DEAR READERS: I am echoing the awareness postings in the U.K. by various groups such as the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, hoping to highlight what their consultant veterinarian, Dr. Richard Saunders, sees as a critical health care crisis for pet rabbits.
He says the health benefits of good-quality hay are incredible, and that some of the biggest welfare problems for rabbits -- from dental and gastrointestinal disease, to obesity and fly strike -- are often caused by poor diet. Rabbit owners in the U.S., like those in the U.K., may be feeding their bunnies mainly pellets, and not sufficient hay.
Visit rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk for more details. Readers who have rabbits or are contemplating bringing one into their homes will enjoy Marie Mead’s book, “Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits -- Inspirational Stories of Rescue, Triumph and Joy.”
DEAR DR. FOX: My husband and I adopted a schnauzer/terrier mix from the Animal League, a no-kill shelter in Green Valley, Arizona, where I volunteered for several years before we moved back to New Jersey. The dog loves people and is friendly with other dogs. The only time he’s not is when he sees someone riding a bicycle. Then, he gets very vicious.
My only thought is that, before he was found tied to a post in Tucson, he may have been abused by someone riding a bike.
He is such a loving dog and we adore him, but we’re unsure how to handle this problem. Any suggestions from you will be greatly appreciated. -- J.S., Toms River, New Jersey
DEAR J.S.: Your dog’s apparent phobic reaction toward bicycles could be related to some earlier traumatic experience involving a bicycle and rider, as you say. It could also be that, from his perspective, bicycles are simply threatening, and should be chased down or defended against.
Either way, I would borrow a bicycle for a few days and bring it into the house. Spin the wheels, and sit on it and move the pedals. Such “total immersion”/exposure should quickly desensitize your dog, who will learn that there is nothing to fear.
If you have an enclosed yard, sit on the bike and let your dog habituate to seeing you or a friend sitting on the bike, and have him come up for a treat. Do several repetitions of approach-sit-reward. He will learn to associate pleasure rather than fear with being near the bicycle. If successful, maybe after three daily sessions of 10-15 minutes, keep the dog on a leash while someone rides around on the bicycle, while you have your dog sit. Give him a few treats as long as he remains quiet.
CHILDHOOD EXPOSURE TO CATS MIGHT REDUCE ASTHMA RISK
Some children who grow up in households with cats may be less likely than those in cat-free households to develop asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory problems, according to a study from the Copenhagen Studies on Asthma in Childhood Research Center. Researchers linked the effect to a specific gene variant, and exposure to bacteria, fungi or viruses that cats carry into the home might deactivate the gene, said study leader Jakob Stokholm. (The Telegraph, Nov. 9)
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.
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