Lice in Dogs and Cats

Lice are an uncommon parasite in dogs and cats in the U.S. Lice infestations can occur in animals in any environment, but they’re more common in animals that live in crowded or filthy conditions, in animals that aren’t observed as closely or often, etc. (Frequent, close examination of the animal’s skin and hair helps prevent one louse from having the opportunity to turn into an infestation.) Lice are host-specific. Human lice affect only humans. Dog lice affect dogs. Cat lice affect cats. Rarely, a dog or cat louse might end up on a human, but it doesn’t stay there. Children who have head lice get them from other humans.

Lice are flat, six-legged, wingless insects that can be seen with the naked eye. (This makes diagnosis easy.) Lice don’t move much or quickly. They spend their entire 21-day life cycle on a pet. They lay eggs, which are called nits, on the shafts of the hair. Nits are easy to see. They attach only to the pet’s hair and look like white flakes on the hair shaft.

There are two kinds of dog lice. One (Trichodectes canis) chews skin; the other (Linognathus setosus) sucks blood. The blood suckers cause more skin irritation than the chewers do because they break the skin.

There is one kind of louse (Felicola subrostrata, a chewing louse) that affects cats.

What you will notice with either type of louse is severe itching and a scruffy dry coat with bald patches. Lice generally congregate around the ears, neck, shoulders, and anus, so those areas will be most affected.

Because puppies have a small volume of blood compared to adults, they are more likely to become anemic as a result of the blood sucking lice. In severe cases, a dog could lose about one-fourth of his blood to lice within a few months, and end up anemic or in shock.


Both types of dog and cat lice are transmitted by direct contact with an infested dog or cat, or by contact with nit-contaminated grooming equipment, bedding, etc.


Your veterinarian can diagnose a louse infestation just by looking at your pet.

Treatment and Prevention

Lice are usually fairly easy to eliminate because they haven’t yet built up any resistance to insecticides.

There are several treatment options your veterinarian may employ. The veterinary clinic employees may bathe your dog with an insecticide shampoo to quickly eliminate the adult lice, and then use an insecticide spray or powder to continue the job. They may use fipronil (Frontline) or Selamectin (Revolution). Whether insecticide powder, fipronil, or selamectin are used, treatment will be repeated to kill lice that have hatched from the eggs. Commonly, the pet will be treated every two weeks for three to four treatments. However, in some cases, treatments may be needed every seven days for two to four treatments. If your pet continues to have louse infestations after that point, your veterinarian may switch to another treatment, and may suggest environmental control.

If the coat is matted, the matted areas (or even the entire pet) should be shaved.

Clean grooming equipment after every animal. Places that have larger turnover, such as rescues, shelters, and boarding kennels, may encounter more animals that carry lice so sanitation is particularly important.

Dispose of or wash bedding.

Although it’s not usually necessary to use a fogger for environmental control of lice, it might be needed in a severe infestation.


Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital


Dental Care and What to Expect if your Pet Needs it

Root canals, dental x-rays, braces, crowns, caps, implants, and periodontal surgery for pets? You must be kidding! Not at all. Dental procedures are performed daily in veterinary practices. How does a loving pet owner know if dental care is needed, and where can a pet owner go for advanced dental care?

Examination is the key to diagnosis and helps determine the type of treatment needed. The veterinarian needs to know what to look for. A pet owner can help by examining their pet’s teeth and mouth at least monthly. First smell your pet’s breath. If you sense a disagreeable odor, your pet may have gum disease. Periodontal disease is the most common ailment of small animals and is treatable.  Gum problems begin when bacteria accumulates at the gumline around the tooth. Unless brushed away daily, these bacteria can destroy tooth-supporting bone, cause bleeding, and tooth loss. Usually the first sign is bad breath.

If your pet is experiencing frequent pain or refusing to eat, has changed chewing habits, or has moderate to severe mouth odor, then an oral problem is probably the cause.

When examining your pet’s mouth, look for tooth chips or fractures on the tooth’s surface. Contrary to their popularity, chewing on cow hooves, antlers, rocks, bones, or other hard materials may break teeth. If the fracture is deep you may notice a red, brown, or black spot in the middle of the tooth’s surface. The spot is the tooth’s nerve and inside vessels, which when exposed to the oral cavity may eventually lead to a tooth painful abscess.

When your home exam reveals dental problems or if you are still uncertain, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. The veterinary oral examination will begin with a complete visual examination of the face, mouth and each tooth. Frequently pet’s mouths have several different problems that need care. The veterinarian will usually use a record chart similar to the one used by human dentists to identify and document such dental problems.

A more detailed exam then follows. Unfortunately cats and dogs cannot point to dental abnormalities with their paws, and to determine the proper treatment plan, other tests are usually necessary. General anesthesia is essential for a proper tooth-by-tooth evaluation. There is a wide array of safe and effective anesthetics and monitoring equipment that make anesthesia as safe as possible.

Expect your veterinarian or dental assistant to use a periodontal probe to measure gum pocket depths around each tooth. One or two millimeters of probe depth normally exists around each tooth. When dogs or cats are affected by periodontal disease, the gums bleed and probing depths may increase, which require additional care to save the teeth. Unfortunately by the time some pets come in for dental care, it is too late to save all of the teeth. Your veterinarian may also take x-rays of the entire mouth. X-rays show the inside of the tooth and the root that lies below the gum line. Many decisions are based on x-ray findings. Usually the veterinarian will visually examine the mouth, note any problems, take x-rays under anesthesia, and then tell you what needs to happen to treat the problems found if any.

Plaque removal and preventative care with periodic check ups should help hinder the loss of additional teeth. Plaque and tartar preventative products can be found at the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

If your dog or cat needs advanced dental care, where can you go? Many veterinarians have taken post-graduate dental training in order to better serve their patients. Some veterinarians have passed advanced written and practical examinations given by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which certifies them as dental specialists. If you need one, your veterinarian can refer you.

Dogs and cats do not have to suffer the pain and discomfort of untreated broken or loose teeth or infected gums. With the help of thorough examinations, x-rays, dental care, and daily plaque prevention, your pet can keep his teeth in his mouth where they should be.


Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital

Secondhand Smoke Around Dogs and Cats

We all know the hazards of smoking tobacco in humans and that even secondhand smoke has been shown to cause illness and death in non-smokers.  Now, Veterinary News Network indicates there is a concern that secondhand smoke may cause severe disease in our dogs and cats.  Cigarette smoke contains many harmful and carcinogenic ingredients and these chemicals are found in high concentrations on the furniture and carpeting in the homes of smokers.  Pets will get these toxins on their fur and ingest them when licking their fur.  Also, pet’s noses are very close to the ground and they will breathe in a lot of toxins that have settled on the carpet.  Exposure to these toxins has been shown to lead to an increase in the number of dogs with nasal cancer who live with smokers in the home, and it may increase the risk of lung cancer as well.

Cats are especially susceptible to the toxins of secondhand smoke as they are very close to the floor and commonly groom themselves and ingest smoking toxins.  It has been shown that cats who live in homes with smokers are two to three times more susceptible to a malignant cancer called lymphoma than cats who live in a home without smokers.

Another serious cancer with links to secondhand smoke is one of the mouth called squamous cell carcinoma, which can occur in dogs and cats.

So obviously secondhand smoke causes a major problem in our pets and the best option is to quit smoking.  Of course this is difficult and if you are unable to quit and have pets and children in the house, at least smoke outside.  Don’t smoke in the car if your pets and kids are with you as rolling down the window does very little to decrease secondhand smoke.
If you note any masses in your pet’s mouth, or coughing, contact your veterinarian.


Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital

Nosebleed: First Aid

A nosebleed (epistaxis) is bleeding or hemorrhage from the nose. It is important to stop a nose bleed, but is equally important to get to the bottom of why it’s happening.   Stopping nose bleeds in pets is often the easy part, but finding out why a nose is bleeding may sometimes be more challenging.

Your pet should be kept calm, as excitement may cause an increase in blood pressure that will make control of the nosebleed difficult.  As a pet owner, you too must remain composed; if your pet sees you getting frantic, he will become further distressed.

Place an ice-pack over the bridge and on the side of the nose to help to control bleeding as that constricts the blood vessels in this area.  If possible, look in the mouth to see if there is blood or if the gums are pale.  In either case, your pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately.

What to Do

  • Notice if the blood is coming from one nostril (note which one) or both.
  • If your pet is sneezing, note how often.
  • Attempt to keep your pet calm. Encourage your pet to lie down and relax.
  • Place an ice pack (covered by one or more layers of clean cloth) or cold compress on the bridge and side of the nose.
  • If the nose is bleeding profusely and/or the bleeding lasts more than 5 minutes, seek veterinary attention.

What NOT to Do

  • Do not put anything up the nose, as this will likely cause your pet to sneeze. Sneezing will dislodge a clot (if one has formed), and the bleeding will resume.

A bloody nose in a cat or dog may be associated with foreign bodies (foxtail awns are common), polyps, infections, poisoning, bleeding disorders, or even cancer. It is a sign whose significance should not be underestimated, and veterinary medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.


Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital

Itch Relief for Dogs and Cats

The Itching Pet: Alternatives to Steroids

Excessive licking, chewing, and scratching can make a pet’s life miserable for month after month, even year after year. No one likes to see their pet uncomfortable; furthermore, the constant licking, chewing, and scratching can keep a pet owner up at night from the noise. Clearly, uncontrolled itching is a problem to solve before it gets out of hand.

For reliable rapid relief of itch and inflammation, nothing matches the corticosteroid hormones such as cortisone, hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, methoprednisolone, prednisonedexamethasone, and others. There are some animals that seem unable to live with any degree of comfort without these medications. Unfortunately, these hormones have widespread and potentially dangerous actions throughout the body when they are used for inappropriately long periods and it is generally desirable to minimize the use of these hormones when possible to do so. Ideally, corticosteroids are used for a few really tough itch weeks and other forms of itch management are used for general itch maintenance.

Of course, this is easier to write about than to actually do. When your pet is scratching and chewing raw spots on his skin, practical advice is what is called for. The following list includes assorted non-steroidal methods for relieving itch and reducing the amount of corticosteroid hormones needed.

Infection Control

When an animal becomes suddenly itchier, there is a tendency to assume there must have been a new or sudden allergen exposure. While this is possible, most of the time what has actually happened is an infection has taken root in the skin as a result of scratching and chewing. In many cases, controlling the infection will bring the pet back into its comfort zone and many allergic animals are managed by simply having their infections treated when they flare up.

The usual infections involve the Staphylococci bacteria and/or the Malassezia fungi that normally live on the skin surface. When the environment of the skin changes (allergic skin loses water and may have more oils), these organisms multiply and can gain access to deeper layers of the skin through abrasions caused by scratching and chewing. Soon there is a rash and/or an odor. Antibiotics generally handle these infections, though sometimes culture is necessary to determine what antibiotic is needed. Expect an itchy animal to have some skin samples reviewed under the microscope to check for infection. Some itchy pets need continuous management for these infections while, as mentioned, others only need periodic treatment.

Oral Medications

Antihistamine and Antihistamine Trials
Histamine, a biological chemical, is the chief mediator of inflammation in humans, hence the proliferation of antihistamines available for people both by prescription and over the counter.  Histamine is not the major mediator of inflammation in dogs, thus these medications are not as reliable for dogs as they are for us.

The International Committee on Allergic Diseases in Animals writes guidelines to manage atopic dermatitis, and they divide their recommendations in terms of two situations: itchy acute flare ups and more chronic daily levels of itching. They found little benefit from antihistamines for acute flare ups except for mild cases and consider that the drowsiness side effect may be responsible for any reduction in scratching. For more chronic cases, daily use of antihistamines fared better with the idea that regular use might be preventing flare ups even if antihistamines were not so good at actually treating flare ups. Responses were variable between individuals.

While the chance of any one antihistamine being effective is small (about 15% on the average), trying several antihistamines sequentially often leads to finding one that works. It is important to note that many antihistamines have a drowsiness side effect. Antihistamines commonly used for such trials include:

Fatty Acid Supplementation
The discovery of anti-inflammatory properties of evening primrose oils and fish oils in humans has led to similar products on the market for our pets. These products are not analogous to the oil supplements that are recommended to make a pet’s coat shiny; instead these are true anti-inflammatory medications capable of relieving joint pain, cramps, and itchy skin.

They are not at all useful for acute flare ups of itching as they require weeks to build up in the body in order to exert an effect. Instead, they are used for long-term management in making the skin less able to generate inflammatory mediators. (Essentially, they make the skin less reactive to allergens).
The supplement alone is mild in its ability to prevent itch but it can be used to boost the effects of other anti-itch medications.

Cyclosporine (Atopica) 
Cyclosporine is an immuno-modulating drug originally developed for use in organ transplant patients but also useful in other immune-mediated diseases.  Since allergy is an immune-mediated condition, cyclosporine was investigated as an alternative to corticosteroids and found effective for most patients.  A good four to eight weeks are needed to see a good response to cyclosporine which makes it fairly useless for acute flare ups. Typically it is combined with a medication that yields rapid itch relief so that by the time the itch is controlled, the cyclosporine can take over. Cyclosporine tastes bitter and commonly generates a mild upset stomach when it is first used. Cyclosporine is available for both dogs and cats.

Oclacitinib (Apoquel®)
This relatively new medication represents a new approach to itch relief. It is called a JANUS- kinase inhibitor and it exerts its effects in the skin just as rapidly as do corticosteroids. This makes it helpful for both acute flare ups as well as long-term management of itching. It is important to realize that its effects seem to be only on the sensation of itch and, unlike steroids, there is no anti-inflammatory result. This means that the patient’s itch can be controlled in the face of even advanced skin infection. This might sound like a good thing but there is concern that if the patient is not itching, the pet owner may not be motivated to perform the therapy needed to control the actual skin disease. At this time, oclacitinib is a new drug with a side effect spectrum that is still being defined so most veterinary dermatologists recommend selecting cases for this medicine judiciously. Oclacitinib is for dogs only.

This medication works by making red blood cells more flexible so as to allow better oxygen delivery deeper into tissues. This medication turns out to have many disease applications and has been used in the management of chronic itch (but not useful for acute flare ups). It is best used in conjunction with omega 3 fatty acids.

Long-Acting Injectables

Lokivetmab (Cytopoint®, Canine Atopic Dermatitis Immunotherapeutic, Cadi)
Another new product is lokivetmab, a monoclonal antibody genetically engineered to target the canine version of a biochemical called interleukin 31. Interleukin 31 is a type of cytokine and is an important mediator of itching so when it is inactivated by antibodies, relief from itch is rapidly achieved (usually beginning 8 hours after injection and readily apparent after 1 day). For over 80% of dogs receiving the lokivetmab injection, results are sustained for at least 4 weeks. That said, it does not work for every dog and while some dogs experience more than 4 weeks of relief, others experience less.

Lokivetmab has no effect on pre-existing infections other than to make them not be itchy. It represents symptomatic relief only but for many itchy dogs, stopping the itch/scratch cycle is needed to curtail the vicious cycle and stop the perpetuation of skin infection.

Topical Therapies

We now know that topical steroids (cortisone crèmes, sprays, and related products) are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, but the systemic hormonal side effects achieved with topical use do seem blunted and probably only of significance for very small dogs. This makes topical steroid use a much safer long-term approach relative to oral or injectable steroids. Of course, the entire animal cannot be enrobed in topical steroid cremes but for small irritated areas (hot spots), topicals can provide excellent relief without the systemic effects of hormones. They are best used for acute flare ups.

Shampoo Therapy

There are many benefits to shampoo therapy: luke warm water is inherently soothing, crusts and dandruff that could be inherently itchy can be removed, pollens and other allergenic substances can be washed away, the skin can be either moisturized or stripped of excess oil depending on what is needed and, of course, medications can be delivered in the shampoo lather itself. Skin can be moisturized with shampoo therapy, which reduces the sensitivity of the skin to itch stimulation. (The itch threshold is raised through skin hydration). As technology advances, new products are introduced and ways to prolong their effects are developed. Here are some general choices that might be helpful:

  • Colloidal Oatmeal Shampoos and Creme Rinse – At first, these products were only available for human use, as powdered soaks to pour into bath water.  Once their value in itch management was determined, their use quickly spread to the veterinary field.  Colloidal oatmeal has an unknown method of action but generally yields one to three days of relief. The creme rinses are meant to yield longer acting relief. They are available plain or combined with local anesthetic formulas (usually pramoxine) to soothe itch.
  • Phytosphingosine-Containing Products Recently a French company called Sogeval® has brought its Douxo® line of products to the U.S. These products contain phytosphingosine, a natural skin biochemical important in maintaining the skin’s natural barrier to infection and inflammatory substances. Phytosphingosine is moisturizing, anti-inflammatory (both directly and by fortifying the skin’s barrier function), and has antimicrobial properties (preventing and treating bacterial as well as yeast infections). The Douxo® line is available in shampoos, sprays, and a top spot formula. Generics are also on the market as well.
  • Lime Sulfur Dip – This product kills parasites, ringworm fungi, and bacteria.  It also dries moist, weeping skin lesions and helps dissolve surface skin proteins that are involved in itchiness. Many veterinary dermatologists recommend it regularly to control itch; however, it has several disadvantages. IT SMELLS TERRIBLE.  The sulfur ingredient smells like rotten eggs and this is how your bathroom or bathing area will smell during the pet’s bath. This dip can stain jewelry and clothing and will temporarily turn white fur yellow.
  • Other Shampoos – Itchy skin can be the result of skin infection, excess oil accumulation, yeast infection, even parasitic infection. The list goes on. The shampoo products listed above can be used against any itchy skin disease but it should be noted that there are many other shampoo and creme rinse products that can be used against the specific conditions.


Respect the Steroid

Severe itching amounts to a reduction in life quality. It is important not to develop the mindset that corticosteroids should be avoided at all costs. This would not be fair to the itching pet. Steroids are valuable tools in the relief of pain and suffering and have an important place the therapy of the itchy pet.

The goal is not to avoid steroid use if possible but to avoid long term dependence on steroids if possible.  Despite all of the above management tricks, some pets will still require long term steroid use to achieve any reasonable comfort. There are monitoring protocols in place for such cases.  It should also not be forgotten that underlying allergies and recurring skin infections can be addressed specifically and that as these conditions are managed, the itch is also managed.

Steroid hormones have many side effects and, as helpful as they are for allergic skin diseases, it is best to reserve them for only the most itchy episodes.

A Few Words about Flea Control

We receive email on a daily basis from people with itchy pets who are convinced that fleas are not involved in the problem. When we examine such pets, we find fleas actually are contributing to the itching in at least 50% of cases and the owner is invariably surprised to see the live fleas when they find them. Since any itchy skin disease is made worse by fleas, good flea control is imperative and it is important not to assume that not seeing fleas means they are not there. For example, if your pet’s itchiest areas include the lower back, this is a strong indicator that he has fleas whether you see them or not. Often, becoming diligent with flea control is the least expensive and least labor-intensive way to control a pet’s itch symptoms.


Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital

Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats

Members of the Lilium spp. are considered to be highly toxic to cats. While the poisonous component has not yet been identified, it is clear that with even ingestions of very small amounts of the plant, severe kidney damage could result.

Ingestion of Cannabis sativa by companion animals can result in depression of the central nervous system and incoordination, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, increased heart rate, and even seizures and coma.

Sago Palm
All parts of Cycas Revoluta are poisonous, but the seeds or “nuts” contain the largest amount of toxin. The ingestion of just one or two seeds can result in very serious effects, which include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures and liver failure.

Tulip/Narcissus bulbs
The bulb portions of Tulipa/Narcissus spp. contain toxins that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, depression of the central nervous system, convulsions and cardiac abnormalities.

Members of the Rhododenron spp. contain substances known as grayantoxins, which can produce vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness and depression of the central nervous system in animals. Severe azalea poisoning could ultimately lead to coma and death from cardiovascular collapse.

All parts of Nerium oleander are considered to be toxic, as they contain cardiac glycosides that have the potential to cause serious effects—including gastrointestinal tract irritation, abnormal heart function, hypothermia and even death.

Castor Bean
The poisonous principle in Ricinus communis is ricin, a highly toxic protein that can produce severe abdominal pain, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, weakness and loss of appetite. Severe cases of poisoning can result in dehydration, muscle twitching, tremors, seizures, coma and death.

Cyclamen species contain cyclamine, but the highest concentration of this toxic component is typically located in the root portion of the plant. If consumed, Cylamen can produce significant gastrointestinal irritation, including intense vomiting. Fatalities have also been reported in some cases.

This plant contains components that can produce gastrointestinal irritation, as well as those that are toxic to the heart, and can seriously affect cardiac rhythm and rate.

Taxus spp. contains a toxic component known as taxine, which causes central nervous system effects such as trembling, incoordination, and difficulty breathing. It can also cause significant gastrointestinal irritation and cardiac failure, which can result in death.

Common garden plants popular around Easter, Amaryllis species contain toxins that can cause vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hypersalivation, anorexia and tremors.

Autumn Crocus
Ingestion of Colchicum autumnale by pets can result in oral irritation, bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, multi-organ damage and bone marrow suppression.

These popular blooms are part of the Compositae family, which contain pyrethrins that may produce gastrointestinal upset, including drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, if eaten. In certain cases depression and loss of coordination may also develop if enough of any part of the plant is consumed.

English Ivy
Also called branching ivy, glacier ivy, needlepoint ivy, sweetheart ivy and California ivy, Hedera helix contains triterpenoid saponins that, should pets ingest, can result in vomiting, abdominal pain, hypersalivation and diarrhea.

Peace Lily (AKA Mauna Loa Peace Lily)
Spathiphyllum contains calcium oxalate crystals that can cause oral irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing and intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue in pets who ingest.

Pothos (both Scindapsus and Epipremnum) belongs to the Araceae family. If chewed or ingested, this popular household plant can cause significant mechanical irritation and swelling of the oral tissues and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

Schefflera and Brassaia actinophylla contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause oral irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing and intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue in pets who ingest.



Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital

Adding a Second Dog to Your Family

By Kathy Diamond Davis

With one dog in the family, why not add another one? What are the pros and cons? When is the right time? Will it change the things you love about the dog you have now?

It’s possible to re-home a dog if things don’t work out, but this can be hard on the family’s emotions and even harder on the dog. The experience can also damage your first dog. It’s worth spending plenty of time to make your best decisions.

Choosing the Dog

Leaving aside for a moment all the changes a second dog would bring to you family’s life, let’s assume you’ve been through all that and it seems right to you to add a dog at this time or some planned time in the future. Of course you need to look at all the normal things about choosing any dog. Those things include: size; grooming required; activity level; disposition for interactions with the people and animals in your environment; genetic tendencies to make noise (and your facilities for keeping noise from disturbing neighbors); matching the dog’s training needs to your training ability; and other factors.

Before settling on a breed, think about the gender of the dog. For the happiest dogs and the safest household, opposite sex dogs almost always do best together. Many same-sex combinations of dogs will fight, sometimes to the death. Those who work out a dominance order may not fare much better. The dominant of two males will become more dominant (toward other dogs, not humans) than he would have otherwise been, and the sometimes submissive one will be pushed into more submission than would have otherwise been normal for him. Because they live with humans rather than in the wild, they are stuck in this situation. It can be stressful.

Two females are more likely to fight to the death than males are. It’s as if neither is willing to admit the other girl is “better than” she is, so they cannot come to a stable pack order. The males make that decision more readily in some cases, but the one who has to be submissive can take it more to heart than the female.

Living with another dog of the same sex can impair a dog’s working ability, which is why many dog professionals (breeders, trainers, handlers) don’t keep their dogs together except perhaps for short periods at a time. This is probably not the lifestyle you have in mind.

A special note about keeping same sex dogs comes from terrier experts. They recommend that you not try to keep a terrier with another dog of the same sex, whether the other dog is a terrier or not. This goes for some other breeds, too, often breeds harking back to terriers in their breed origins. Some terrier mixes inherit the trait, and some do not.

This is about genetics and once it is triggered by life experience, you may find yourself with a totally different dog than you thought you had. In normal circumstances, this aggression toward other dogs would not extend to humans. It may or may not extend to dogs encountered in a dog park. Typically it is triggered by fighting experiences as the dog matures. You can decide just to stop taking the dog-aggressive dog to dog parks.

But when the problem is aggression toward another dog in the home, then what? Same-sex dogs who live together have to determine a pack order, and there will be little spats to do this.

Normally a dog will stop attacking when the other dog yields. But terriers have a quality called gameness. This instinct makes it appear they enjoy fighting. Whether that’s what the dog is actually feeling or not, it means the terrier doesn’t accept the other dog’s surrender, and the game dog keeps attacking. Terriers make fine pets. You just want to avoid keeping two terriers of the same sex together.

Be sure to check out gender differences in any breed or combination of breeds you are considering. For example, in the toy breeds, males can be difficult to housetrain, or in some cases not really possible to ever fully housetrain. In breeds with strong guarding instincts, a male may not be a suitable dog for a novice owner to manage, but a female is more feasible. In some other breeds, the opposite is true. Talk to experts in any breed you’re thinking about (including all breeds involved in a mix), before making your final choice.

If a dog of the opposite gender but same breed as your dog would pose some challenges you don’t want to deal with, keep an open mind to choosing a different breed for your second dog. A larger male with a smaller female can work particularly well. Males are inhibited against aggression toward females, and larger dogs are inhibited against aggression toward smaller ones.

You do not want a size difference so great that one dog could accidentally injure the other just by accidentally running into her or stepping on her, though.


Getting two dogs at once is a popular idea, but seldom a good one. It takes a dog more time than you would think to become fully integrated into the family. If you bring in another dog before that time, some things can be lost, including best bonding between the dogs and human beings. A safe interval from this point of view is to wait at least two years between bringing a new dog into your family.

This does not apply to professionals or serious hobbyists whose dogs do not actually live together. With strategic separations, the dogs don’t form a pack. This allows dogs to live at one location in combinations and numbers that would be too stressful if they had to slug it out for pack order.

You’ll also want to think about what it’s like to deal with two dogs who are old and terminally ill at the same time. This can easily happen if your dogs are close to the same age, and it’s a financial, energy, health, and emotional burden on the humans.

If you want to participate in a certain activity with a dog—a dog sport, regular walks or jogs, search and rescue, therapy dog visits, or something else that requires the dog to be physically sound—having dogs who are old at the same time forces you to either stop the activity until one of them goes to a heavenly reward, or add more dogs than you had in mind. That can take away from both the bonding and training to the new dog and the loving care you want to lavish on the precious old one as the end approaches.

Spacing the dog’s ages as much as you can has advantages both for you and for them. Five years is a nice age difference for a two- or three-dog home.

People often get a second dog to keep the first one company. You can provide that company yourself. Besides spending time with your dog, you can arrange play-dates with compatible other dogs who also don’t have housemate dogs. A good place to meet prospective playmates and their owners is a training class. Before getting a second dog, you need to observe your dog with other dogs, and you need to train together to the point of off-leash control. You need to know if this dog even WANTS a housemate. Some dogs emphatically do not.

Before adding a second dog, work through or figure out how to reliably manage any behavior problems your first dog has. This includes separation anxiety, inappropriate barking, aggression at windows or fences, killing cats, housetraining accidents, and other such problems. All of these behaviors easily spread from dog to dog when they live together. Two dogs doing any of these things can be more than twice as difficult to live with as one doing it.

If you want to pursue an activity with your first dog, get well down the road into that training and participation before adding a second dog. Otherwise, it’s highly likely your first dog’s training will suffer and the dog will never get to live up to his or her potential. The second one won’t do as well as possible either. What you learn with your first dog will profoundly benefit your work with the next one. All of you will be much better off if you wait until the right time to bring in another dog.

The Introduction

You might do okay just walking in the door with the new dog, especially if the new one is female and your first one is male. A rough beginning is so upsetting to everyone, though, that it’s better to take precautions.

If the new dog is an adult, ask about how this dog gets along with other dogs of the same gender. You need to know the same about your dog, so look for safe opportunities to check that out before you decide whether to adopt a second dog. If either dog is a puppy, find out how the other dog reacts to puppies. Puppies, adolescents, and adult dogs are all different to a dog.

A “normal” dog—hard to define, considering all the exaggerated genetic behavior human breeding has created in dogs—is inhibited against harming puppies. But some dogs are not “normal” in this way and will even kill puppies.

More commonly, an adult dog may avoid the puppy for a few days. In the wild if a puppy yelped, mama would come running. If another adult dog was with the puppy when she arrived, mama would beat that dog up and ask questions later. Adult dogs sometimes avoid a puppy until they are pretty sure no mama is going to come running. At that point, a stable adult will begin age-appropriate interaction with the puppy.

The familiar puppy smell is a huge sign to the other dog of the young one’s age. It wears off before adolescence, and the adult dog begins holding the younger one to a higher standard of dog-to-dog behavior. As the adolescent dog matures, same-sex dogs may start fighting.

Before the younger one of opposite-sex dogs is able to mate, it’s best to have both dogs altered if you plan to keep them together. Dogs tie when they mate, with potential injuries. To avoid this, they BOTH need to be altered, not just one of them. That’s only one of the behavior and health problems that spay/neuter takes care of. When intact, they have to be separated at times. When spayed/neutered, they only need their separate times with the humans and otherwise can live together.

An adult female dog having a male come into her home may feel duty bound to assert her rights as top female from the start. He has to show her that he will take “no” for an answer from her. When you take a female into a male’s house, he tends to say something in doggy language that is something like “Hey, baby, where have you been all my life?”

This is why when transporting one dog to another dog’s home for breeding, it’s much preferred to take the girl to the boy’s house. If you took him to her house, she might say “Just who do you think you are, Mister?”

So if your first dog is female and you’re bringing in a male, help the poor boy put on his best first impression for her. This also goes for introducing two dogs of the same gender.

Try to introduce them on neutral territory. Keep them separated until they show friendly body language to each other. A see-through fence is good for this, since having a dog on leash disrupts the dog’s body language and can actually cause a fight. If you must use leashes, keep them loose, not tight. Ideally you have adequately trained your first dog to be able to control him or her with your voice, off-leash in an enclosed area. Then you may only need to leash the newbie. Having a skilled dog handler help you with the introduction is IDEAL.

If for some reason you must do this indoors, one way to start would be with two crates. First you could crate both dogs where they can see but not touch each other. When they are both clearly calm, you could let one of them out. When they are calm that way, put that one back in the crate and let the other one out. This way they get to safely observe each other’s body language before they have to interact with each other.

When they’re both calm, you would let them get together, starting as calmly as you can possibly arrange, and in the largest space available that is safe. The more they can move around, the better they can use their body language to get to know each other. Try it yourself: notice how much more of your dog’s body language you can observe from 30 feet than from 5 feet.

When both dogs are healthy and vigorous, they may run together and bump each other to figure out who is faster, who is stronger, etc. A female may especially value a male who is as strong or is stronger than she is, because she’ll feel he can protect her. Don’t make a big deal out of any humping during introductions, but gently interrupt it before it becomes oppressive to the dog being humped. If the male tries to hump the female and she snarks at him, he should stop and not fight back. If he doesn’t respect her right to say “no,” they may not be compatible as family members.

For the first couple of weeks, the dogs are likely to play a lot as their way of getting to know one another. This will likely moderate somewhat over time, but if one dog seems to be unhappy about the play, interrupt it without punishing either dog. Dogs are different in how they play. Some can play in the house without damaging things while others cannot.

With a fenced yard and two playful dogs, much of your work of keeping your dogs exercised may be done. This exercise must have your supervision, though, and at various times they cannot be allowed to play for health reasons. When you have a dog sick, hurt, or who has just had surgery, ask your veterinarian about play activity and follow instructions. This is important for the dog’s physical healing as well as the relationship between the two dogs.

Managing Two Dogs

Several things change in how you manage your first dog when a new dog joins the family. You might get away with not taking these precautions, but it’s far wiser not to take the risk.

1. Separate your dogs for feeding. If your first dog is used to having food out all the time, that needs to change now—preferably before adding the new dog. Feed at least two meals a day. Three or four smaller meals are fine. You can make training opportunities of these times, and frequent meals can help your dogs get along better—if they are separated and never feel they have to compete over food.

2. When you give treats to one dog in front of the other one, give the other dog treats, too, but do it in such a way that they don’t compete over the food. This approach helps each dog support the other’s learning rather than resenting the attention paid to the other dog. Once in awhile, though, it can aid learning to give treats to one dog and withhold them from another. For example, let’s say your dogs are outdoors and you call them back into the house. Fuzzy comes, but Fuzzette doesn’t. If you close the door and let Fuzzette look longingly through the glass to see Fuzzy getting treats while she doesn’t get any, she will begin to get the idea that it pays to come in when called.

3. When a dog does something well, let the other dog see that. When a dog tends to misbehave in a particular situation or be scared of it, try to separate the dogs for that situation until the one who handles it well is stable enough to influence the other one to do better. Sometimes that never comes, but taking some care about this tends to pay off at least part of the time.

4. Don’t leave chews or highly desirable toys out for dogs to “share.” That’s asking for a fight, and no chew item is worth the risk. Give your dogs these things when they are separated. This means that your dog who used to be an only dog will give up being able to have free access to these items. Keep that in mind in your decision about whether or not to add a dog.

5. Use a crate for a dog who needs that support, and give the other dog whatever freedom that dog can handle. If you give each dog proper individual attention, this difference will not be a problem. Never put two dogs in the same crate, no matter how well they get along.

6. Don’t give a dog bed privileges until the dog is ready. One guideline to keep in mind is around a year of age, when temperament is fairly evident. Don’t take bed privileges away from one dog because the other one can’t handle those privileges. Dogs can deal with that difference. And it is absolutely fine to never allow your dogs on your bed if that is your preference. It is what most professionals recommend, even though most of us don’t listen!

7. Each dog needs frequent individual attention from you—daily at home, and regularly away from the house without the other dog. This is important to their emotional health as well as your relationship with each of them.

Pros and Cons of Adding a Second Dog

Adding a second dog may more than double your dog expenses and work. When one dog develops something contagious, the other may catch it, too. They can hurt each other in play or fights. Separating them for medical or behavioral situations can be quite a job. If you have to walk them to potty them due to not having your own yard, they may need separate walks.

Travel is much easier with one dog than with two. There are many places you could take one dog, but can’t take two. Boarding is more expensive for two than for one. Taking a dog along on a trip tends to benefit the dog’s future behavior. Leaving a dog home when you go on a trip can cause behavior problems, including separation anxiety, crate stress, noise fears, and housetraining breakdowns. If you travel a lot and take your dog along, giving up the ability to do that would be a sad disadvantage.

In some situations, adding a second dog will aid confidence, if one of them is confident and has enough influence over the other dog to bring up that one’s confidence level. On the other hand, a nervous dog can seriously damage the confidence of a housemate dog.

Anxieties commonly spread from one dog to the other. Aggressive behavior and predatory behavior toward other animal species tend to be picked up by the other dog in the family, too.

Observing the dogs’ body language with each other is interesting. It can help you understand your dogs better, and it can help you with their training. You could do this through play dates with other people’s dogs instead, though.

One major reason to add a second dog is if losing your only dog would be too damaging to you. It is possible to lose both at the same time, but more usual to lose one first. Having another beloved dog in the home at this time can make a critical difference to emotionally vulnerable people.

Big Decision

Adding any dog is potentially a life-changing decision for the human and any dogs already in the home. Be sure to take your time. Don’t do it on impulse because a desirable dog has become available.

Carefully chosen and spaced dogs can enable you to do things that are enjoyable and healthy for you. It does make for a lot of work, though, often at extremely inconvenient times. The expenses can be quite daunting, too. Life in a good home with the right other dog can be nice for both dogs. But your dog can be happy as an only dog, and some dogs will not be happy sharing you.

Consider all the angles and gather all the information before deciding whether or not to add a second dog. It is a big change in daily life between having one dog and having two. With the resources of time, energy, finances and physical facilities; two dogs in the family can be a rewarding lifestyle. It does mean the dogs having to share you and lots of other resources, it does reduce the extreme closeness you can have with just one dog, and it may not fit with other things you want from life. Only you can decide.


Southern Hills Animal Hospital
3827 Hite St. SW
Roanoke, VA 24014-2377
Southern Hills Animal Hospital