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Q. I have a ten month Bull Terrier puppy that has lived with my 4 year old Labrador dog; they have recently started fighting. What can I do?

A. It is always dangerous running a Bull Terrier with another of the same sex, same breed or not. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it will work for a while, but sometime something will spark off a fight. This is not necessarily obvious like a bone, or over food, but often some message passed between them and unknowing to humans.

Usually the first fight is the worst one because this promotes others, sometime this may at first be gradual, at other times on sight. Sometimes it is possible, albeit rarely, to bring them together again, but generally not. It is foolish and dangerous to run the same sexes together, if one or more is a Bull Terrier, and particularly so with males.

Generally it means a regime of separation, this is not always as difficult as may be thought. Travel cages are a boon in circumstances like this, one cage if need be, but two is even better. Owner’s need to lose any thoughts that caging is cruel to the dogs; the dogs love cages as their den and will retire to them voluntarily. It is for a maximum of 50% of the time in any case. Bull Terriers, as all dogs, spend most of the time sleeping and there will no resentment from the one in the cage. It is quite likely that the caged one would think it is having the privilege.

Q. I have a bitch and am told that it will be good for her to have puppies. Is this so?

A. No, it could be to her detriment. Whereas many enjoy mothering the puppies others do not, some even have to have the puppies taken away from them, and most become fed up when the pups are say weeks of age when their teats being scratched and bitten. Bull Terriers are, generally, unlike many other breeds, not good mothers.

Q. I have been told I should not let my 11 month dog run loose in the park. Can I?

A. Unless in particular circumstances no Bull Terrier should run lose (off lead or line) in a public place. They simply cannot be trusted. Whereas the puppy, for puppy he is, will tolerate bad manners and challenges now, it is doubtful he will as he matures. To find out the hard way is not good enough. Sadly regardless of the reason, the Bull Terrier always gets the blame, and unlike most dogs the Bull Terrier can fight to kill.

Q. I have a 2 and a 4 year old child. Should I get a Bull Terrier?

A. Generally no. It would be better to wait until they are a little older before obtaining a Bull Terrier. Not that a Bull Terrier would be any more likely to attack a child than any other breed, but they are clumsy, and they are excitable especially as puppies or young adults. Any damage to children would normally be accidental, like excitement bites, or knocking the child down heavily rather than a deliberate attempt to cause harm. It can be, but not always, different if the dog is already in the home. Then the situation could be different, but even then great care should be taken. Needless to say no dog should be left alone and unattended with a child.

Q. My 12 year old takes my Bull Terrier walking. Is this OK?

A. It is not if there is no responsible adult present. Always anticipate the unusual happening and query whether a child is strong and mature enough for this responsibility.

Q. My dog has skin trouble.

A. This must be the most common health problem besetting Bull Terriers, and perhaps all breeds, although it could be the difficulty in curing these problems that makes it seem this way. There is no short answer to this. As with humans, one of the most frequent causes, and usually the worst problem, is an allergic reaction. This is where a substance creates an abnormal reaction from the body’s defence mechanism by identifying a normally harmless substance as an enemy, and histamine produced by the body puts it into an unnecessary defence mode The allergens that initiate these reactions may be contained in food, in the air, or with any other particles coming into contact with the affected creature Allergies are responsible for more skin problems than most owners would ever imagine. The worst periods for these attacks often seems to be spring and summer which would indicate a vegetation connection in these instances. Initially change the dog’s diet, and change its bedding. Cotton is the safest, wool probably the worst.

Relieving the symptoms is usually the first action in any irritant skin problems. Most vets will use a steroid, and antibiotics. Steroids, do not cure these conditions, but are anti-inflammatory drugs which do reduce the inflammation and alleviate most of the irritation to the dog, and thus stop it scratching. They can show a dramatic short term result. The antibiotics are to combat bacteria infections and particularly to cure or prevent a secondary infection. Changing the diet also is important, and may help more than the owner could imagine. Sometimes it is the food that is causing the allergic reaction.

Regardless of the cause, the symptoms are obvious. The skin gets more pink, there is irritation, sometimes skin eruptions, and eventually there may be a loss of hair in affected parts. In extreme cases the dog may also become debilitated.

Treatment for allergies consists of helping reduce the symptoms, and an attempt to identify the cause of the allergy, and this identification is usually not easy. Once identified, avoidance of the allergen is often the only control that can be achieved. There is no simple cure-all available, but new drugs are appearing which may sometime help with these cases.

Fleas, a problem in their own right, can cause flea allergies. Fleas themselves are not the allergy, but a dog may have the allergy to flea bites. This often manifests as bald and ragged hair often at the base of the spine. Clearing, and keeping clear of the fleas, will rectify this problem and the main danger with this, indeed with all skins problems, is secondary infections. All dogs can suffer parasites, not only fleas, and a constant vigilance is prudent. Fortunately suitable remedies and preventives are available from your vet or pet shop.

Skin problems do not kill dogs (although occasionally they make the dog’s life such misery that euthanasia becomes the only answer), and too often a control rather than a cure is all that can be achieved.

Other and usually lesser problems can include moist eczema, usually localised patches which, as the name denotes, are moist. Sometimes this is caused by feeding too much carbohydrate, reduce this and the problem may go. It is fairly easy to cure though, although if it is a diet problem, and the diet is not corrected, it will reappear.

There is also dry eczema, more severe and covering more of the body. The cause is not always obvious but is probably a genetic problem- thus do not buy a puppy if the parents have skin problems! The symptoms are similar, but over a larger area.

Another possibility is parasites- fleas, mange and lice and your vet may take a skin scraping for microscopic examination to confirm or eliminate this. Fleas and lice are easily rid of, mange not so. Basically there are three types of mange, of the ear (discharges wax and irritation), and sarcoptic or demodectic. The former much easier cured than the second. There is also feet eczema; this is dealt with in another section.

Q. My dog often suffers with feet problems.

A. The feet on a dog are vulnerable to all sorts of problems. Simple things like sore pads, split nails, cuts, or bruises will cause the dog to lick and bite the feet leading to bigger problems. Keep dogs away from areas which have been sprayed, and in very hot weather off hot pavements. Check the feet, and bathe in mildly disinfected or salt water
Eliminating causes such as chemicals, hot roads and other irritants and there is left the moist foot eczema problem. This can also be a dietary problem of too much carbohydrate, change this, and it may cure the problem.

There is a well known condition once common in the breed, and which of late seems on the increase again are called inter-digital cysts. These are so called cysts, but they are really boils, between the toes. The dog licks them, they usually are purplish in colour, they come to a head, burst, and then after a period they depart, usually to recur with the same pattern at a later date. At times the dog is unable to walk. They may exist on and off throughout the animals’ life or they may simply disappear. There is no cure as such, but different people have their own home remedies, most of which probably coincided with the natural regression of the condition. It is believed hereditary, and is an inability in the bodies natural defence mechanism to cope. Sufferers should see their vet, but some owners swear by sea water. Walking them on the beach and paddling through the water. Ensure that all the sand is afterwards removed though. In all cases it is a good idea to bathe the dogs’ feet in some mild antiseptic wash; salt water of course is just that. Ensure they are thoroughly dried afterwards.

There is also the very common foot licking syndrome. All dogs lick their feet at times, but it is when it becomes an obsession it is of main concern. It is very common in the breed. In this the animal is obsessed with licking and biting the feet. No doubt an irritation of whatever cause is the reason, but the feet rapidly become chewed, swollen, inflamed, and even bleeding. In some cases it is because of external influences, especially sore pads so check and eliminate the obvious. But in other cases there seems no apparent reason and eventually, through the dog’s incessant attention, the feet may become over sized. The cause is probably an allergic reaction, and this is supported by the fact that the condition is more prevalent at certain times of the year. Old breeders used to refer to pink feet which occurred when the animal went on grass- pinkness suggest inflammation, and inflammation causes irritation. Pink feet would therefore also be the condition we refer to as feet licking. Certainly it worsens at certain times of the year, and on occasions has been linked to the dog running on particular areas. The reason the results are usually more dramatic on the feet than on other parts of the body is that the feet are so accessible to chew. It is a skin irritation, so if you can relieve the irritation by whatever means you will be helping the animal, but we do feel veterinary advice should be sought.

Q. My dog’s nails are growing too long. Should I cut them?

A. Someone must. Many Bull Terriers dislike having their nails clipped, and it then becomes a two person job. Some owners regularly take their dog to the vets to have its nails clipped, but it is not really necessary. It is better to start cutting the dog’s nails whilst it is a puppy, it will then become used to it, so can you. Puppy nails are soft and snip easily but do take care. Don't use scissors; buy a pair of dog nail cutters. These are like wire cutters, and they will remain sharp for years.

Dogs nails are worn short by walking on hard surfaces such as cement or paving stones, but this will only be so if the toes present the nails correctly. In any case dew claw nails need cutting. It would be rare to find a Bull Terrier that never needed to have its nails cut, unless s the animal chews its own nails short, and some do.

Care must be taken not to cut nails too short, and if they are very long it is better to snip them off in small pieces rather than in one go. If they have been neglected it may be necessary for the vet to cut them under an anesthetic, but providing they are then cut regularly there should be no further trouble. Cut into the quick (the flesh at the rear of the nail) and they bleed, and the animal experiences pain. This means they become shy (sometimes hysterical would be more apt) about having their nails cut. However, many have this fear for no good reason except that they dislike having their nails cut. Despite this there should be no real problem that normal bribery and comforting cannot control.

Q. My dog chases its tail? Is this serious?

A. It can be. Tail chasing varies in the intensity of the problem. The occasional tail chasing, usually in an exciting atmosphere is not too much of a problem, (although obviously it is better to avoid the trigger if possible) to dogs that chase their tails until exhaustion forces them to collapse. Most are somewhere between of course. The vast majority of tail chasing is hereditary, and is probably just another facet of an underrlying mental problem carried in the parents, probably as a recessive as I would hope no one would breed with stock showing temperament flaws. I do not believe that tail chasing makes the dog dangerous except if other considerations enter the problem- to explain, I believe that a dog in full flow tail chasing is totally impervious to any other out side influences, hence it could damage itself or even people through the act of tail chasing. If it bit or scratched it would probably be through the tail chasing, rather than of deliberate intent.

Some Bull Terriers chase their tails. Most puppies do so, very briefly, but rapidly get fed up with it. In the mild form, this seems often related to boredom, or to stress.

A much more serious form of tail chasing is often called spinning. This usually begins seriously at about 6 months of age, when the dog is obsessed by its tail to the exclusion of owner, food, or water. Commanding the dog will not cause it to stop. There is no magic wand cure I know of. Some vets will prescribe sedatives, sometimes strong sedatives such as phenobarbitone, this to sedate the animal in the hope that when the course is finished the dog will be cured- I have on a few occasions heard of this working. With less severe cases lighter sedative such as Valium, Prozac and other medicants. In some cases this does help.

At times dogs have to be put down because of severe tail chasing, and this is sad, very sad, but if one sees such dogs’ severe mental state, and the severe physical damage caused it is understandable. It does make this traumatic task a little easier. Observation of this over many years does suggest that the problem is more common in dogs than bitches.

Q. My dog is showing aggression to my children, and to strangers.

A. I think it would be fair to say the Welfare help-line is contacted most days by owners with Bull Terriers that suffer temperament problems that vary in type and intensity. Some seem to have uncharacteristic behaviour abnormalities, and these are dealt with on an individual basis, but many have a dominance problem. These would be the animals that in experienced Bull Terrier owners hands would usually give no problems. Dogs do not reason, they simply accept a code of behaviour inherent in the wild, and where there is a defined order of leadership. If they recognise the human members of their pack as superior, there is no problem, but if they do not, the problems start. All puppy purchasers should be advised that they must use love and kindness, but they must also be the boss. This can normally be acquired without the need of physical action other than indicating one’s displeasure, perhaps by banging a rolled up newspaper on the table, rattling a tin with some coins or stones in, or treating the animal more like a dog, like walking through the dog rather than around it. Once a dog has started on this slippery path to dominance it needs early attention to rectify, and there are methods, but many do not seek help until the behaviour is really ingrained in to the dog.

Most temperament problems are a combination of hereditary, hormonal and environmental causes, so whereas castration may help with the hormonal element, this alone would probably not rectify other causes. Castration does reduce the production of aggression hormones in a male, so one may reasonably expect some degree of an improvement; but not necessarily sufficient. We recommend castration, as it does make the animal more malleable, and a better dog - but do not rush out and have your stud dogs done! With a bitch with aggression we are not so sure. Certainly spaying helps reduce future health problems, (and this is important), but it does reduce the female hormone production, so this could even make aggression worse.

Q. I am on income support and my Bull Terrier needs medical treatment. Will the Welfare Trust pay for it.

A. We are often asked this question in one form or another- pensioners, income, sick, unemployed and at times I am sure by some who wish to get something for nothing. It may be for veterinary treatment, boarding fees, or any other essential expenses. The short answer is no, we cannot help. We do not have the funding to do this, or the facilities to check that the applicant is really in financial need, or indeed is it in our mandate. We do advise that the PDSA do give free veterinary treatment for income support people, and the RSPCA and other big organisations do sometimes help. Also that some local councils have funding to help in such matters.

Q. I am going to Australia for three months- do you have someone who will foster my dog whilst I am away?

A. Sadly not. Whereas I am sure many BT owners would like to help, ours is not the sort of breed where a strange dog can be introduced without causing problems with the resident Bull Terrier.

Q. My bitch has a dry eye. What is it?

A. Technically it is Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, better known as a dry eye. Any with an animal suffering this will be aware of the distress it can cause, and which, if not treated, in time can become a chronic and often incurable condition.

It has been possible to perform an operation to alleviate the condition for many years. Normally this consists of joining the tear to the saliva duct -tears and saliva being similar in composition- but it is a delicate and difficult procedure. Even then the remedy brings its own problems as the animal, on seeing food, drools, and the eye runs with tears. It sounds amusing, but it can cause acute soreness and hair loss of the skin surrounding the eye. The other standby was no cure, although it did alleviate discomfort, and it did lubricate the eye, consisted of artificial tear drops, a saline solution, inserted from a dropper. Ideally these needed inserting every hour, but I doubt many could follow such a rigid regime. Certainly the more occasions these saline drops were inserted, the more comfortable it was for the dog.

The condition does seem hereditary, although perhaps more an inherited deficiency of immune system that allows this condition to occur. Years ago one of our own bitches suffered a dry eye which we traced through several generations of the mother’s line. We prevented the problem in our line by not breeding from her. To confuse matters completely we think it can also be acquired. Repeated bacterial infections may corrode the delicate drainage ducts to the eye, and eventually they may block permanently.

Years ago it was common to blame a certain type of sawdust; fine powdery dust would float in the air and could cause soreness and infection. Sore eyes, probably a contributory cause to dry eye, are prevalent in welfare animals, and without doubt the main cause of this is neglect. Prevention is better than cure. A few years ago we had a bitch come into the scheme with double entropian (in-growing eyelashes), and a classic case of acute dry eye. She was almost totally blind and we had to work to bring her to condition before she could endure the two necessary entropian operations. The Welfare’s Veterinary Surgeon prescribed an ointment, Optimune, to treat the dry eye. Initially we had no faith in this but it worked like a miracle. Optimune, or similar preparations, are now fairly standard treatments, but then it was relatively new. In this instance the years of pain and distress to the bitch, not to mention the eye damage and partial blindness, was the result of neglect. Restoring the tears and the subsequent entropian operations improved the sight, the eye, and eradicated both the cause and the condition. A very satisfactory conclusion.

In the pre dry eye stages the eye will probably be sore, with recurring infections. The animal may exhibit signs of distress, such as the rubbing or scratching at the eye. Veterinary attention is essential. Certainly bathe the eye as a temporary relief, using mildly salty water if you have no recognised veterinary or homeopathic additive, Euphrasia tablets and (diluted) tincture for bathing the eye are excellent homeopathy remedies. Tears are anti bacterial, and the healthy eye is constantly lubricated and bathed. An animal that has the condition deteriorate to a full dry eye problem is well past the time when it should have received veterinary attention. A dry eye is more than uncomfortable and unsightly, it will become, infected, scarred, and damaged, with vision impairment and even blindness.