the body. They are not of the same significance as grand mal seizures (loss of consciousness, whole body, rhythmic, uncontrollable muscle contractions with possible loss of urine and stool continence) because the chance of body temperature increasing and subsequent brain damage is much less.
There are several things that can cause muscle contractions other than petite mal seizures. Infections, nerve damage or inflammation, kidney disease or liver disease, and mineral (especially calcium) or electrolyte disturbances can all cause muscle fasiculations (spasms) as well.
I highly recommend a veterinary visit and some screening blood tests to make sure he is well physically.
Let me know if you have any further questions.
Expert:  Dr. Kara replied 1 year ago.
Hi Jenny,

I'm just following up on our conversation about your pet. How is everything going?

Dr. Kara