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Buddy’s Rehab 5 – Medical issues contributing to Buddy’s aggression

Updated: Feb 7

Dogs do not want to be aggressive. If a dog is acting aggressively, they have a reason and it is our responsibility to determine why they feel the need to be aggressive. There are many reasons a dog may act aggressively. Fear is one reason, but there are others. Anytime you encounter an aggressive dog, the first thing you need to do is figure out why they are being aggressive and once you do that, you can start to address each issue in order to resolve the aggression.

Many times, a dog who is acting aggressively has a medical reason for their behavior. The first thing I did with Buddy was to have him medically assessed to determine if there was a medical issue, such as pain, causing his aggression. Unfortunately, this was not a simple thing to do for two reasons. First, Buddy is very difficult to examine due to his fear aggression and many vets simply refused to work with him. The second reason, and this is very unfortunate, there are some vets who are not willing to be open minded enough to explore medical reasons for behavior issues, and we encountered one of them. For those vets who are willing to explore the medical causes, if the medical issue is not something the vet specializes in, they may not see the problem, even if it is right in front of them. This is not a dig at vets, it is just a fact of life. There is so much to medicine and no practitioner knows everything. Sometimes you have to bring in many vets and specialists to diagnose the dog properly. And to do so, you need to put together a team of vets who are willing to work together.

One note before I dive in.

As you read this, I ask that you be respectful of the fact that I am sharing private information about Buddy’s health and treatment with all of you in an effort to help others. This is something I do not have to do, it is nobody’s business, but I choose to do this because I think that by telling Buddy’s story, it will benefit others. There is no personal gain to me by sharing this, and it takes up a lot of my time and energy. This sharing is not an invitation for anyone with a judgmental disposition to make assumptions and pass judgment. I have had a few of those stop by my house (believe it or not) in the past few weeks, and without knowing anything about Buddy and what I have been doing for him, actually turn their noses up and tell me they would have fully rehabbed him long before now. This is without ever reading even one of my blog posts! These people have no training in behavior and rehab. They made the assumption, without having any facts, that I was a novice who had no idea what I was doing, and felt they knew better - even though they knew nothing about Buddy or me. While I do think their intentions may actually have been good, having no knowledge of a situation, no training in the area, and making broad statements and claims is actually not helpful for anyone, and can end up causing harm. Although I took my normal stance of patience, calmly and kindly educating, their ears were closed to learning anything about the situation or how to properly rehab a dog.

Having the amount of training and experience I have, I can tell you that a dog with the level of damage Buddy has will take years, if not the rest of his life, to rehabilitate, and it is most likely Buddy will never be fully rehabilitated. The main reason the veterinary behaviorists were willing to work with me on a dog with Buddy’s level of aggression, and a level 4 bite history, is because of my level of training and experience. The fact that I was already able to make some good progress on my own before they were able to fit me into their busy schedules allowed them to feel confident that I would see the rehab through and not allow anyone to get harmed in the process. The majority of dogs with Buddy’s bite level and level of aggression get euthanized. So if you are someone prone to jumping to judgement, I ask for you to instead be respectful and open-minded as you read this post, you might just learn something. If there is something you don’t understand, feel free to ask in the comments so that you may learn why things had to be done as I am describing.

Buddy’s Medical Assessment:

I noticed several things with Buddy that caused me to think there may be several medical issues contributing to Buddy’s aggression.

1- Buddy’s teeth were disgusting. He was approximately 7 years old at the time I started working with him and he had never had a dental, or his teeth brushed. His breath was awful and his teeth were covered with a hard, thick, brown coating. I wondered if he might have some rotten teeth or dental pain contributing to his aggression.

2- Buddy had an odd gait at times. I also noticed he would sometimes have trouble holding his leg up, and seemed to lose his balance at times, when urinating. Owner #2 also had told me that they noticed he walked oddly and they wondered if he had an orthopedic problem.

3- Buddy’s stool looked off and there was some evidence of GI issues. GI pain and discomfort would cause Buddy to have less tolerance and act out at things that normally would not bother him.

4- Buddy’s tongue was dark purple. Tongue color is a very good thing to learn because the tongue can tell you a great deal. A purple tongue is a sign of liver toxicity. So I wondered if this was causing Buddy to feel unwell, and if so, that would cause him to have less tolerance and act out at things that normally would not bother him.

5- When I finally was able to get a hold of all of Buddy’s medical records (it took quite a bit of work on my part), I found that one of the vets that Owner #3 was using had given Buddy 2 rabies vaccines in a 5 month period. When I asked why, they told me Owner #3 requested it. In addition, Buddy had gotten 2 DHPP vaccines in a 3 day period (one by the breeder the day he was sold to Owner #2, and the second was 2 days later given by the same vet that gave the two rabies vaccines). There was no reason to give Buddy all these vaccines. Over-vaccinating a dog, especially a small dog, can have detrimental effects on their health. Although not all traditional vets will agree with this, a holistic vet will tell you that this can cause both immediate and long-term health effects. I would suggest anyone with a dog do your research. There is a lot to learn about vaccines. The details about vaccines, their components, the fact that the dosage is the same no matter what size the dog is, etc., is outside the scope of this blog post. What I will tell you is that Buddy (a small dog) being over vaccinated most likely caused medical issues including overloading his body with all the additives, including mercury, that are contained in these vaccines. As a result, a great deal of mercury was injected into him with all the vaccines in a short period of time. As you may know, studies have shown that high levels of mercury exposure can affect the central nervous system and cause behavioral issues, so it is entirely possible that Buddy’s over vaccination could have contributed to his behavioral problems. I have also read studies stating that over vaccinating with the rabies vaccine can actually cause symptoms of rabies.

In addition to the over vaccination, Buddy had heartworms, so his little body had to process all the chemicals injected into him to treat him for heartworms, and this was during this same time period as the over vaccination. So there was a lot for his little body to have to process, and certainly this overloaded his liver.

The first thing I did after taking ownership of Buddy was take him to the vet. In an effort to keep this blog post from becoming a novel, I will focus on each area of health, and since it took multiple vets and multiple visits to diagnose him, I will leave out the details of what occurred at each clinic I took him to.

What I do want to tell you is that when you have a dog with a serious issue, whether medical or behavioral, what I have found is that I have had to go to several vets in order to get an accurate diagnosis. Diagnosing Buddy was no exception. The first primary vet I took him to refused to examine Buddy and simply said that Buddy had no medical reasons for his aggression, “he is just a jerk” – and that is a direct quote. If a vet ever tells you something like this – RUN. Do not give them a second chance. The second vet I took him to took lots of x-rays and said there were no medical problems. When I showed those x-rays to a specialist vet, they said the x-rays were blurry and the dog was not positioned correctly in a couple of the x-rays to be able to assess the skeletal structure, however, they did see some issues in those x-rays that would cause Buddy to be in pain. When I took Buddy to a third primary vet who claimed to be very experienced with cases like his (but this turned out to be a lie), they mishandled Buddy to such an extent during his visit that they erased 9 months of my rehab work with him. I only knew after the fact that they did not follow my and Buddy’s veterinary behaviorists explicit instructions to sedate him for the tests that needed to be done to diagnose his state of health. They took him in the back and did an hour worth of painful and scary procedures on him with no sedation. At the end of the hour I heard Buddy screaming in pain. When I asked why they didn’t sedate him as we had discussed, they said it is cruel to sedate the dog and they felt they knew better than his veterinary behaviorist and me how to handle this dog they just met. In addition, this vet took a full set of x-rays and told me there were no skeletal issues, however when I showed those x-rays to a specialist vet, they found many issues in those x-rays that indicated Buddy was in quite a bit of pain. I did finally find a vet who was Fear Free certified, and therefore properly trained to handle a case like Buddy. But it took a great deal of time, effort, and money to get to that point. This vet is a 2-hour drive away, but it is definitely worth the trip to ensure Buddy is properly handled so that his fear aggression is not escalated as a result of a vet visit. So if you have a dog with a serious issue, it may take some trial and error, and possibly a long car ride, to find the right vet to help your dog.

A word of caution regarding Fear Free - If a veterinary professional or dog care professional (trainer, groomer, petsitter, etc) tells you they are Fear Free certified, be sure to check the Fear Free directory to make sure. I had several tell me they were Fear Free certified, even claiming to have an “elite” status, but the way I would see them interact with Buddy, and things they would say to me, caused me to be leery of them. When I checked the directory, I found they were not listed. This explained to me why they were mishandling Buddy, they were either being dishonest about having the certification, or their certification had lapsed and they either were not up to date on the proper procedures to use or simply had forgotten how to handle a dog in a fear free manner.

Buddy’s Teeth:

Buddy had a dental shortly after I took ownership of him. After his teeth were cleaned, his foul breath was gone. No rotten teeth were found. X-rays of all his teeth and jaws were taken, and no obvious signs of dental issues were found.

UPDATE: Buddy just had his second dental, 18 months after the one discussed above. This dental was performed by his current vet and the findings were different from those of his first dental. The vet found bone loss in several of his teeth. Two teeth were so loose, they had to be removed. The other teeth that showed bone loss were treated in an effort to try to save them. It is hard to know if Buddy's teeth have gotten worse for some reason or if the bone loss was already there and just not noticed by the previous vet, or maybe just not bad enough at that time to warrant any dental work. In either case, Buddy's teeth will continue to be monitored every 12 months. Hopefully he doesn't lose any more teeth! However, this does make me wonder if he was having dental pain as a result of his dental condition, and if dental pain was contributing to his aggression...

I have been working on desensitizing Buddy to his toothbrush, and although it is still far too soon for me to be able to attempt to brush his teeth, hopefully, at some point, we'll get there so we can prevent future dental issues.

Buddy’s Gait:

After visiting 4 traditional vets and one holistic integrative vet, it was found that Buddy had several problems. He has arthritis in his hips causing him a fair amount of pain, and he had several vertebrae in his back and neck that were significantly out of alignment, causing him both pain and muscle spasms. This pain was definitely contributing to Buddy’s aggression. Once we put Buddy on the appropriate medications and supplements, he relaxed quite a bit and his gait improved. He also had a chiropractic adjustment that made a world of difference for him. This is not to say he doesn’t still have days where I can see he has some pain, but there has been a vast improvement and this has helped him to relax enough so that I can make further progress with his rehabilitation.

GI Issues:

After the holistic integrative vet prescribed two different probiotics, Buddy’s stool became more normal and he seemed to be feeling better.

Buddy’s Liver:

As stated earlier, Buddy’s liver was overloaded with all the treatments and over-vaccination he had in a very short period of time. This was evident by his purple tongue and his behavior. With the help of the holistic integrative vet, we did a 5 month liver detox. I saw a significant relaxation in Buddy’s behavior after doing this. His tongue color returned to a more normal pinkish color as well.

Buddy’s Behavioral Assessment:

In tandem to addressing Buddy’s physical medical issues, I also took Buddy to a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist to assess him from a behavioral standpoint and to determine if the behavioral medications the previous owners primary vet put him on was the correct medication and dosage for Buddy. Here is what we found:

1- While the medication was an acceptable medication to use, it was not the correct dosage. The dosage was too high; this can actually cause anxiety to heighten. Buddy’s dosage of this medication was reduced and this made a noticeable difference. This is why it is important to have a Veterinary Behaviorist involved in prescribing behavioral medications; primary vets do not have the same level of training in this area.

2- A second medication, to be used during more stressful situations, was added.

3- Buddy was found to have the following behavioral issues:

a. Generalized Anxiety

b. Fear and territorial aggression

c. Conflict induced aggression

Buddy’s prognosis was listed as guarded, which is not a good prognosis.

The Veterinary Behaviorist gave me a series of specific exercises to do with Buddy and was available to me via email for any questions or issues I had. When I tell you he was available, he was 100% available and we emailed a lot. I can't begin to thank him enough for his dedication to Buddy's rehab, he truly went above and beyond to help us. Buddy’s case is very serious and it took a great deal of help and direction from the Veterinary Behaviorist for me to be able to get things under control to the point that it was safe to keep Buddy alive. We had another visit a month later where I was instructed on more rehab exercises and given information on enrichment tools, etc. I was having alot of problems with getting Buddy used to the muzzle, and they were able to give me the help I needed to finally get it clipped on him in a way that did not stress Buddy out. Buddy had come a long way, but due to the seriousness of his case, he still had (and has) a very long way to go.

We continued our email communication for another couple of months until the Veterinary Behaviorist moved across country, at which point I had to find a new one. Unfortunately, it took many months to find another Veterinary Behaviorist who was willing to work with Buddy; there are not many available and they are very booked up. Buddy continues to make progress, but progress is extremely slow, which is to be expected as a result of the level of damage done to Buddy during the first 7 years of his life.

Holistic Support:

The last area of support I will discuss was the support I received from a Holistic Integrative Veterinarian. In fact, due to the length of time it took to be able to get an appointment with the Veterinary Behaviorist, the Holistic Integrative Veterinarian was the first one who was actually able to provide me with any helpful support. They fit us in within a week of my request and it is because of them that Buddy is still alive today. Without their help, I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain a safe situation and most likely would have had to resort to euthanasia before being able to see the Veterinary Behaviorist.

I was very fortunate that this vet also had a vet tech on staff who is also a trainer and has some experience in behavior. The two of them are a dynamic team. They were able to help me figure out what style and size muzzle was best for Buddy. Help me with methods to start getting Buddy used to the muzzle (which was not easy, it took a full 5 months before I was able to get the muzzle fully on and clipped around his neck). They taught me techniques for handling Buddy to reduce the probability of him reacting and directed me to some other helpful handling and rehab tools.

From a medical standpoint, they provided several Homeopathic and Chinese Medicine remedies to help calm Buddy’s mood. Supplements were provided, including probiotics to address the GI issues. They gave me instructions on how to modify his diet to help calm his mood (changing the protein made a big difference). And provided other medications that were needed. It was this vet who figured out the pain issues Buddy was having and prescribed the pain medications. After they adjusted his spine, Buddy just melted into the floor in relief. This vet is a 3 hour drive from us and is definitely worth the trip. It is not an exaggeration to say they saved Buddy’s life.

In conclusion:

There are often multiple reasons for aggression, so it is important to explore every avenue and take a multi-pronged approach to addressing and resolving the issue. It also may take a team of professionals to help you depending on the level of severity. If you don’t get results from one practitioner, move on and find another who is able and willing to help. In most cases, aggression can be resolved (or in severe cases, at least improved) as long as you are open minded, willing to learn, and put in the work.

If you would like to support Buddy's Dream and our mission:

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In the next blog post (Buddy’s Rehab 6) I will explain the "Experience Bank" and it's relation to Buddy's rehabilitation.

Note and disclaimer: All information in the blog posts on this site is my opinion based on my own experience rehabilitating an aggressive dog. I am not a professional behaviorist or otherwise involved in the Veterinary profession. If you are dealing with an aggressive dog, I recommend you seek the advice of a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

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