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Fearful Dogs and Medical Warning Signs

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Any time an otherwise “normal” dog shows a sudden increase in fear, everyone recommends a thorough physical exam to rule out medical causes for the change in behavior. BUT, when you have a dog already diagnosed with a real case of clinical fear, it’s easy to overlook possible bodily causes for any spikes in fear behaviors.

Especially in Lilly’s case where a summertime increase in fears is “normal” for her.

I say all that by way of introduction to the fact that I missed all the signs in recent weeks that Lilly was “sick” with tapeworms.

When Lilly suffered a full-on flipout while hiking with the brew babes, I should have know.

When Lilly began hiding in the pastures and in the house — from her crate to a dark, quiet spot behind the master bathroom toilet, I should have known.

When Lilly didn’t seem to want to play much and dragged on recent hikes, I should have known.

When she began losing hair by the fistful and had a big shift in her pottying habits, I should have known.

Distractions, Dismay, Disappointment

When I finally did realize the reason for Lilly’s sudden and acute increase in fears, I felt terrible for not recognizing the signs … until the end of a full week of 14-hour days.

Everything seems to be fine. The tapeworm medicine seems to be working. Both dogs will get a second (and we hope final) dose July 30.

Once Lily recovers from this latest assault on her immune system, we’ll schedule her wellness exam, routine blood work and staggered vaccines. Let’s hope when they finally get the chance to check her overall health, that the report says our canine heroine is good, strong, and in no greater danger.

I share this sad tale as a caution to all of you with fearful dogs. Yes, they do operate in a constant state of worry. And, yes, there is a good chance any flare-ups are purely behavioral in nature. BUT, keep an eye out for additional changes that may mean something medical might be up.

Help me feel better … have you ever missed signs of trouble with your pet’s health?


best dog blog champion of my heartTime is running out in this contest for a Best Dog Blog Award. Voting for 2011 Best Dog Blog ends July 29 (this Friday).

Remember you can vote each day (1-2 times).

Please VOTE Champion of My Heart as Best Dog Blog!

If we win, we’ll give the $1,000 donation that’s part of the prize package to our terrific friends at Humane Society of Boulder Valley, who were kind enough to bring Lilly into our lives in October 2004.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Jana Rade - July 27, 2011

I think this applies to all dogs, not just the fearful ones. It is important that we all know what is NORMAL for our dogs. It’s the deviation from NORMAL that needs to be the tip off.

Sudden, dramatic changes are easy to catch. Your dog gets an explosive diarrhea, you notice.

Gradual changes are the hardest to notice. Just the tiny little bit at the time … it’s like with the frog and the boiling water.

We don’t notice such changes. When you haven’t seen somebody in a long time, you are shocked how much they changed/aged/lost or gained weight …

If you see the same person regularly, all these changes slip right by you.

The other trap is when you THINK why something is happening and you attribute a new sign to an old problem.

Me, I am all the way at the other side of spectrum. Paranoid what might go wrong next, I see EVERYTHING as a symptom.

When Jasmine doesn’t come up to the door to greet hubby, I freak out. Sometimes she just doesn’t feel like it. Next time she’ll do it as usual. But I sit there worrying about what it might mean.

Finding the right balance is sometimes quite hard. Noticing gradual/or “expected” changes for what they are is also quite hard.

Keeping one’s heart from exploding several times a day, even harder.

Anybody got some valium?

Pamela - July 26, 2011

I find that I worry about every little thing and then have to talk myself down when I realize I’ve blown things out of proportion. Don’t even ask me about the crusty piece of dried ice cream in Honey’s fur (don’t ask) that I just knew was a brain tumor that I somehow missed.

Missing things and seeing things that aren’t there are part of the process. I’m glad to hear Lilly’s treatment is underway and hope that you all get a break from vets for a while.

    Jana Rade - July 27, 2011

    I hear you! I see ghosts everywhere I look.

Amy@GoPetFriendly - July 26, 2011

It’s easy to miss these things, even for those of us really tuned into our dogs. I’m not sure how many weeks Ty was showing symptoms of low thyroid (extra grouchy and a little chubby) before it occurred to me. After a discussion with his vet we adjusted his medication and he’s doing so much better! One of the best things about dogs, they don’t hold a grudge for things like this.

AC - July 25, 2011

Kona helps me out by becoming scared of me whenever she’s not feeling well or when she’s hurt (I’m pretty sure this comes from her association of me with scary things, such as the vet, or ear drops, or cleansing drainage-tubes…). As soon as she becomes scared of me, I put on my Sherlock hat and try to figure out what’s wrong.

Glad you were able to make the connection between the tapeworms and the recent fears.

Donna - July 25, 2011

Your story of Lilly is really blowing me away. I found your website while voting for the “Petties.” Yes, I have voted for you. What struck me so much is that I have a dog that looks almost EXACTLY like Lilly. His name is Bear. He, too, has some issues. I never even knew what kind of dog he was until I saw your Lilly. I always assumed he COULD be a Border Collie, OR Kelpie! Reading this blog makes me wonder if the fear issues our dogs share aren’t “breed specific.”

Today Bear will be visiting his Vet for an open licking sore on his leg that my husband just happened to find last night. Bear was trying to tell him something was wrong and it bugs me that none of us even noticed this wound. I feel terrible :(, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Hopefully, Bear will be feeling better soon!

    Roxanne Hawn - July 26, 2011

    Thanks so much, Donna, for the votes. To answer your question … yes, border collies (actually all herding breeds) are quite sensitive, and they can develop certain fears if faced with key challenges in puppyhood. It’s true of all dogs who don’t get the best start in life or who are genetically predisposed, but … because of the kinds of people and dogs that I know … I certainly see it a lot in our border collie friends

kenzohw - July 25, 2011

It took us a whole year to finally diagnose Viva with Cushings, on top of all other health and fear issues … I know, it is a long story as well why it took that long … 14 days is nothing 🙂

    Jana Rade - July 27, 2011

    With a bunch of overlapping issues it gets even harder. Sometimes one just has to take care of one issue at the time to be able to see what is what.

      Roxanne Hawn - July 28, 2011

      Agreed, Jana … That’s what was so hard about this. It is sort of “normal” for Lilly to be more fearful in the summer.

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