Why do dogs bark?

Reggie is not a vocal dog. It’s a little weird; he doesn’t regularly bark, growl, or whine. I know I’ve discussed it in other posts- his lack of vocalizations make me overreactive in play situations when vocalizations are common because I’m not used to them.

He barks at the mailman. Couldn’t be more of a cliche but he gets nutty when the mailman comes to the door (just the mailman, no one else). So, why do dogs bark? Why are some dog barks more ferocious than others? Let’s see.

The Anatomy of the Bark
dog_mouth_editThe structure of the canine throat is similar to that of a human. According to The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare, the vocal chords- which are contained in the larynx- are more plastic than a human’s, and allow for greater vibrations and subtlety of sound. You probably can tell the difference between your dog’s “throw the ball!” bark and “there’s a stranger!” bark. These slight vibrational variances create an entire language.
The length of the larynx, and consequently vocal chords, make a sound impact too. A St. Bernard has a large, booming, deep bark. A Pug has a short, sharp, staccato bark. The vocal chords of the St. Bernard are longer and have a longer vibration time, whereas the Pug has very short vocal chords. Think of it like a dog with a long or big neck equals a big or deep bark, and small or short neck equals tiny or high pitched barks.

Types of Barks
You know your dog and can probably tell the difference between his or her barks. Dogs bark for attention, boredom or frustration, territoriality, playfulness, or health issues. A bored dog is like a bored kid- they can be destructive, annoying, and will get that energy out one way or another. My mailman issue is a common one and an issue of territoriality. I need to teach Reggie that the mailman is ok. When Reggie is outside and the mailman comes to the house he is fine (although the mailman is not fine, he is terrified). Reggie’s dad has done a very good job of fostering a good Reggie-mailman relationship.

Other Vocalizations
Dogs are ancestrally and genetically linked to wolves. However, only 3% of wolves’ vocalizations are barking. Wolves howl. Through the domestication process, barking became the main form of vocalization and howling less. There are also breed considerations- you may never train barking out of a Beagle or howling out of Basenji.
Scientists have recorded dog barks and growls and played them for dogs, and yes- they are communicating different things. One such experiment, as relayed in The Genius of Dogs, involved two dogs playing. Dog A and Dog B are both barking and growling. Dog A takes Dog B’s toy. Dog B growls but there is no incident and play continues. Scenario two is feeding. Dog A and Dog B are eating and Dog A tries to get Dog B’s food and Dog B growls. Dog A backs away. The growls in the two scenarios are clearly different and communicating different messages. The follow up of that experiment was that they recorded those growls and played them for different dogs at feeding time. With the “play” growl there was no reaction; with the “feeding” growl the other dog backed away!

I have a good handle on Reggie’s whines (seizure indicator), but I am still learning his growls and barks. He is not a talker, and while I am largely grateful for that, it can be difficult sometimes. Maybe I should work on a “speak” command!

Reggie has inflammatory bowel disease :(

Reggie has been having issues lately, and they are not over. I thought he was getting better, but unfortunately it was brief and he has relapsed.

He has been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, something I never considered dogs could have. But, they have the same parts! His abnormal bile acid count from a few weeks ago was a precursor, a warning sign, to what was coming. He has been vomiting, he will not eat, and I have had the [dis]pleasure of shoving his medication down his throat and making him swallow because he wouldn’t take food a few times this past week.

Reggie’s dad and I joke that Reggie is on a “hunger strike.” Meaning, every once in a while, for maybe two days we know that his stomach acts up and he doesn’t feel well and he won’t eat. He takes Zantac on a daily basis to help with this, but it still occasionally occurs. This time however was different. It was the reverse; he was spending more time not eating and only a couple days eating. Today, I found out the high liver count, the abnormal bile acid, the vomiting- all equal canine inflammatory bowel disease. A quick Google search from Pets WebMD yields that the most common form of the disease “has been associated with giardiasis, food allergy, and overgrowth of intestinal bacteria…Vomiting is common.” Uh oh. Well, Reggie does not have giardiasis. But, vomiting? Check. Intestinal bacteria? Check. Food allergy CHECK.

So now Reggie is on probiotics and antibiotics. Sounds conflicting I know but I’m not a doctor. In one week we reassess to see how well he’s eating (if he’s eating…). He may have to temporarily be on anti-nausea meds to get some food in him. Then, he may have to have prescription food specific to GI issues. I’ve been down that road before- he ate prescription food during food trials.

So we carry on, and restore Reggie’s tummy to balance!

Liver function in dogs

Reggie has been having bile acid problems lately. This is not completely unexpected; he has had these problems on and off his whole life and because of the seizure medications his liver function is already compromised. This time, though, was a little worse.

His liver enzyme count was much higher than it was back in February, and his bile acid count was abnormal. He stopped eating- for about three weeks. He would eat treats (of course, right?) and handfuls of food every couple of days, probably just when he got really hungry and needed to eat something. He already takes Zantac twice a day to control the stomach acid, and now his vet has him on probiotics. After about a week, he returned to normal eating.

Being me, I googled the heck out of everything related to a dog’s liver, the liver processes, liver failure, what would cause the abnormal bile acid count, how to fix it…you get the idea. I learned some interesting things- first the liver.

The Liver Process

The liver is pretty amazing. It performs a zillion functions, but the main ones are: production of proteins, metabolism of carbohydrates, vitamin production, digestion, and detoxification. Reggie’s particular problem involved digestion. The liver excretes bile which ultimately goes into the small intestine to help breakdown food, particularly fats. The bile acid is secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. The gall bladder releases bile as needed during the digestion process and bile acids are absorbed into the small intestine and returned back to the liver. In Reggie’s case, the bile acids were not removed from the bloodstream and recycled back to the liver, resulting in an abnormal test result. This impacted his ability to properly digest food and, to put it simply, gave him an upset tummy.

The very serious side of this is that these are signs of liver inflammation, potential liver disease, or ultimately liver failure. Because the entire organ performs all of the same functions, up to 80% of it can be diseased or damaged before failure sets in. In dogs this is especially hard to tell because of their stoic nature.

The Liver and Food

In the beginning, I went down the rabbit hole and panicked and thought that Reggie’s food (duck and oatmeal) was duck being manufactured in China. I know better; due to his allergies I have researched the heck out of food and manufacturers and I feel pretty confident about the quality of what he eats. Nonetheless, I called to make sure (it’s not). However, I learned some interesting things.

High protein food and high fat food is taxing on the liver, particularly for compromised dogs. There is controversy regarding high protein diets. Most information states that anything over 25% protein isn’t appropriate for any animal. The type of protein comes into play too- a high protein food made up mostly of soy isn’t as good for a dog as meat. Dog food manufacturers that reference wolves forget that; 1) dogs aren’t wolves; and 2) the 40% protein “wolf” diet they promote has very little moisture which is not like a true wild wolf diet of raw meat. Raw diets get controversy as well, but most of the information I found indicates that once you factor in the bone, tissue, etc. the protein is about 25% which is where you want to be.

Fat is another potential pitfall. Diets with 10-15% fat are considered normal and over 20% are considered high fat. There is not really any controversy over fat- just your veterinarian’s recommendation for your dog for whether they should be on a normal or low-fat diet. Considering Reggie had a high bile acid count and bile aids in the digestion and breakdown of fat, I checked his food for fat content. Turns out his wet food has a whopping 30% fat! This will require some reworking- he needs the wet food with his dry food but it may have to be cut back as this could be contributing to his liver issues.

A Final Note

In my research I came across these interesting abstracts about high protein diets and aggression. The nutshell is that in the test groups of dogs with territorial aggression (in one study) and dominance aggression (in the other study), the high protein diets scored highest in behavioral scores, and reduced protein reduced aggression. Fascinating topic if you have a dog with these issues, and another tool for your toolbox.