Dr. Ryan Ehlinger of Main Street Animal Hospital

Welcome to 2019 faithful Veterinary Tails readers! I wanted to spend this column talking about dogfights. Hopefully, your furry best friend has not been involved with one and you can simply learn through the experience of others. Those of you who have lived through one of these knows they are no fun!

I’m not sure if it is from the recent “holiday magic” or just something in the North County air but we are seeing quite a few dogfights lately. Ask anyone who has seen a dogfight and they will tell you the hardest thing is breaking it up. Acceptable strategies are putting a hose on both dogs or hitting the aggressor with something blunt and strong to briefly stun them into letting go. Poor strategies would include using any part of using your hands or body to intervene.

Dogs most often fight over territory or resources. The most obvious example is one dog slipping the fence and going to a neighbors property where they are bitten by another dog. We also see quite a few dogfights resulting from a human misinterpreting dog dominance and giving preferred preference to a dog that is not the dominant dog in the home. The dominant dog should always get priority access to resources such as food, petting, play, etc to keep the peace. If a dog that is not the dominant dog is given the preferential treatment by an owner, this can lead to aggression by the dominant dog. As humans, we are very democratic. Your vote counts as much as my vote. I’ll cut the piece of pie and you pick which one you want. In dogs, this simply does not work. Having a system of dominance actually keeps the peace and if we fail to acknowledge the hierarchy, violence may ensue as the dogs attempt to set things right.

Many years ago I was working in an emergency clinic in New England. I was doing surgery in the back when one of my nurses came running to the back with a cat carrier carrying a cat that looked like it had experienced head trauma. The nurse told me frantically that I had to check the cat. She was working in the reception area when a dogfight broke out between a Pit Bull and a German Shepard.

She saw a cat carrier next to her which she thought was empty. She lifted it up over her head and smashed it down on the dogs to break up the fight. When the dogs let go and things calmed down she realized there was a cat in the carrier that was seeing stars! I evaluated the cat, gave it some medication, and kept it overnight at no charge for monitoring for head trauma. The next day the kitty was looking all better. I called the owner and told them to come down for discharge. When they arrived I sheepishly went out and apologized for my nurse acting like a pro wrestler in the lobby and injuring their cat. I expected they might give me a word or two about what we did but they just laughed and said “don’t worry about it. I’m just glad he could help break up that nasty dogfight!”