Have a ‘Howling” Night with these Halloween Pet Safety Tips

Learn how to give your pets a safe and stress-free Halloween night with our helpful tips.

A simple rule of thumb here is “no candy.” It’s a well-known fact that chocolate is toxic to dogs, but candies that contain the “sugar-free” sweetener xylitol are also poisonous in dogs and possibly ferrets. Candy wrappers and lollipop sticks can also present a threat. Also, keep in mind that mini-boxes of raisins that are distributed as healthy snacks to people are extremely poisonous to dogs and should be treated just as you would the chocolate.

Keep Pets Confined and Away from the Door
The constant ringing of the doorbell can be stressful for your pets. Add to that the strangers dressed in costumes yelling “Trick or Treat,” and it can prove to be frightening. Keep your dog or cat in a secure place away from the front door. This is particularly important for dogs who are guarded with strangers or who may have a tendency to bite. Even dogs who are typically friendly may become anxious or unfriendly. This will also prevent them from escaping into the night.

Keep Pets Indoors
For their protection, cats, especially black cats, should be kept indoors at all times. Animals can often be at risk for cruel antics by Halloween pranksters.

Glow Sticks and Glow Jewelry
Cats, in particular, like to chew on these. While not toxic, they do have a liquid inside that can cause irritation to the mouth and excessive salivation and drooling.

Candles and Jack-O-Lanterns
Keep lit candles and jack-o-lanterns out of reach. Tails wagging and pets running around the house can accidentally tip over a candle or carved pumpkin, creating a fire hazard.

Pet Safety Clothing
While getting in the Halloween spirit consider reflective collars and gear for not only you and your children, but also your pets. This is a great safety item for Halloween and throughout the year (e.g., when walking your dog at night).

IDs Required
Make sure your pet is properly identified with a collar, ID tag or microchip in case he/she escapes while you’re attending to the trick -or- treaters.

Pet Costumes
Don’t dress your pet in costume unless you know they’ll be comfortable. They may look cute all dressed up, but they may not enjoy it as much as you and the kids. If you dress your pet in a costume, be sure it doesn’t restrict movement, eyesight or breathing. Your safest bet may be a loosely tied, colorful bandana. Also, don’t be tempted to color your pet’s fur. It may be labeled non-toxic to humans, but it could still be harmful to pets.

You, your children and your pets will be guaranteed a “howling” night this Halloween by taking a little caution and care with these simple tips.

Risks to your Pet This Fall

The cool, crisp morning air, the beautiful autumn foliage and a shift from the hot temps of summer days are all signs that fall is around the corner. While both you and your pet may be jumping for joy to finally take a break from the hot and humid weather of summer, the coming season may present some potential health dangers for your pets. From household poisons to hazards in the yard and holiday-specific threats, take note of the following things that might pose a risk to your furry friends in the months ahead.

Shorter Days Means Less Daylight
With the shortened days, it’s very likely that you’ll be walking your dog in the dark. This makes it very difficult for drivers to see you and your pet. So, take precautions and stay safe! Hold on tight and keep your pet in close proximity by using a leash and collar or chest harness. Also use reflective gear, flashlights, or light-up collars.

Whether it’s the noise of the leaf blower, a blower that is leaking toxic fuel, or the leaf piles that are breeding grounds for bacteria and mold growth, the falling foliage can wreak havoc on your pets. Ticks are also hiding in the piles of leaves. The best place for your pet when you are involved in leaf clean-up is indoors.

“Mums,” a popular fall bloomer is toxic if your dog or cat ingests the flower, stems or leaves. Other potentially toxic plants for your cats and dogs are meadow saffron/autumn crocus and some holiday plants, including holly amaryllis, mistletoe, poinsettia and Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus.

Most wild-growing mushrooms are non-toxic for our companion animals. However, it is difficult to distinguish a toxic from a non-toxic mushroom. Watch out for mushrooms where you walk your dog or where they play and keep your pets away from areas where mushrooms are growing.

Compost Pile
Composting has many benefits, but make sure you do so with your pets in mind. Compost that contains dairy, grains, nuts and legumes can become moldy and produce mycotoxins that, if ingested, can have neurological effects on your pet. You may want to avoid composting certain foods, but other steps you can take include covering or using a closed container and simply keeping your dog or other pets out of the pile.

During the fall months, mice and rats seek warmer surroundings indoors and homeowners turn to rodenticides to help prevent a rodent infestation. These poisonous substances contain anticoagulants, cholecalciferol, bromethalin and phosphides, which can be fatal to your dog or cat. If you have to use these products, use caution and be sure to store in out of reach places.

Do you change your own automotive antifreeze? If so, take note that the sweet taste of ethylene glycol in some antifreeze products attracts pets and even small amounts can poison a cat or dog and be fatal. If you do change your antifreeze, consider using propylene glycol-based coolants. While they are not 100% non-toxic, they are safer than those containing ethylene glycol.

Back to School Supplies
With fall comes back-to-school and time to stock up on things like pencils, magic markers and glue sticks. While not toxic, if ingested, they have the potential to cause gastrointestinal problems and blockages are possible. Keep these school supplies off the floor and out of your pet’s reach.

Holiday Decorations
Holiday decorations can be dangerous to your pets. Keep the ornaments, tinsel, plants, Halloween costumes, candles, etc. all out of reach from your pet’s paws.

Fall is a spectacular time of year and the perfect weather to get outside with your pet. However, we hope by providing this information that you are reminded of these safety hazards to keep your pet healthy and happy in the coming months.

Routine Eye Care for Your Pets

As a pet owner, it’s important that you establish an eye care routine to include the following:

Conduct Routine Visual Inspection
Set aside a particular time weekly to examine your pet’s eyes. Do so in the best of light. Healthy eyes should look clear, shiny and moist, and the area around the clear part of the eye (i.e., cornea) should be white, pupils should be equal in size and there should be no redness, crusting, discharge, swelling or tearing around the eyes. With your thumb, the lower lid can be rolled down to check the color of the conjunctiva (i.e., tissue lining its inner aspect) or to look for other problems. The conjunctiva should be pink. Do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you think that something looks unusual. If you have an older pet, you may find that the eyes have an opaque, cloudy look. This can be typical of aging, but it may be caused by cataracts. Prompt attention when any abnormalities are found can mean the difference between a quick and easy fix vs. a sight-threatening problem.

Remove Dirt and Debris
After you’ve examined your pet’s eyes, spend a few minutes cleaning them. This will reduce the accumulation of debris and be soothing. You can remove dirt or other debris surrounding the eye with a dampened cotton ball or sterile eye wipe. Wipe from the outside corner to the inside corner of the eyelids and be careful to keep the cotton off the eyeball. Tear staining can occur in both dogs and cats when tears spill out at the corners of the eyes and settle on the surrounding hair, causing discoloration. A good cleaning can usually help with the staining but doesn’t eliminate it completely.

Dealing with Hair Around the Eyes
If your pet’s hair becomes too long, it can contribute to staining and accumulation of debris. While some may suggest trimming the hairs, we find that cutting the hairs makes them sharp/pointy and may directly contact the cornea and lead to significant corneal problems (i.e., deep ulceration). Keeping the area clean is most important. Take the time to wash dirty hair surrounding the eyes with a gentle shampoo and be careful not to get soap in your pet’s eyes. If there are hairs present in the corners of the eyelids, then surgery to remove them may be recommended.

Bathe Safely
When bathing your pet, use only a safe, mild shampoo, avoid getting any shampoo in your pet’s eyes and thoroughly rinse your pet, as even the mildest shampoo can be troublesome if it is not completely washed off.

Guard Against Corneal or Permanent Eye Damage
How often do we see dogs hanging their head out the car window? While your dog may enjoy having the wind whip against his face, doing this can cause dirt and other debris to land in your pet’s eyes and can lead to corneal damage or permanent eye injury.

Schedule Routine Eye Exams
Ensure that your annual veterinary checkup includes a thorough eye exam to check for eye disease and other vision conditions.

Check with your veterinarian and stay informed about your pet’s breed and age factors that could impact the eyes. If you are aware of things to keep watch on, you’ll be more likely to catch problems early. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian if anything looks awry with your pet’s eyes.

At Your Service: Ophthalmology

Sometimes it’s a miniscule piece of foreign material or the abnormal growth of eyelashes that can be or become problematic for an animal. Other times it’s something more serious. You don’t want to gamble with your pet’s eyesight and should always seek the advice of a professional for what may be perceived to be a minor eye injury. Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine‘s Ophthalmology Service is focused on the health the eyes. Foster Hospital provides access to the most advanced diagnostic technologies, including some exclusively available in this region. If your pet is not responding to a particular treatment or for eye problems that are more complex, your primary care veterinarian may want to seek the expert advice of an eye specialist, OR you may contact us directly.

The Ophthalmology Service at Foster Hospital for Small Animals is dedicated to providing medical and surgical management related to injuries and diseases of the eye, both for scheduled and emergency situations. We recognize that your primary care veterinarian can identify and treat most routine eye problems; however, there are more serious situations where you may want to seek the advice of a veterinary eye specialist. Our board-certified ophthalmologists may be able to treat an eye injury, diagnose an obscure or developing eye ailment and even help preserve or restore vision.

The Ophthalmology Service offers among the most advanced and comprehensive diagnostic and treatment practices in New England — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our board-certified ophthalmologists provide a full range of diagnostic and surgical services, from routine eye exams to specialized surgery, including laceration repair to corneal grafting to cataract removal. The majority of our cases are dogs and cats and we also treat some exotics and horses.

Our ophthalmology team works closely with its peers in anesthesia, pain management and other specialty areas, providing a full continuum of coordinated care for your pet.

Specialized Services
All patients receive a complete examination of their eyes and, in many cases, require specialized diagnostic testing procedures. Our ophthalmology clinic is fully equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, including low and high resolution ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Electroretinography (ERG), and Computed tomography (CT). Tufts is also proud to provide access to advanced diagnostic technologies that are not readily available in this region. These include:

  • Optical coherence temography (OCT), which is helpful in diagnosing corneal and retinal problems; and
  • Fluorescein angiography, which provides insight into the circulatory system of the eye through the use of a camera, allowing early detection of retinal disease

As New England’s only veterinary school, we also have clinical research studies under way that offer your pets access to innovative treatments not available elsewhere.

Common Eye Conditions & Surgical Procedures
Foster Hospital for Small Animals Ophthalmology Service sees a number of common conditions including, glaucoma, cataracts, retinal degeneration, and corneal ulcerations. The staff is experienced in the treatment of these conditions and more, including but not limited to the following surgical and/or therapeutic procedures:

  • Numerous eyelid procedures, including laceration repair and eyelid mass removal
  • Replacement of prolapsed glands and scrolled cartilage involving the third eyelid
  • Conjunctival grafts
  • Corneal transplants and corneal laceration repair
  • Cryotherapy for removal of distichia
  • Cataract removal surgery – phacoemulsification
  • Diode laser therapy, allowing non-invasive treatment of cysts and/or intraocular masses
  • Glaucoma management
  • Cyclosporine implants for the control of equine recurrent uveitis

What You Can Expect
Upon referral, our clinical liaison team will facilitate care, schedule appointments and serve as the contact point between Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine‘s clinical specialty departments, referring veterinarians and pet owners. Their commitment to keeping the lines of communication open ensure that your pet receives the highest standard of care.

Throughout our evaluation process, we will maintain an open line of communication with you and, if appropriate, your primary care veterinarian, where we provide clear and complete explanations of the diagnostic testing results, treatment options and the cost so that you can make the most informed decisions. As the only veterinary teaching hospital in New England, we are committed to training the veterinarians and animal care specialists of the future. You’ll find that students, interns and residents are integral members of the ophthalmology team, learning in a supervised environment to further their understanding of ocular problems.

Contacting Us
We are here to meet all of your ophthalmology needs.

Take a Pulse on your Pet’s Health Care Needs

With fall upon us and the kids back to school, use this time to take a pulse on your pet’s health care needs.

Are your pet’s vaccines up-to-date? If you have children, you know the importance of maintaining a vaccination record. Just like for humans, pets need vaccinations and they sometimes require a booster to achieve maximum effectiveness. Your primary care veterinarian will maintain a record of your pets’ vaccinations and help to ensure you stay on schedule. Your vet’s suggestions will break down into core and non-core vaccinations - those recommended for every pet, vs. non-core vaccines that are advised based on your pet’s lifestyle. Check out this useful chart from WebMD to monitor the recommended vaccination schedule for your dog or cat and use it to start a conversation with your primary care veterinarian at your next wellness visit.

Eye Exams
Your pet is vulnerable to many of the same eye conditions that affect people, such as cataracts, glaucoma, corneal abrasions, tumors, retinal degeneration and dry eye. It’s important that you ensure your annual veterinary checkup includes a thorough eye exam to screen your pet for these eye conditions. Most primary care veterinarians have the capability to perform such routine eye examinations. If it has not been completed this year, contact your veterinarian to arrange for a comprehensive eye exam for your pet. Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine‘s Ophthalmology Service is focused solely on the health of the eyes and also provides access to routine eye care, in addition to the most advanced technologies. We are here to meet all of your ophthalmology needs. You may contact our Opthalmology Liaison between 8:00 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., at 508-887-4696 to schedule an appointment.

Dental Visits
Most primary care veterinarians will examine your pet’s teeth and gums during his or her yearly wellness visit. At that time your veterinarian may recommend that your pet also have a dental cleaning. For most dogs and cats, a yearly cleaning is sufficient to maintain good oral and dental health, and this routine dental care can be done by your family veterinarian. Basically, this will involve some form of sedation, a full oral exam with or without dental X-rays, scaling to remove plaque and tartar and polishing. Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School Dentistry and Oral Surgery team is experienced in these routine dental cleanings, as well as more complicated procedures. If you haven’t done so already this year, take time this fall to schedule a dental cleaning to ensure the best dental health possible for your furry family members. You can make an appointment with the dental team by calling 508-839-5395.

Now Seeing Eye to Eye

Wandering aimlessly through the streets in a rural area north of Columbia, SC, Yogi was found very underweight and worn, with no tags. The tip of his ears were all chewed up and on examination, tested a strong positive for heartworm, for which he underwent lengthy and rigorous treatment. The Fredericos always had a dog and at the time were looking for a new companion pet and Yogi was just what they needed. Since August 2009 Yogi has been a welcome addition to the Frederico family, who recently relocated back to their roots in Massachusetts. Though it was shortly discovered after his adoption that he had birdshot pellets throughout his body (which it was recommended not be removed), Yogi has been very healthy and a great companion. “Even though Chow Chows have a reputation of being somewhat aggressive, Yogi is the sweetest dog ever,” says Linda.

As a Chow Chow, though, he is susceptible to a condition known as entropion, where the eyelids turn inward. This results in the eyelashes and skin rubbing against the eye surface, causing irritation and discomfort and potentially permanent damage to the eyes.

Yogi’s primary care veterinarian at the Shrewsbury Community Animal Hospital recommended referral to a veterinary ophthalmologist. With the Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in the Fredericos’ “backyard,” they scheduled an appointment with the Ophthalmology Service and saw Dr. Kara Gornik in October 2013. Dogs with entropion usually squint and have watery eyes. If it is not surgically corrected and the rubbing persists, ulcers can develop on the cornea and the cornea can become pigmented. “The ulcers themselves may require surgical removal or potentially removal of the eye may be necessary,” says Dr. Gornik. There was no question that Yogi would need entropion surgery or risk serious eye problems.

The surgery was scheduled within a week of their first visit with Foster Hospital for Small Animals and went very smoothly. Owner Linda was a bit apprehensive to do the surgery because of the anesthesia, but the staff put her at ease. Tufts typically keeps dogs undergoing this procedure overnight but because Yogi has a bit of separation anxiety and a fear of crates, they made an exception. “Even as late in the day as it was when the surgery was done, we were lucky to be home with Yogi by dinner time,” recalls Linda.

Breezing straight through surgery, Yogi has also made a complete recovery and the Fredericos can’t be more satisfied. Linda describes the improvements since the surgery. “We really didn’t expect to notice a change. He wore the cone for 4-6 weeks and when we took the cone off, you could see that even Yogi noticed a difference. He never made eye contact with us previously, but now he sees ‘eye to eye.’ We always thought it was because he was a rescue dog and may have been due to how he was previously treated. Now we think it may have been uncomfortable to look up because of the deformity in his eyelids.”

Linda and husband Mike are truly grateful to have access to such advanced veterinary care and technology so close to home. They are also so pleased with Dr. Gornik and the entire Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine team, who, with compassion, provided Yogi with the highest quality care and have given him the opportunity to see the world in a new and different way.

Happy Driving with your Dog!

Riding in the car is a very common dog phobia. Fortunately, most dog owners can help their pet overcome this fear by introducing him or her to the car in a step-by-step approach that involves using lots of positive reinforcement. The ultimate objective is to develop a pleasant association with car travel.


Car phobias can develop for a number of reasons:

  • car sickness
  • lack of experience (particularly as a puppy)
  • fear of the unfamiliar
  • past association with negative experiences (like going to the vet and getting injections)

- Overcoming Fear:

Dog owners are often told not to socialize their puppies until they are fully vaccinated, which makes a new experience with the car that much more traumatic for them. To help your puppy, it’s important to start socializing him to cars as early as possible. For adult dogs with a car-phobia, the steps are very similar.

 - Getting your dog in the car

  • Begin by enticing your dog to the car rather than forcing him to approach it. Consider playing with your dog’s toys in and around the car to build positive associations.
  • Use positive reinforcement to get him inside. Start by opening up all the doors so your dog won’t feel like he’ll be trapped once he gets inside. Use treats and praise to encourage your dog to go inside the car. It’s important that you not reward crying, whining or other rambunctious behaviors.
  • Take the time to bond with your dog inside the car. Leave the doors open, and spend some time coddling your dog in the car. You may need to take a number of attempts over a period of days just sitting in the stationary car. Slowly work your way up to sitting in the car with your dog with the doors closed.

– Start your engine. Once you think your dog is comfortable being in the car, you can start the engine. As soon as you turn the engine on, it’s helpful to give your dog some treats, talking to him in a friendly tone and then turn off the engine. Repeat this several times until your dog is completely comfortable sitting in the car with the engine running.

– Start by taking short rides down the street or in your neighborhood.

– Graduate to longer rides and include fun destinations, (e.g., the park, a friend’s house or some other familiar and not scary place). Your dog’s first longer car ride should not be to the veterinarian. Instead take your dog someplace fun like the park, a friend’s house or some other familiar place.

For each of these steps, it’s very important to make sure your dog is completely comfortable with what you’ve accomplished before moving forward to the next step. And, providing your dog his/her favorite treats is key to the positive reinforcement necessary to be successful.

Dealing with Nausea/Vomiting and Anxiety

Vomiting can be attributed to motion sickness or anxiety associated with a negative experience riding in a car. A frightened dog may pant, drool and vomit even without feeling carsick. To treat this, follow the advice to decrease his anxiety. If your dog is motion sick or becomes anxious because he experiences motion sickness, this physical problem must be addressed before he can learn to appreciate car rides. You must avoid letting him feel sick when attempting to desensitize him to car rides. To do this, you should avoid feeding for a few hours prior to the car trip. Also, prescription medications are available from your dog’s veterinarian for preventing carsickness. Over the counter medications may help to ease your dog dog’s motion sickness. Always consult your dog’s veterinarian before administering any “human” over the counter medications.

Rest assured that most dogs can be conditioned to riding in the car and with persistence to the training process, you too can be successful. Happy Driving!

“I’ll Be Right Home”

We all know the saying, “dogs are a man’s best friend.” So it is not surprising that a dog may become anxious when separated from his/her owner. Dogs that develop separation anxiety are usually young. Older dogs, however, may develop separation anxiety in response to physical symptoms that accompany old age or because they are more dependent on their owners because of their illness.

Signs of separation anxiety are caused by a dog’s need to reduce tension or stress and only occur in the owner’s absence. The most common complaints by pet parents is that their dogs are disruptive or destructive when left alone. They might urinate or defecate; bark and howl; or chew on objects, door frames or window sills.

When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone.

You may be able to nip it in the bud with a few easy tips:

  1. Before you leave for the day, take your dog for a walk. In general, aerobic exercise is encouraged as it helps to alleviate anxiety. Fetching a ball or going for a brisk walk or run are good forms of exercise. This allows you to leave your dog in a quiet, relaxed state while you are away.
  2. Feed your dog right before you leave and provide a variety of stimulating toys and puzzles as well as long lasting treats.
  3. Keep greetings and departures low-key. Don’t make a big deal when you leave or when you return.
  4. Stay calm and assertive and display confidence when you leave. Your pet will perceive signs of you being nervous.
  5. Day care may be a good option if you are going to be away for many hours.

Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University recommends pet owners consider a more formalized approach to behavioral training if you’re still having trouble after implementing the above tips. “Tufts’ program is designed to teach your dog to “stand on its own four feet” when you’re home, with the goal to have the dog’s newfound confidence spill over to times when you are away,” says Dr. Borns-Weil.

According to Dr. Borns-Weil, the essential components of independence training aim to:

Stop reinforcing attention-seeking behaviors. Owners are encouraged to ignore attention-seeking behaviors (e.g., do not comfort your dog if he/she is behaving anxiously as this will reinforce the behavior). This means no eye contact, pushing away or commands to stop, all of which will reward the dog’s attention-seeking mission. Instead, provide attention when the dog is sitting or lying calmly.

Make sure your dog has had plenty of mental and physical exercise. A tired dog is a happier, more relaxed dog.

Teach the dog to remain relaxed in one spot, such as its bed. Owners should initially focus on training the dog to perform a sit-stay or down-stay, while gradually increasing the time period that the dog holds the command and remains separated from the owners.

Provide ongoing training. Once basic obedience commands have been mastered, the owner can train the dog to perform long down stays while moving progressively farther away. Rewards can be offered for remaining still. Each time the dog breaks its “stay”, a verbal correction should be delivered, with no reward, while escorting the dog back to his/her bed.

Teach your dog to be alone. Your dog should become accustomed to being separated from you even when you are home. You can set up child gates to deny your dog access into the room in which you are doing something, and instruct your dog to lie down and stay on a dog bed outside that room; you can then graduate by shutting the door to the room so he/she cannot see you.

Implementing a program of this type will take persistence and patience and in some cases “tough love.” Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is staffed by professionals who are expert in helping you understand and handle canine behavior challenges, including separation anxiety. To consult with one of our Animal Behavior specialists, you may make an appointment by calling 508-887-4640.

Boom! Boom! Helping Your Dog with Thunderstorm Phobias

Causes and Signs of Thunderstorm Phobias


Many think that the most logical cause for a dog’s fear of thunderstorms is the loud noise, but the lightning flashes, accompanied by heavy pounding of rain and the changes in the atmosphere and barometric pressure can also affect a dog’s senses. It has been documented that the buildup of static electricity in the atmosphere can be uncomfortable and may be detected before a storm rolls in, triggering a fear even before that first boom of thunder occurs.

Dogs with thunderstorm phobia show signs that are usually quite apparent. They may become overwhelmed with fear and show physical signs, such as panting, whining, or pacing. They may also show other signs of stress, including dilated pupils, drooling, or rapid heartbeat. Some dogs will run and hide out of fear.

Preventing and Treating

So what is the best approach to treat a thunderstorm phobia? There are a number of steps one can take to combat noise phobias, including desensitization and counterconditioning. This involves eliminating or controlling the dog’s exposure to the stimulus. Some noise phobias, like fireworks and gunshots, can be treated this way. However, treating thunderstorm phobias is not as cut and dry and can be very difficult to control through the process of desensitization.

Essentially the best thing to do is to try to prevent affected dogs from being exposed to what it is they clearly do not like. Use basic common sense. Never leave your dog outside during a storm and do your best to remain calm and relaxed as your dog will sense your anxiety, fear or stress related to the storm.

Here you will find a few tips that may help you to wean your beloved Fido from his fear of storms.

1) Create a safe environment

Do everything possible to limit your dog’s exposure to storms. According to Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, of Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Behavior Clinic, “a finished basement is a perfect place to start and, ideally, it should have no windows so the storm cannot be seen by the dog. If possible, block off small windows with cardboard or thick, lined curtains.” If using basement space is not an option, she suggests you can create another safe space by sound-proofing a room and incorporating window coverings. A crate with a soft and cozy bed inside the room might make your dog feel safer. Wherever the safe room is, it should allow easy access and house a comfy bed and some essentials like food, water, treats and toys. A few tips to keep in mind for your safe space:

  • Play calming music (MusicMyPet.com, PetMusic.com) in the safe space at a volume comfortable enough to drown out the sounds of thunder. Dr. Borns-Weil has found playing her guitar has worked for her dog, who, like so many others, has a thunderstorm phobia.
  • Keep the lights on in the room so any flashes of lightning that may squeeze through window coverings won’t be too apparent.
  • Take some time to play with your dog in the room when it’s not storming. It’s important that you get your dog to feel comfortable and safe in the room. Your goal is to get him/her to go there without prompting when they sense a thunderstorm is looming, 24/7, even when you are not home. Keep in mind that by over-comforting your dog during a storm you may suggest to the pet that there really is something to be afraid of. On the flip side, you don’t want to punish your pet for showing fear. Instead you should project confidence. If you are home distract your dog by playing, grooming or engaging in other activities your pet will enjoy.

2) Consider purchasing storm wear for your dog

There are a few options to choose from, including the Storm Defender, Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt. The Storm Defender wraps has anti-static linings that may decrease the uncomfortable feeling of static in your dog’s coat. The Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt give dogs a feeling of being swaddled, which can be comforting to them during stormy weather.

3) Anti-anxiety medications may be needed

While many dog owners may be opposed to their dog taking these types of medications, the benefits often may outweigh the alternative. These medications can be given at the first sign of a storm or may be prescribed for an ongoing period to help manage your pet’s anxiety behaviors. Anxitane (L-theonine), an over-the–counter nutriceutical may also be helpful for some dogs.

Consult with an Animal Behavior Specialist

Whether it’s thunderstorms, fireworks or gunshots that your pet is afraid of, you may consider consulting an animal behavior specialist, who can advise you on how best to address your dog’s fear as there isn’t always a standardized solution. Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has behavioral specialists, who are specially trained and can advise you on how best to manage your pet’s phobia. You may contact the office at 508-887-4640 to make an appointment.

Genuine Friendship Comes Full Circle for Scout and Finn

Scout (4-year-old male Beagle Coonhound) and Finn (2-year-old male Staffordshire terrier, lab, boxer mix)

Scout (4-year-old male Beagle Coonhound) and Finn (2-year-old male Staffordshire terrier, lab, boxer mix)


In November 2010, Melania and her husband Brian rescued Scout, a beagle coonhound mix from a shelter in Westport, CT, after he had been shipped to New England from North Carolina. He was 11-months-old and in spite of being very shy and seemingly frightened, he eventually came out of his shell. While exhibiting very friendly behavior with the Woodhouse family, their friends and other pets, he was always still a bit apprehensive and reserved. Melania’s family always had two dogs in the home, so about one year later she and her husband rescued another dog named Finn, a 2-year-old male Staffordshire terrier, lab, boxer mix, who at that time was approximately 6 months old, malnourished and weighing only about 20 pounds.

In the early days after bringing Finn home, he was a tiny puppy trying to figure out what he was supposed to do, following Scout around wherever he went. If Scout got into bed, Finn would follow. They were growing to be good friends and Melania was pleased that they were getting along so well. What happened one year to the day of Finn joining the household, however, was a surprise and shocked Melania. As Brian sat on the couch eating a sandwich with Finn by his side, Scout attempted to join them, and Finn reacted by lunging at Scout and latching onto his neck.

Melania immediately consulted her primary care veterinarian, Dr. Troy Hexter, who explained that it was important that she get this aggressive behavior under control. To that end, he recommended she seek expert advice at Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine  and Melania couldn’t be more grateful today. With her sister and niece in tow to assist with transporting Scout and Finn, Melania drove two hours to Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals in North Grafton for an initial appointment. During her 90-minute consult, she met Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, both veterinarians with specialty training as animal behaviorists.


Melania shared Scout and Finn’s history and the recent outbursts of aggressive behavior, and while doing so she reinforced to both of them that rehoming was not an option. She was determined to fix the problem and do whatever it took. Dr. Borns-Weil took Melania’s determination very seriously. Drs. Borns-Weils and Dodman, immediately recognized that a key to getting this under control was laying down the rules as to who was the “alpha” pet in the household. Because Scout had been in the home the longest, they recommended that Scout take the lead. “Humans are the leaders in the food chain and Finn is last,” says Melania. “They told me, when you come home, say hello to Scout first, even if Finn tries to push him away, Scout gets a treat first, gets fed first, and Finn gets everything second,” she continued. They also suggested a change in diet and prescribed Prozac for Finn. Both dogs were on a raw food, organic (high protein) diet, which can cause more aggression in dogs that have those tendencies. Melania was a little apprehensive about the medication. Dr. Borns-Weil’s response: “There is no need to be concerned. It enhances learning in dogs and helps them get through any anxiety they may be experiencing and also builds their confidence to make the best decision.”

Dr.Borns-Weil and Dodman are trained veterinarians as well as animal behaviorists who have the advantage of ruling out medical problems that might be causing the inappropriate behavior. For Scout and Finn it was deemed a “resource guarding” issue where a dog will defend or “guard” what he thinks is highly valuable from other dogs. In this case he was attempting to guard Melania and her husband Brian. There were no issues during the work day. The two dogs had free reign of the house, but because there were no humans in the home, there was no one to guard.

“Every pet has to know what his or her job description is and what role they play in the house,” says Dr. Borns-Weil. “With the implementation of behavioral modification, the devil is in the details (e.g., what to do with the bed in the living room or how far apart to place their food bowls.”

Over the next several months, Melania would have one phone call follow-up and a flurry of email communications with Dr. Borns-Weil, who has been Melania’s “go to” resource throughout the process. With a couple incidences of Finn acting out aggressively since the initial consult, Melania would document what was going on and Dr. Borns-Weil would respond with recommended ways to handle the behavioral problem. This led to the ongoing creation of new rules that continued to reinforce with Finn that he is second in the pet hierarchy. For example, Finn is not allowed on couch and is not allowed in Scout’s bed. Finn still has his bed in the living room and while watching television, Scout has the privilege of sitting on the couch. At night, Finn’s bed now sits outside a gate outside the bedroom door. “She is amazing. Everything she recommended worked,” Melania says.


“Melania was very serious and committed to the program from the start, which is critical to the success of our program,” says Dr. Borns-Weil. “I commend Melania for her commitment to seeing this through. It’s not an easy process but her extreme dedication and wisdom paved the way to her success and an ultimate positive outcome. It’s been wonderful to watch Melania trust Scout and Finn and truly understand each of their unique inherent traits, their needs and concerns.”

Scout and Finn’s owners Melania and Brian have seen Scout and Finn come full circle — together initially as friends, apart for a brief period and now together again with rules and adjustments. “From the beginning, Dr. Borns-Weil told me I wouldn’t have to rehome Finn; she knew they genuinely liked each other. Tufts has truly helped me to understand my dogs, their breeds and what they are trying to tell me. I am so grateful for family veterinarian, Dr. Hexter for referring me to Tufts and I tell anyone that will listen about what Tufts has done for Scout and Finn,” says Melania.