Could autoimmune conditions cause anxiety, fear, or behavior issues in dogs?

by Dawn C, M.S., J.D.

A recent NPR article has piqued my interest and had me thinking about something I’ve suspected and mentioned a few times in the past regarding many of the dogs I see in shelters, foster homes, and loving pet homes that have both behavior issues and allergies or other autoimmune conditions.

Could the two somehow be related?

At first glance, it seems counterintuitive. Anxiety, fear-based, or other behavior issues are based in the brain and generally involve neurochemistry. Allergies and autoimmune issues involve the immune system. However, I’ve noticed that a high percentage of dogs that exhibit fear-based, hyper-reactivity, or anxiety-based behaviors severe enough that their owners seek help often have moderate to severe allergies or other autoimmune issues.

Of course, lots of dogs have autoimmune or allergies issues and lots of dogs these days have behavior issues, so it makes sense, even if the two aren’t at all related, that a fair number of dogs would have both conditions, just as a coincidence.  Association doesn’t mean causation.

But some doctors are coming to just that conclusion, according to the article. “Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, tells Shots that he believes an upset in the “immune-inflammatory system” is at the core of mental illness and that psychiatric disorders might be an unfortunate cost of our powerful immune defenses….[I]t would be reasonable to hypothesize that a subpopulation of people with depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia ended up that way because an infection activated their immune-inflammatory system.”

I’m interested in hearing from dog owners:

  • How many of you have dogs with fear-based, anxiety, or other behavior issues (hyperarousal or reactivity, etc.) that also have allergies or other autoimmune conditions?
  • If your dog’s autoimmune issue gets better (either through treatment or seasonal changes), does his or her behavior improve?
  • How many of you have dogs with such behavior issues that have no allergies or autoimmune conditions?
  • How many of you have dogs with allergies or autoimmune issues that have no such behavior issues?

Let me know in the comments and/or take the poll below.

Do you have a dog that has allergies or other autoimmune issues and also has behavior issues (such as anxiety, fear, or hyper-arousal)?

Eight Rules for Dog Foster Parents

Foster dog Raven, now adopted

Foster Dog Raven, now adopted!

I’ve been fostering Pit Bulls since about 1996, even before Chako Pit Bull Rescue became a formal 501(c)(3) nonprofit. As an individual and as part of Chako Pit Bull Rescue’s foster network, I’ve learned a few solid basics about how to be a successful foster. Of course, the following rules don’t represent everything one should do or know to be a successful foster parent. These are just eight important rules I’ve chosen to highlight.

  1. Keep your foster dog separated from your other pets for at least a week.This means no off-leash play, no hanging out on the same bed or couch together, etc. A week is the minimum separation time, but go longer if necessary. You can take your foster dog for short walks with one of your resident dogs, so long as there is only dog being walked by a person at a time (that means you need at least two people); and you should keep about a ten foot distance between dogs during the walk at all times. Make sure each dog is on secure equipment.

    You can separate your foster dog by using a crate or even a very secure baby gate. For the first couple of days, you might even want to put the foster dog in a separate room, in a crate, so he or she can calm down and decompress from the shelter. Of course, take him or her out frequently (and put away your other pets when you do). You can also set up a crate  in the main living area of your home, but you might want to put an ex pen or other barrier around the crate so your resident pets cannot hassle or invade the crate space of the foster dog. This gives your dog a chance to acclimate to the environment, observe you and your pets and how you interact, and start to feel more comfortable that you all are fairly nice beings.

  2. Take lots and lots and LOTS of photos and video of your foster dog. Always have a camera ready. Sure, you’ll probably take 30 terrible shots for every 1 great one, but it’s important to have lots of cute, clear photos that showcase your foster dog’s personality and inherent adorableness. Good photos and video will really help get your foster dog adopted.
  3. If you do start to let your foster dog interact with your resident pet(s), keep the initial interactions short and well-supervised. Make sure you’re familiar with and paying attention to dog body language, and of course, keep dogs on loose but untangled leashes for initial physical interactions. Never force one dog to approach another dog. Let the interaction happen as naturally as possible, but if one dog starts to object or stiffens and seems wary, casually but quickly put distance between the dogs.  If introducing your dog to your cat, on leash is always preferred, and of course, know your cat. You may want to put your cat in a crate or behind a baby gate to see how things go initially. Also be aware that a still cat is very different to a dog than a running cat.
  4. Never let dogs who belong to other people play with your foster dog. You are responsible for keeping your foster dog safe. You can assess what level of risk you are comfortable with for YOUR OWN dogs, but don’t bring other people’s dogs into the interaction with your foster dog. Sure, it may work out nine out of 10 times, but the one time it doesn’t, your actions may very well result in injury to a dog or person, and you’ve likely caused a lot of stress for the agency you’re fostering through.
  5. Keep your foster dog well groomed, especially those nails! A well-groomed dog is a more adoptable dog (and long nails can do bad things to a dog’s feet, legs, and gait).
  6. Do physical inspections of your foster dog at least once a week (check ears, mouth, toes, and run your hands gently over the dog’s body). This assumes, of course, that your foster dog is amenable to such handling. If your dog isn’t, work on that (your rescue or shelter organization can show you how). Check for anything out of the ordinary (bumps, rashes, etc.) and report those immediately to your organization.
  7. Be honest with your organization about the dog’s personality and behavior so they can make the right decisions for your foster dog. Never lie or sugar-coat behavior issues. Rather, work on these issues. Be honest with any potential adopters so your foster dog can find the right forever match. If you lie or sugar-coat issues, your foster dog is likely to be returned as soon as  the adopters realize the foster dog is not for them.
  8. Keep Copies of Records for Your Foster Dog.This is especially true if you’re fostering through a rescue rather than a shelter, but it is helpful regardless (assuming you have access to the records). Keeping records organized and easily accessible means there’s always a copy readily available where the dog is physically located. Sometimes potential adopters have questions about a dog’s medical history, and having the records handy can prove invaluable. In addition, many small rescues have disorganized record-keeping systems since they often cannot afford expensive data management systems, so you can help the rescue by keeping a copy of the record for your foster dog (I even encourage foster providers to take photos of the records after each procedure and store those images on their smart phones, if they have one).

How I’m Raising My New Puppy — Lessons Learned

Author: Dawn C., Founder of Chako

I’ve raised a few dogs from puppies in my time, fostered a ton of puppies and dogs, and worked with many shelter dogs. I’ve shown dogs in ADBA, UKC, and ADBA, participated in weight pull, flyball, agility, obedience, Shutzhund and even tried some paws at dock diving.

Every time I start a dog from a puppy, one that I’m going to spend the next fifteen years with, I reflect on what I’ve learned from the last dog and how I’m going to use that knowledge to help raise a puppy into a respectable adult dog.

These are the things that, ultimately, become important to me as the dog grows and in how my relationship with the dog develops, and they might prove useful to you. Even if you’re not starting with a puppy, wherever you’re at in that relationship, some of the suggestions below might prove useful to you.

1) I like to compete in dog activities, but I only participate in dog-related sports that we both find fun. It has to be fun for the dog, and fun for me. If one of us is not having fun with the sport, it’s time to find a new sport. This means that I don’t use things in my training that regularly make it NOT fun for the dog. I would watch trainers in the Schutzhund club rely on shock collars for everyday training in the sport. My personal motivation for engaging in dog sports is to do something that my dog and I can both enjoy, not to satisfy my ego and definitely not to pad my wallet (it tends to have the exact reverse effect on my wallet, actually). It’s more about fun than it is about getting a perfect score. Sure, the high score is nice. The ribbons are nice, but if neither the dog nor myself are having a blast, then why bother? Life is too short for the both of us. We should get the most out of our few years on this planet.


2) I select about three or four commands I want the dog to know really well and focus on those. I train others, of course, but since I’m not a stay at home dog mom (I work, I do rescue, I volunteer at Chako events), I know I need to really focus on what the truly important stuff is that I want engraved in my dog’s brain. For me, these are “heel,” “come,” “out,” and crate-kennel training. Leash walking is a close second to those, but the all important four are the ones we practice the most, especially as the puppy matures into a teenager with attitude. Of course she knows sit, down, wait and stay, but I’ve learned in my many years that focusing on honing too much, too soon, means everything suffers just a little bit if you don’t have the time to dedicate to proofing. So, the do-or-die commands are the ones that really could save her life or that are serious foundations for later competition obedience (like heel). The rest is easy. Getting a terrier-based breed to “come” when they are chasing a squirrel across the street, with an oncoming car approaching (because they are somehow accidentally not attached to a leash and loose in public) is a life-saving endeavor. I practice come from day one, and it’s always, always, always positive. I let her harass the chickens behind the fence, say “come,” give her the best treats ever, and let her go right back to harassing them. Hopefully, this training never needs to pay off, but if it IS needed, I hope I’ve set the right foundation. (And, over time, she has learned that harassing the chickens just isn’t that entertaining, anymore, thankfully.)


Coming, even with the temptation of her handsome Rottweiler playmate.

3) I make proper socialization a priority. This doesn’t mean dog parks. It means supervised play dates, excursions, plans that entail bringing the puppy along to expose her to new environments, sights, sounds and experiences. The river. Some doggie playmates. The Fountains in Roseville. The stuffed dog-sized bear in the Orvis store. A dog-friendly winery. Restaurant patios where we work on manners in public. All of these excursions are timed in coordination with the appropriate puppy vaccinations, of course.

solidarakiss soliriver

4) I sign up for activities that I have to go to, as long as we’re having fun. Currently, this is nosework, a new sport for me. It makes me get out every week with other dogs and practice a skill, working toward competition. Signing up for classes or workshops is a great way to make sure you take the time to work with your dog and get him or her out there, using that doggie brain and expelling some of that wonderful energy. Ultimately, it gets me away from my computer, desk, television, and phone (well, mostly, on that last one) and puts my brain into an entirely different mode where I have to connect with an animal that’s a completely different species from the one I’m around all day at work. (And here’s a plug for Chako’s Meetup, which will get you out and about with your dog thanks to classes, workshops and fun walks).


Soli in her nosework harness

As a puppy mom, there is also one really important mindset to have. Some of your stuff is going to get messed up. A shoe might be chewed, even though you’re diligent about keeping them out of reach. Your carpet might never be the same. The new hanging lantern from Ikea–Toast!–because you thought you’d placed it out of reach, but you really didn’t. That garden? Get a puppy-proof fence or say goodbye. Such trials and tribulations come with the territory of puppyhood, especially with a terrier-based breed. Go into that with eyes open and a relaxed attitude, knowing that stuff is just stuff and if you’re consistent and diligent, the pernicious puppy phase will pass and your shoes will breathe a collective sigh of relief, no longer in constant danger of destruction.


One of Soli’s victims – an innocent bed.

Dogs and Cars – A Sensible Approach

Savvy goes for a ride through the drive-thru

Savvy goes for a ride to the drive-thru.

With summer upon us, we’re seeing the heart-wrenching stories that come up every summer of a dog trapped in a hot car that suffered serious health affects or even died. Every summer, people who apparently love their dogs nevertheless leave their dogs in hot cars while they run into a store or restaurant. Good Samaritans will break windows to rescue dogs, and even that act causes controversy. The issue pits dog-lover against dog-lover. Last summer, even a professional dog walker left dogs in her care in a car.

Some people say you should NEVER leave your dog unattended in a car and that home is the best place for a dog, but that’s a bit extreme. I’ve traveled a lot with my dogs (from long-distance-across-state-lines trips to dog-related events, shows, and competitions), and there are some ways to safely travel with your pets (and even leave them in the car for short periods).

Pets are part of the family, and sometimes if you’re out traveling with your pet (for vacation, to a dog event several hours away, etc.), you may need to make pit stops where you leave the dog in the car. Some dog sports even necessitate leaving a dog in a car until your dog is “up” on the floor or field for their turn (this leads to windows open, battery-operated fans, and sometimes cooling beds and reflective tarps). In addition, dogs do genuinely enjoy being with us, so where it makes sense to bring a dog, there’s no harm in responsibly taking your companion along. For example, say you’re taking your dog to the veterinarian and the grocery store you frequent is nearby, and you HAVE to pick up toilet paper or things at your house are going to get very ugly very soon. Consolidating a quick errand with a trip to the vet isn’t complete madness.

What is madness is leaving a dog in a HOT car or a car that can get too hot in short period of time. Here are some guidelines for those who travel with dogs and good Samaritans who see a dog in a car.


  • Don’t leave your dog in a hot car, even with the windows cracked. Dogs pant to cool down (a form of evaporative cooling), which increases the local humidity. It can create uncomfortable conditions in a car in a short amount of time.
  • Know your vehicle. Not all vehicles are equal in how hot their interiors become. Light vehicles with light interiors stay cooler than dark vehicles with dark interiors; furthermore, some manufacturers have glass that offers good protection from UV rays, which helps keep the interior cooler. Take time to understand how your car absorbs heat by taking the time to sit in your car for a period of time in different conditions (sun vs shade; windows up vs. down) to get a sense of how hot your car actually gets inside. For example, I often eat in my car, sometimes in the shade, sometimes not, sometimes with the windows down, sometimes with them up. Recognize, however, that the interior of the car will be more uncomfortable for a dog than for you. Dogs pant, and they overheat more easily than we do; and some breeds are even more prone to easily overheating.
  • Never leave an active or young puppy in the car loose (they can do all sorts of damage). Try putting your dog inside a crate within the vehicle if your dog isn’t trustworthy (and consider some type of restraint for your dog when the car is in motion). If you are keeping your dog inside a crate, you might want to remove his or her collar for safety as some dogs have strangled themselves on collars.
  • It is best to leave your windows open as far as safely possible in the shade to allow maximum ventilation (and have your dog restrained/contained so he cannot jump out). If you have a sunroof, open it all the way; and consider a portable, battery-operated fan.
  • If you leave your car windows closed with the air conditioning running, only do so for very short periods of time (air conditioning units have failed and caused dogs to die).
  • If you can stay within eyesight of your car, all the better.
  • Consider purchasing a remote temperature sensor that will allow you to check the interior temperature of your car (note: these are often limited in range to about 100 feet).
  • Consider placing a thermometer on your window inside your car so people can see how hot it is inside your car at a glance.
  • If someone DOES have to break your car window because you were foolish and left your dog in a hot car and your dog was in distress, and doing so saved your dog’s life, thank the person; don’t get defensive and threaten to sue them. You can replace a window. You cannot replace a life.

Good Samaritans:

  • Make sure a dog appears to actually be in distress before taking serious action. Dogs pant even when they aren’t particularly hot; sometimes they pant due to excitement, stress, or to cool down (even in mild weather). A dog in distress will usually be panting quickly and either be very lethargic or panicky and hopping around trying to get out of the car.
  • Stay with the car and call 911; ask a passerby to have the nearby businesses page the owner of the car.
  • If you believe the dog will die soon without intervention, you have to make your own decision about how best to proceed. Breaking a car window may be appropriate and necessary, but realize that not all states have laws that will protect you for doing so, and some dogs may not take kindly to a stranger breaking in the car window (especially dogs that aren’t clearly in distress and otherwise lethargic). Follow your conscience. I can tell you if you broke my car window, and in doing so saved my dog’s life, I would thank you and feel guilty for the rest of my life.

Business owners:

  • Help our canine companions and dog owners out by welcoming well-behaved, on-leash dogs in your establishment if laws don’t otherwise prevent you from doing so. For example, home improvement stores, department stores, etc. that don’t serve food can allow dogs, and many do (Home Depot, Bloomingdale’s, Etc. – here’s a list of some dog-friendly businesses). Follow the lead of these successful organizations by permitting dogs, especially in spring and summer months.
  • Restaurants, offer an outdoor patio that welcomes patrons with dogs. One of my favorite local restaurants, The Waffle Experience in Sacramento, has a lovely outdoor patio and offers dogs a treat and a bowl of water. I’ve gone there specifically for that reason many times, as have many of my dog friends.  Bella Bru Cafe in Natomas also offers a dog-friendly patio. (Know of other dog-friendly restaurants? Mention them in the comments!). As a side note, In Europe, it’s much more common to see dogs dining out and shopping with their people than it is here in the U.S., and it seems to work well for them.
  • Feel free to exclude people with unruly dogs or dogs that present a danger (note: if someone has a service dog, you may exclude a service dog that presents a clear danger to others, but you do have to offer to still provide service to the person with a disability once the dog is removed; however be careful before excluding a service dog. Get more info on the ADA government site).

So, go out and enjoy the world with your dog, just make sure you and your dog stay cool and safe!  And to anyone who is looked at the photo at the top of this post and is ready to comment about how unsafe it is to let your dog hang his head out the window, we were stopped at a drive-thru. Old man Savvy gets to indulge himself every now and then.

Animal Control holds random drawing for unspayed Pit Bull puppy

READ the full story below the video (sorry for the vertical video in the beginning)

Almost Almost two weeks ago, Chako found out about a 5-6 week old singleton Pit Bull puppy turned into the Yuba County Animal control. We contacted Yuba, at first requesting to pull the puppy into rescue so that we could ensure the puppy received adequate socialization during her critical formative weeks. There’s a LOT of literature out there discussing just how critical weeks 5-10 are for puppies, and puppies removed from their littermates and mothers so early, without competent intervention, often face serious behavioral issues later. The shelter refused to release the puppy to us. They said a lot of people had expressed interest, so they expected she’d be adopted. This shelter does not:

  • spay or neuter dogs prior to release;
  • screen adopters;
  • follow up to ensure intact dogs they release are later spayed or neutered.

In response, we offered to foster the puppy for two weeks to give her proper socialization and get her out of isolation from her small kennel. We explained we would foster for the shelter and return her at 8 weeks to be adopted. If she didn’t get adopted, then we’d consider pulling her, if they wished (and we’d also make sure she was spayed). We explained our temporarily fostering her would open up a kennel, at the very least, but the sheriff’s representative stated they have no problem with kennel space (which is unusual for public shelters). The shelter refused to release her to a temporary foster home, stating she was getting adequate care and explaining they intended to hold a drawing to see who gets the puppy. We’ve copied the relevant portion of Captain Long’s email below where he explains they’ll hold a drawing for the puppy.


I just talked to our Animal Care Technician. This puppy will be available next Wednesday at 8:30 am when we open for business.  We have also told the same thing to the other three citizens who expressed interest in adopting this puppy. If more than one person shows up at 8:30, we wait for a few minutes and we have a drawing as to who gets the puppy….

Thanks, Alan Long 

When 8:30 a.m. came, in order to prevent an unspayed Pit Bull puppy from being randomly given out to whoever put his or her name into the drawing, several Chako volunteers woke up bright and early to participate in the drawing. We walked into the public lobby and asked to see the puppy and, sure enough, their adoption process involved holding a drawing. They also adopted the puppy intact to the random winner. While we were there, George, one of the shelter staff, explained they had to euthanize a deaf dog just the other day due to lack of kennel space.

In the video, you can hear the shelter representative stating that the puppy is “very mouthy.” Bite inhibition is one of the things 6-8 week old puppies learn by interacting with other dogs. This puppy, alone in a kennel, had no chance to learn bite inhibition. Thankfully, the puppy is now in a Chako foster home where we’re working hard to ensure she has lots of positive experiences with other dogs and people. We hope to make up for the weeks she spent in isolation in the shelter kennel.

Ask Yuba County to change its practices by emailing the Sheriff at sdurfor@CO.YUBA.CA.US.