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Dog in a box: Battle boredom with comfortable quiet time


Help dogs (and their owners!) survive confinement during treatment for heartworm disease.

While a heartworm diagnosis is tough news for dog owners, dogs can be safely and successfully treated. The American Heartworm Society's 2014 Current Canine Guidelines for the Prevention, Diagnosis, and Management of Heartworm (Dirfilaria immitis) Infection in Dogs treatment protocol calls for, in most dogs, preadulticide treatment with a heartworm preventive (macrocyclic lactones) and doxycycline, as well as three injections of melarsomine to kill the adult worms that threaten the infected dog's life and long-term health.

Minimizing side effects of treatment, however, is heavily dependent on keeping the dog quiet throughout the treatment period and six to eight weeks beyond the last melarsomine injection. Why? When adult heartworms die, pieces of the decomposing worm bodies can block blood vessels in the lungs, causing potentially fatal pulmonary emboli. If exercise or excitement cause the treated dog's heart rate to rise, pieces of decomposing worms can be forced into the tiny blood vessels of the lungs, causing further complications. The more pronounced the clinical signs of heartworm disease are, the more restricted any activity or excitement need to be.

While your veterinarian oversees the administration of medications for heartworm treatment, it's up to the pet owner to ensure their dog's exercise and activity are strictly restricted. This can be challenging, especially if the dog is high-energy and accustomed to lots of exercise and family interaction.

Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, recommends using the term rest time for recovery rather than cage rest to help remind the owners that this really is similar to recovery from a surgery and to help get them on board with this sometimes arduous confinement task.

Offer these tips to help pet owners battle their dog's boredom and stay bonded with the owner during the prescribed treatment period. 

Teach the dog to “Settle and Relax” 

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The goal is to create an environment that facilitates rest time for recovery. Dr. Horowitz recommends this method to owners to teach their dog to be calm and relaxed in a set location or space. The goal: get the pet to associate a word and place in the home with having a calm, relaxed posture. This can happen in the dog's rest time for recovery location.

• Have the dog lie on a soft rug or bed. Use soft petting, massage and a cue word to let the dog know to be calm and quiet.

• As the dog begins to relax, reward him with food and praise.

• Continue to calm him until his facial expression is quiet and his breathing is soft.

• Consider playing music created just for dogs to help set the mood.

Train the brain.

Although the dog's movement is restricted, his mind is not. New tricks and games that keep a dog's brain busy and body rested are great for eliminating boredom. Dr. Horwitz recommends teaching dogs to “shake” first with one hand and then another. He can also be taught a “chin rest” pose or to touch his owner's hand with his nose on command. Clicker training can also be employed to train the dog to follow quiet commands when he's in his crate.

Make mealtime last.

For most dogs, eating is a fast business. Using a food or puzzle toy to slow consumption and provide play can keep dogs quietly engaged and content for hours. However, Dr. Horwitz cautions against using any toy that requires full body movement to get food.



Let him chew. 

Bored dogs can be destructive to themselves or their environment. Channel the dog's natural desire to chew with safe, long-lasting chew toys he can enjoy while in his crate.

Show him unrestricted love.

Owners can replace activity with affection, and keep their dog close by when doing quiet activities like reading or watching TV. Use outdoor bathroom breaks as a time to bring the dog to a new location near family. Dr. Horwitz notes that it may be best to restrict visitors while the dog is in treatment and to keep his crate away from windows-especially if he's prone to barking at passersby.

Avoid the outdoors.

Keeping dogs indoors or in a kennel at most times can help avoid unexpected bursts of activity. Keep him on a leash during bathroom breaks so distractions don't send him running.

Check out Dr. Horwitz's presentation “Dog in a box but not bored” for more and download a pet owner fact sheet.

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