Danville Express

Living - February 9, 2007

The Pet Vet says...

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. Our dog has separation anxiety and our vet recommended that we put her on anti-depressants. Does this help and would she have to stay on them forever?

A. Therapy for separation anxiety usually consists of a combination of training techniques, behavioral modification, and sometimes anti-anxiety medication. First, you must be sure your dog is actually suffering from separation anxiety. Veterinarians can make the diagnosis, but it is often difficult to evaluate your dog's behavior in a clinical setting. Therefore many veterinarians will refer you to a behavior specialist. These are veterinarians trained in dog behavior who will usually come to your house to observe the dog and speak with your family at length about the problem.

In general, separation anxiety is characterized by destruction, house-soiling, and excessive vocalizing. Usually with separation anxiety, the dog only exhibits these behaviors when she is left alone, vs. a dog who does them out of boredom or for fun. The destruction is usually directed at barriers the dog perceives as keeping her from her owner. And the dog is usually overly attached to the owner and shows little independence.

Therapy for separation anxiety usually starts with easing the dog's attachment to the owner. Some dogs may need some basic training as well. After training the dog to be more independent, you will then use specific methods to calm the dog during separation. This is where medication is often used. Anti-anxiety drugs, which calm the dog, can be used in conjunction with behavior techniques to habituate the dog to being calm while the owner is gone. It is not simply a matter of sedating the dog all day so that you won't come home to find your couch shredded. Eventually, the medication can usually be discontinued, although dogs can relapse during periods of stress such as a move or change in schedule.

Q. I have a 4-month-old Ragdoll kitten that is getting his routine vaccinations. I have two other indoor cats who have been vaccinated (including FIP) as kittens - they are 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 years old. I am curious about the FIP vaccine. Do you think it would be wise or necessary to vaccinate my kitten?

A. I would not recommend the FIP vaccine for any of your cats. Its effectiveness has simply not been proven. Your adult cats are at very low risk for contracting the disease, as most clinical disease occurs in kittens. I cannot say whether they are carrying the virus - it depends on their exposure as kittens. If they are carrying the virus, however, the chance of developing clinical disease as an adult is very small.

Your kitten's greatest risk of exposure to the virus was at the breeders. Since the vaccine cannot be used before 4 months, breeders cannot use it for those most at risk. Hopefully the breeder maintained good hygiene and veterinary care of her cats, as we know that purebred cats are more likely to carry the viruses that cause FIP. Since your kitten has already entered your household, if your adult cats were carrying the virus, he will have already been exposed. But remember, only a very small percentage of cats exposed to the virus develop FIP. The vaccine has no effect on that outcome.

For more detailed information, you may want to read my previous column on FIP at www.eastbayspca.org/vetservices/PV072206.cfm

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org.


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