So often I seem to be writing about the value of patience when it comes to getting a pet to do something he'd rather not. Time can work wonders, but sometimes those wonders take a lot of time indeed.
In the case of my big retriever, Benjamin, I can now report success with his nail-trimming. My most tender-footed pup now accepts nail trims as inevitable and doesn't fight me toe-by-toe. The timetable for such success? A mere five years. How time flies when you're not having fun struggling to keep nails trimmed on 80 pounds of highly reluctant dog!
Shortening nails can turn into a hard-fought war with bloody casualties on both sides. Because of that, many people leave the task of trimming nails to their groomer or veterinarian. But unless you're seeing these professionals a lot more than most people, your pet's nails aren't being trimmed often enough. Long nails can make walking uncomfortable and can even cause lameness, which is why trimming nails short -- they should be just off the ground when your pet is standing -- and then trimming them just a pinch every week is a better way to go.
The problem with nails is that each has a blood vessel inside. The trick is to trim to just beyond the end of this vein; if you nick it, the nail will bleed, and your dog will yelp. Everyone hits this vein on occasion, even veterinarians, which is why you should be sure to have blood-stopping powder on hand, such as Kwik Stop, before you start trimming.
If your dog has light-colored toenails, the blood vessel is the pink area. Black nails are harder to figure out, but you should be able to see the vein by shining a flashlight behind the nail. If you can't tell, just clip back a little at a time. If you draw blood, take a pinch of the powder and press it against the exposed bottom of the nail for a few seconds to stop the bleeding.
If your dog's nails are so long that they're forcing her foot out of position, you can take them back to where they should be in two ways. The first is to cut a little off them every few days: The quick recedes before you as you go. The second way is to have your veterinarian take them all the way back when your dog is under anesthesia, such as for a dental cleaning and scaling. After the nails are the proper length, both in the front and back, keeping them that way is easy with a weekly trim.
If your dog is resistant to having her nails trimmed, work up to the task slowly by touching her feet, then her toes, then the nails, all while praising her and giving her a treat for holding still. When she is used to having her feet handled, put the trimmer against the nail and praise and treat more still. Then trim a little off, and so on. Praise and more praise! Treats and more treats! Don't insist on getting all the nails done. Do one a night, and put the nippers away while both you and the dog are feeling positive about the experience.
The process of teaching a dog to tolerate nail trims can be a long one (and Benjamin is truly a worst-case scenario). If you're patient, consistent and persistent, you'll get there.
While you're trimming, don't forget the dewclaws, those extra toes you can find up on the inside of the leg. Not all dogs have them, but for those who do, neglected nails can be a problem. They catch on things such as upholstery and can tear the toe partly off the leg, which is one reason why many breeders have them removed at birth. Keeping the nail on the dewclaw short is important, too.
An alternative to nail-trimming is nail-grinding. You can buy a canine nail grinder, or just use a lightweight rotary grinding tool, such as the Dremmel. Some dogs very much prefer having their nails ground instead of clipped, perhaps because with a grinder it's easy to stop before you hit the quick. The most important thing to remember when grinding is that nails can get very hot while you're working on them. Don't grind continuously. Touch the grinder to the nail in very, very short bursts -- a second or two, at most -- to keep the heat from building up.
PETS ON THE WEB
How to Love Your Dog (www.geocities.com/(tilde)kidsanddogs) advertises itself as "A Kid's Guide to Dog Care," and you'll certainly be able to turn your kid loose here and feel good about the experience. The site offers oodles of fascinating information on dogs, along with kid-friendly tips on training and care, riddles, quizzes and games. I love the areas where the kids themselves contribute to the content.
The sections on what dogs cost and what dogs need will help children understand those circumstances when getting a dog just isn't possible. For those children who can't have dogs, a list of suggestions are included to ease the longing, from getting an alternative pet to walking a neighbor's dog. The creator, Janet Wall, also maintains a mailing list for parents and teachers who'd like to be kept informed when new content goes on the site.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: When my neighbor moved, she gave me her white cockatiel. Blanca is a nice bird (very tame), and we're getting along fine. Following your advice, I'm even trying to convert her from an all-seed diet to pellets, along with sharing my food with her. It's slow going, but we're getting there. One thing that came with Blanca has me wondering, though. My neighbor gave Blanca an antibiotic that she bought at a pet store whenever she thought her bird was sick. I guess it worked OK, but I noticed that the label says the medication is for fish. I wonder how safe it is. -- B.K., via e-mail
A: Antibiotics are one of the outstanding contributions of modern medicine, and they have saved countless lives. But we have become so comfortable with these medicines and their frequent usage that we sometimes forget they are powerful drugs that should be used with care.
And yet many pet owners respond to any sign of illness by dosing -- and often overdosing -- their pets with a couple of antibiotics commonly available at pet-supply stores (and often labeled for other pets, such as the one meant for fish). This sort of treatment for a sick bird is a spectacularly bad idea, for a couple of reasons.
First, if your bird has a viral or fungal infection, an antibiotic will not help. And in the case of a fungal infection, it may even worsen your bird's condition.
Second, not all antibiotics are the same. They each have their target bacteria, and may little affect the bacteria that they're not designed to combat, as well as bacteria that are resistant to their effects.
Finally, regular use of antibiotics may affect both your bird's immune system and the bacteria trying to beat it, leading to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that will be hard to stamp out even with the "right" medication.
When you buy an antibiotic at a pet-supply store, you are often wasting your money. And you're certainly losing time -- time that should be spent taking your bird to your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment.
I recommend that you take Blanca to see a veterinarian familiar with birds to assess her overall health and make sure she's getting the best possible care in your home. Your neighbor's reliance on an all-seed diet and over-the-counter medications means Blanca didn't get off to the best start in life. It's up to you to help her onto the right track.
Q: What's the largest breed of cat? -- H.R., via e-mail
A: It's a very rare breed in this country, but the Siberian cat may be the largest, with males approaching 30 pounds -- and looking even bigger, with a lush coat of long, thick fur. More common, the Maine coon cat is a pretty hefty contender, with males getting close to 20 pounds. The normal weight range for most cats runs 8 to 10 pounds, by the way.
The smallest breed of cat, incidentally, is the Singapura, which looks rather like a small Abyssinian. Females run as small as 4 pounds, and males aren't much bigger, at 6.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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