DEAR DR. FOX: We have a wonderful 3-year-old miniature poodle who is a delight in almost every way. Despite getting lots of exercise and having many chew toys to gnaw on, he still likes to chew our bed linens and decorative pillows. He's put holes in sheets and pillowcases.
What can we do? -- N.M., Gainesville, Virginia
DEAR N.M.: There are many reasons why your little dog engages in such destructive chewing. I would advise a veterinary wellness examination to rule out any chronic inflammatory condition, oral or abdominal, that could make your dog want to chew things all the time. If this behavior most often occurs when you are away from the home, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety coupled with obsessive-compulsive behavior -- resulting in a neurotic need to chew.
Being bored and in the home alone all day can lead to destructive behaviors. Small dog breeds have varying degrees of paedomorphosis -- the perpetuation of puppylike physical traits into adulthood, including disproportionately large heads; protruding, "appealing" eyes; malformed jaws and dentition; and misshapen and misaligned limbs. All these paedomorphic traits can lead to a variety of health problems later in life.
Many dogs -- and not just smaller breeds -- also inherit, through human selection, what I term paedopsychic traits. The behavioral repertoire associated with extreme paedopsychosis, or behavioral neoteny, consists of predominantly infantile or puppyish behaviors normally seen just in brief episodes of spirited playfulness and moments of anxiety in most adult dogs. These behaviors include almost continuous attention-seeking behavior, excessive vocal and oral activity (chewing and licking) and searching behaviors, all of which can become obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Along with the physical ailments associated with paedomorphosis, these poor dogs do not have the best quality of life without constant attention and often considerable veterinary expense. They are especially prone to separation anxiety. Many suffer alone all day in holding crates in apartments in affluent urban communities worldwide, where they are currently popularized status symbols, fashion accessories and a source of emotional gratification. Abnormal behaviors related to boredom often develop in dogs confined in such unstimulating environments.
The attention-seeking behaviors that are rewarded by the devoted attention of owners highly conditioned by their dogs may in some instances evolve into Munchausen by proxy, especially when coupled with physical abnormalities. These overdependent, hypersocial dogs may carry the gene responsible in humans for the Williams syndrome, where affected children are exceptionally gregarious and friendly toward strangers.
Since extreme forms of paedomorphism and paedopsychism can lower the quality of life of such animals, their deliberate and continued propagation should be seriously reconsidered. Those caring for such dogs, many of which are adorable but are challenged physically and emotionally, should not overindulge, since that only reinforces dependency. Apart from not breeding dogs with such extreme traits, joining a regular play group with other dogs may be the best medicine to help let the real dog emerge by reinforcing more mature dog-dog interactions.
DEAR DR. FOX: We adopted a 1-year-old Pomeranian from a rescue group five years ago.
He has had trouble with a luxating patella for over a year. Now the vet says it is a Grade 3, and he needs surgery. He would have to be crated most of the time for a couple months, with no running. He is currently taking carprofen and tramadol (when needed).
This dog was crated the whole first year of his life. We only crated him until he was house-trained.
We asked the vet about exercises, and she said they probably would not help. At the present time, his quality of life is good. At what point do we say yes to surgery? -- J.S., Wentzville, Missouri
DEAR J.S.: Your dog's condition is quite common in smaller breeds. A luxating patella, or trick knee, calls for surgical correction if, toward maturity, the ligaments helping keep it in place do not tighten up.
This developmental defect has a hereditary basis. There are accounts of pups with this condition, after being given time to mature and regular exercise, having their kneecaps eventually stabilize, and surgery was not needed. Your poor dog's confinement in a crate during her early development most probably interfered with this self-healing process. Left untreated, your dog will be unable to enjoy full range of normal physical activities and is likely to develop inflammatory, arthritic lesions that will later interfere further with mobility.
I would opt for surgery without further delay, and shame on whomever kept him in a crate for a year. They should be prosecuted.
A LEGAL WIN FOR DOGS IN OHIO
An Ohio appeals court raised the value of dogs above that of other items of property by ruling that a lower court must revisit a 2015 civil suit that awarded a dog's market value ($400) to the plaintiff, even though the cost of the dog's treatment exceeded $10,000. "Pets do not have the same characteristics as other forms of personal property, such as a table or sofa, which is disposable and replaceable at our convenience," wrote three judges from the appeals court.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)