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Thank You!!!

The Care of Pit Bulls in the • Dr. Lila Miller, ASPCA

Shelter Environment • Jacque Schultz, ASPCA
• Dr. Julie Dinnage, Kelley Bollen, Scott
Giacoppo, MSPCA
– Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and
Leslie D. Appel, DVM
Staff (Blackwell Publishing, 2004)
Director of Shelter Veterinary Outreach

My personal bias in favor of Introduction
Pit Bulls and Pit-Mixes
• The vast majority of pit bulls seen in
private practice are affectionate
pets that present no problem to the

• However, the dogs presenting in the
shelter are often seized by the
humane law enforcement department
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for fighting and have to be held for
long periods of time, sometimes more
than a year

Introduction History of the Breed
• Pit Bulls can undergo a great deal of stress • Knowledge of hx of the Pit-bull breed
in the shelter from confinement can help shelters safely house and
• Cases of experienced handlers who had handle Pit bulls
developed good relationships with the dogs
– Safe for the dogs
over a period of months still being
• Physical and psychological well-being
attacked without warning or obvious
provocation – Safe for the handlers

History of the Breed History of the Breed

• “Sport” of dog fighting • 1800’s fighting bulldogs were
• Mid 1800’s, bull-baiting events different than bulldog breed of today
popular – In size
• Bull-baiting: pitted two or more – In structure
bulldogs against a tethered poll – 1800’s dog more closely resembled
• Occurred in arena for entertainment today’s Bullmastiff

History of the Breed History of the Breed

• Humane Act of 1886 • After Humane Act of 1886
– Outlawed bull-baiting – New alternative to bull-baiting led to
– Owners of the fighting bulldogs tried to dog fighting
find an alternative use for their dogs – Owners pitted bulldogs against other
– Still high demand for barbaric and bulldogs
bloody sporting events • Gambling
• Venue for gambling • Spectators waged bets on outcome of fights
• entertainment

History of the Breed History of the Breed
• Lack of excitement in this new sport of • Goals of changing the fighting
dog fighting
• Bulldogs were large and clumsy
bulldog breed
• Fights were slow, less thrilling – Maintain certain characteristics of
• Owners looked for ways to change the original bull-baiting bulldog
– Add traits that would make the dog
– To make better fighters
– To attract spectators and gamblers
a more effective fighter in the

History of the Breed Staffordshire Bull Terrier

• Selective breeding began in • Characteristics for fighting dogs:
Staffordshire, England – Strength in relation to size
• Strength of bulldog, but smaller, more
– Coal mining area of England compact
– Bull-baiting bulldogs crossed with various – Bite style
terriers • Hold, SHAKE, and tear bite style
– New breed = Staffordshire Bull Terrier • Increased muscle and tissue damage

Staffordshire Bull Terrier Staffordshire Bull Terrier

• Characteristics for fighting dog: • Characteristics for fighting dogs
– Agility and athleticism – Ignore signs of submission from other
• Agile to avoid serious injury during fight dogs
• Different than normal dog behavior
• High level of endurance and athleticism
• Fight to the death
– Aggression toward other animals
– Give no warning prior to attack
• Aggression toward other dogs • Different than normal dog behavior
• NO aggression towards humans • Shows no signs, just attacks

Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
= Pit Bull Terrier
• Characteristics for fighting dogs: • New breed
– “Gameness” • Sport of organized dog fighting grew
• Most sought after trait of all fighting dogs • Further attempts to create even
• Refers to willingness to continue fighting better fighting dog
despite physical pain and suffering
• “Deep Game” = “Dead Game”
• Bred outside of Staffordshire,
• Bred for fighting in the “pit”

Pit Bull Terrier Today’s Pit Bulls

• America’s dog, early 1900’s • Professionally bred fighting dogs
– Aggressive and athletic traits mentioned earlier
– WWI posters
• Beloved family pets
– Advertisements – Staffordshire Bull Terrier came to America in
– “Stubby” (decorated war hero, first late 1800’s
“therapy dog”) – Attempts to remove aggressive traits
• Pit Bull mixes
– “Petey” (Little Rascals)

Today’s Pit Bulls Pit Bull or Am Staff

• Name
• Staffordshire Terrier (AKC 1935)
• American Staffordshire Terrier (AKC 1972,
Am Staff)
• American Pit Bull Terrier or Pit Bull Terrier
• Life span- 12-14 years
• Textbook weight
- Mature males- 65 pounds and up
- Mature females-55 pounds and up
• True weight-30 to 130 pounds (?)

Reproductive Physiology Breed Health Problems
• Reach maturity at about 2 years of • False pregnancy
age • Hip dysplasia
• Onset of estrus is about 10 months • Cranial cruciate rupture
• Average litter is 7-8 pups • Mast cell tumors
• Increased susceptibility to parvo virus and
• Monorchids may not drop their Babesia infection
testicles until 4-5 months of age
• Bite wound abscesses

Breed Health Problems Pit Bulls Have High Pain

• Dermatological conditions Threshold
- Demodectic mange “The American Staffordshire Terrier has an
- Ringworm extremely high pain threshold when
- Allergic contact dermatitis (grass) excited, and can injure itself with its own
- Flea allergy dermatitis and hot strength without realizing it”
spots Medical and Genetic Aspects of Purebred
Dogs, 1994, Clark and Stainer, editors
- Pressure calluses
- Acral lick nodules (boredom?)

Pit Bull Terriers Pit Bull Terriers

• Common breed entering shelters • Many Pits entering shelters have been
• Still bred for fighting today abused or neglected
• Many Pits entering shelters are dogs • Survey by Jacque Schultz, CPDT
bred for fighting – Pit Bulls #1 breed most likely to be
abused/neglected in NYC
• Many mixed-breed dogs are labeled
as Pit Bull Terriers

Fighting Classifications Fighting Classifications
• The Professional • The Professional
– Owner makes substantial investment – Dogs on performance enhancing steroids
(time and money) – Dogs on chronic ABS therapy
– Travels the country for fights – $$$ from high stakes matches and stud
– Knowledgeable about law enforcement fees
investigation techniques

Fighting Classifications Fighting Classifications

• The Street Fighter
• The Hobbyist – Usually associated with other forms of illegal
– Local fighting circuit activity
– Local street gangs
– Owner spends minimal time and money • Source of entertainment
training and conditioning the dog • Status symbol
– Gambling is the main focus – These dogs can be aggressive towards humans
and more likely to cause fatal attacks to people
than other fighting types

Training and Conditioning of the

Fighting Classifications
Fighting Pit
• The Street Fighter • Shelter veterinarians and staff need
– These dogs frequently kept in sub- to understand how fighting dogs are
standard conditions trained and conditioned
– May show obvious signs of physical abuse • Extensive training regimen
– Dogs used for “other” reasons – Build strength
• Used as guard dogs – Build endurance
• Used as “dangerous weapons”
– Reinforce aggressive behavior
• Used as drug carriers

Training and Conditioning of the Training and Conditioning of the
Fighting Pit Fighting Pit
• Training starts at young age and continues
through dog’s fighting career • Bait animals
• Pups are introduced to rough play and – Cats
extensive exercise – Rabbits
• Live small animals are used as toys – Weaker dogs
– Used to build confidence during training
• Pups are trained to jump up, grab, and hold
onto live animal – Used to reinforce aggression

Training and Conditioning of the Training and Conditioning of the

Fighting Pit Fighting Pit
• Bait animals
– Can be killed or found injured and • As young pups become older and more
abandoned confident, they are put up against
fully conditioned dogs in controlled
– Fighters have been known to steal fight
neighborhood pets to use as bait
animals • = “Rolling”

Training and Conditioning of the Training and Conditioning of the

Fighting Pit Fighting Pit
• Strenuous endurance building • Strenuous endurance building
activities activities
– Homemade treadmills – Spring Poll
• Many hours per day • Reinforces the hold, shake and tear bite
• Exercised to exhaustion
• Muscle building conditioning for hind legs
• +/- bait animals suspended from front • Strengthens force of dog’s bite
of treadmill

Training and Conditioning of the Caring for Pit Bulls in the
Fighting Pit Shelter
• Unique nutritional programs • The care of aggressive pit bulls in the shelter
– Maximum level of nutrients and should be restricted to 1 or 2 staff (or
volunteers) who have been trained in animal
calories behavior and restraint techniques.
– Supplements added • Staff should always work in pairs with
aggressive animals.
– Often sold by well known fighters
through underground magazines

Caring for Pit Bulls in the Caring for Pit Bulls in the
Shelter Shelter
• Pit bulls should not be allowed to have
• It is important to establish a good rapport unrestricted or unrestrained contact with
with any animal in the shelter, but other dogs
especially with pit bulls that may be held
• When cleaning cages they should not be
for long periods of time
permitted to run free in the ward with
• Establishing a routine and spending time other dogs, and should be walked and
with the dog will go a long way to exercised by experienced personnel only
establishing a relationship of trust

Caring for Pit Bulls in the Caring for Pit Bulls in the
Shelter Shelter
• If being walked in a corridor, for example,
no other dogs should be in close proximity
• Restriction of access to the dogs is
• For personal safety, staff should always
important in court cases in order to
work in pairs with any aggressive animal,
but particularly with pit bulls
preserve the chain of custody of the
evidence, as well as for human safety
• Pits don’t always give the traditional signs
of warning before they bite

Caring for Pit Bulls in the Pit Bulls Require:
• Lots of exercise and attention
• Pit Bulls are high energy • Special housing considerations
• Isolation from other animals if dog
dogs who can be extremely aggressive or have a high prey drive
destructive when bored! • Careful monitoring for weight

Pit Bulls Will: Pit Bulls Will:

• Climb fences • Destroy copper tubing of automatic water
systems and conventional cages
• Chew up stainless steel food and
water bowls as well as bedding • Attack other animals through chain link
• Many shelters use disposable paper • They can break through conventional cage
food trays and large rubber buckets doors and destroy typical epoxy paint on
for water because the dogs can be so the floors and walls

Pit Bulls Can Be Very Housing

Destructive • Avoid typical mesh link fencing
• Use kennel or cage systems with guillotine
– Important to minimize the need to
Water bowl handle aggressive animals
destroyed • Consider cement or solid metal cages with
by a pit bull high cinderblock walls
– Prevents dogs from climbing walls
– Blocks their view of other animals

Housing Housing
• Secure and padlock doors
– To foil escape artists • Avoid placing pit bulls directly
– To prevent dogs opposite or adjacent to other dogs
from being stolen – Especially opposite other fighting dogs

• Provide bedding- towels or blankets
– Thin hair coats
– Subject to developing pressure sores QuickTime™ and a

and other skin conditions

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– Check to make sure not eating bedding

• Provide environmental enrichment
– Kongs, bowling balls, buster cubes, etc…

Housing Housing
• Install a panic button in rooms housing pit • Staff should also be trained in ways to
bulls along with other restraint equipment break up a dog fight
in any room housing pit bulls • Methods to use on pit bulls that are
• In case of an emergency, staff will know to fighting include bite sticks to pry open
go to the assistance of other staff their jaws, poles, or water directed in their
immediately face and nostrils with a hose
• Pit bulls are tenacious when fighting, and • In extreme cases where all else has failed,
they have very powerful jaws mace or pepper spray may be sprayed
toward their face

Behavior and Placement
Behavior Considerations
• Fighting dogs are bred for dog to dog • Temperament test or otherwise evaluate
aggression, not human aggression their behavior before considering
• They often bond very closely to humans
• Placement must consider all characteristics
• They often do not signal or warn of an and adopt to experienced owners only
attack, and may not respond to normal ƒ May be dog aggressive and friendly to humans
signs of submission when fighting ƒ May be people and dog friendly
ƒ May be dog and human aggressive

Placement Suggestions Placement Suggestions

• Screen all adopters closely as for any • Look at adopters environment to

adoption, and then for prior dog determine if a Pit Bull is a good match
owning experience as well – Urban area, dog parks
• Sterilize all pit bulls before release – Small children in the home
from the shelter! – Other pets
• Make follow up calls and visits

Placement Suggestions Placement Suggestions

• Dog may be OK until social maturity In this author’s opinion, the
at 18-24 mos of age placement of dogs with a history
– Concern about adopting out puppies from of dog fighting should be strongly
known fighting lines
discouraged, if not outright
– Need experienced guardians
– Counsel adopters

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases and
Nutrition in the Shelter Holding Animals Long-Term

• Feed high quality dry food twice a day • Document a complete and
• Feed on a higher plane of nutrition- avoid
generic food
accurate description of the dog
– Used to lots of exercise and activity • Good medical records can be essential
– Can lose weight due to stress to the successful prosecution of a
• Use treats judiciously to avoid unwanted cruelty case
weight gain in sedentary dogs • They may be admitted as evidence in
the case

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases and
and Holding Animals Long-Term
Holding Animals Long-Term
• Medical records should be neat and
• Maintain ongoing records, with
photographs, throughout the • Avoid the use of white out to correct
course of the animal’s stay and
• Mistakes should be crossed out and
initial them

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases Guidelines for Cruelty Cases and

and Holding Animals Long-Term Holding Animals Long-Term

• Cruelty cases may stay in the shelter • Perform a complete physical exam
for weeks to months (PE) on entry to the facility
• Important to maintain a written • PE should include an all systems
record of their health status even if evaluation, not just a record of the
they are no longer being treated abnormal values and findings

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases and Guidelines for Cruelty Cases and
Holding Animals Long-Term Holding Animals Long-Term
• Document all entries legibly in the medical
• If necessary and not medically record. This is a legal document. Do not
contraindicated, the dog should be white out or erase incorrect entries
tranquilized to perform the exam • Record the dog’s initial and subsequent
• PE should be performed within the weights
first 24 hours of the dog’s entering • Scan for a microchip and check for a
the shelter. tattoo (inner ear, thigh and groin most

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases Guidelines for Cruelty Cases

and Holding Animals Long-Term and Holding Animals Long-Term

• Take good quality photographs • Maintain the chain of custody of the

before, after and throughout the evidence- know where the evidence is at all
course of treatment
• The chain of custody of the evidence
• Photographs are important visual refers to the ability to identify, with
records that have a dramatic impact certainty, the whereabouts of the evidence
on judges and juries at all times

Guidelines for Cruelty Cases Cruelty Cases

and Holding Animals Long-Term
• Try to ascertain the actual cause of
the injury or condition
• Evidence should be initialed and kept – Include neglect or abuse
under lock and key. – Rule out medical conditions (such as
• Consult closely with prosecutors and diabetes or neoplasia)
investigators on proper procedure

Cruelty Cases
Signalment or Description
• Court cases can be lost if the description
• Be prepared to answer the questions: of the animal is not accurate
- How long did it take for this condition to • Owner’s name or complaint number
develop? • Species and breed
- Was this animal suffering needlessly? • All colors
- Prognosis? • Gender-include spay or neuter status
• All other pertinent identifying
- Scars, different eye color?
- Dewclaws, etc….

Signalment Physical Examination

• Evaluate dog’s overall condition
• Describe all wounds in detail
Fighting dog’s ears are often - Cause
cropped very close to their head - Number
- Type (abrasions, punctures, bites, lacerations,
Make note of this cuts)
Are the ears cropped? - Wounds in various stages of healing common in
fighting dogs
How close?
- Location (fighting dog bite wounds may be
Does it appear professional? found on face, head and neck, throat, legs)

Physical Examination Physical Examination

• Evaluate and record TPR, hydration and • The medical record should read like the
condition of mucus membranes classic text book record, with TPR,
• Evaluate body condition using TACC score capillary refill, degree of dehydration,
• Check toenails for infections or declawing percentage the animal is underweight, etc..
• Check mouth for broken teeth from • Veterinarians who examine animals in
fighting cruelty cases are frequently called upon to
• Check vocal ability- guard dogs may be testify as expert witnesses

Physical Examination TACC Scale for

• The medical records that are kept 5 Emaciated

during the normal course of business

4 Very
in a private practice or shelter 3 Thin
2 Underweight/
frequently omit information that lean
would be desirable for a court case. 1 Ideal

Medical Records Medical Records

• Include the history, including the • The behavior evaluation is an important
part of the medical record and should be
source if not obtained from the under ongoing reevaluation
owner • If it is inappropriate to evaluate the animal
• Include a behavioral evaluation as immediately upon entry, a notation should
be made to that effect, and why
part of the medical record

• Use 35 mm camera and film
• Digital photography is admissible A picture
in court
• Take both close ups and distant
can be
• Use a label with name, date, etc
worth a
• Use a ruler in photo to measure thousand
• Use flash if necessary words
• Take lots of pictures

Treatment Protocols
• Vaccinate
• Perform fecal and use broad spectrum
dewormer as a matter of routine
• Consider performing heartworm test
• In all cruelty cases, perform lab work and
take radiographs

Radiographs Treatment Protocols

• If abuse is suspected, take whole • Treat all medical problems promptly
body radiographs and look for • Dogs that have been used for fighting are
frequently treated by their owners with
fractures in various stages of antibiotics they obtain from various
healing- pay special attention to ribs sources
• Use radiology specialists as experts • The repeated and inappropriate use of
these drugs may create some resistance
to testify to age of fractures problems

Treatment Protocols Vaccinations

• Vaccinate on entry for major core
• Monitor weight regularly as long-term diseases if health permits
boarders may gain or lose • Consider parvo booster for long-
• Dogs that enter the shelter as victims of term residents in 6 months
neglect or abuse usually experience a • Consider intranasal bordetella
weight gain initially vaccine if kennel cough is a
• However long term boarders may problem and the dog is tractable
eventually begin to lose weight, or become enough for this route of
overweight due to inactivity administration

Vaccinations Vaccinations
• Vaccinate for rabies upon release or • If the dog has been bitten by an unknown
follow regulations for rabies animal and has no vaccination history, he
vaccination if a bite case should be treated as a rabies exposure and
should either be euthanized for rabies
• If the dog has bitten someone, he testing or held in quarantine for 6 months
must be held for 10 days and and vaccinated one month prior to the end
vaccinated at the end of that period. of the quarantine.
• If the dog is currently vaccinated, he must
be revaccinated and held for 45 days for

Observations About Pit Bulls Observations About Pit Bulls

• Gunshot victims may present as clinically
Pit bulls are – No outward sign of distress

often extremely • Elicitation of pain can be an unreliable

diagnostic indicator
well muscled, – They also show little reaction to normal pain
making diagnosis stimulus
and treatment • In cases of cranial cruciate rupture, these
more difficult dogs can be so well muscled it is difficult
to elicit a drawer sign

Observations about Pit Bulls Observations About Pit Bulls

• If excited, Pits may initially require high • Temperament changes may be observed as
doses of tranquilizers to calm or sedate sick animals regain their strength, going
them from meek to aggressive
– But then they can become too heavily sedated • Staff frequently become very attached to
• Some veterinarians report resistance to these dogs during the initial stages of
acepromazine their recovery when they are very docile,
• Others report sensitivity to ace affectionate and calm
• Be careful when sedating

Observations About Pit
Observations about Pit Bulls
• As they regain their strength and vigor,
they may revert to their normal behavior • Use treatment regimens that
and sometimes become more aggressive minimize risk
• It is very difficult to make the decision to - Once or twice a day dosing
euthanize after the staff has bonded with - Oral drugs that can be hidden in food
an animal that has been rescued from an
- Ivermectin for mange instead of dips
abusive situation

Observations About Pit Bulls Observations About Pit Bulls

• Pit bulls often enter the shelter under
heavy or over- sedation • Pit bulls that have been properly
• Treat aggressively with warmth and IV bred and well socialized can be
fluids very affectionate and loyal pets.
• Use extreme caution to avoid being bitten
as they regain full consciousness
• Although this may occur with any breed, a
pit bull bite will cause more damage

The Two Sides of the

Pit Bull Program Options Story
• Pay to Spay Pit Programs
• Breed Rescue Groups
• Pits in Prison Programs
• Legislative activities
– Promote aggressive dog legislation, NOT
breed-specific bans

Great References
• Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and
– Edited by Lila Miller and Stephen
• Blackwell Publishing
• 1-800-862-6657

QuickTime™ and a
TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor
are needed to see this picture.