DEAR DR. FOX: I just read about the grandfather whose husky rescue, in the family home, began to bark at him after being in the household three months. Although I suspect you are correct with a PTSD diagnosis, I wonder if something could have changed in the gentleman’s health. Our Labrador retriever became very worried just before my husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Hank is an elderly dog now, but eight years ago, he was an exuberant, rowdy clown. For the period shortly before my husband’s diagnosis, however, Hank was subdued, depressed, restless and worried. He did not bark at my husband, as the dog in your column did. He seemed to be looking to us for assurance. Labradors can have an exceptional sense of smell, and I thought perhaps my husband just didn’t smell right to Hank.
My husband did survive, and is now eight years past cancer surgery and doing well. -- N.J.S., Applegate, Oregon
DEAR N.J.S.: Your letter is very much appreciated. In my opinion, any behavioral change in a dog toward one family member, whose attitude and relationship with the dog have not changed, calls for close attention.
A first step would be to have a veterinarian rule out any underlying medical problem in the dog. Then have the person the dog seems so concerned about consult with a physician. Dogs have a highly evolved sense of smell, and some can detect early changes in body chemistry and scent, which can be associated with a variety of health problems.
My wife and I recently joined the millions of others who have been infected with this year’s particularly debilitating influenza virus. Our part-Australian heeler rescue, Kota, stays close to us all the time in bed, keeping a watchful eye on us as we groan and cough, and herding us back to lie down after we’ve gotten up. The empathy of dogs is legendary indeed, and they are certainly blessings in our lives.
SAFER CHEWS FOR DOGS
News item: Hunters say dog chew trend invites antler thefts
The growing popularity of antlers as chew snacks for dogs has fueled a brisk market, but has also led to reported thievery. Police don’t have precise figures, but hunters in Anchorage, Alaska, say they suspect criminals are swiping souvenirs for resale to pet owners seeking the nutritious product. -- Alaska Public Media, Jan. 4
This news item reminds me to advise dog owners not to give such hard materials to their dogs to chew on, because the harder the material, the more likely a dog will crack or fracture a tooth. This is a painful and costly consequence. Avoid all the smoked and otherwise treated animal parts in pet stores that could be loaded with potentially harmful bacteria. Only buy dog chews that do not feel rock-hard and that are clearly manufactured in the U.S., such as rawhide strips, freeze-dried chicken strips for small dogs and PetzLife’s Complete Treats.
Dogs do love to chew bones, but monitor them closely. Try a raw beef shank bone, scalded or microwaved for two minutes to sanitize, and allow your dog to chew on it for only five to 10 minutes a day. Otherwise, there could be excessive tooth wear and damage. This is the only animal bone I recommend, since other kinds could splinter and cause internal damage -- even more so when cooked, poultry and pork ribs in particular.
Our dog enjoys chewing and stripping broken branches from our linden trees, but again, one must monitor such activities. I advise against dogs chasing and catching thrown sticks that could become impaled in their throats; rubber toys and Frisbees are safer.
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