OLDER DOGS NEED A LITTLE HELP TO GET THROUGH COLD WEATHER
Cold weather is ruff, er, rough on older dogs, but they don't have to be miserable. Your dog's health in later years is not entirely in your control, but you can have a real impact on a pet's attitude by keeping him warm, comfortable and keeping his mind and body gently active.
As your dog ages, increase the frequency and diminish the intensity of his exercise. Instead of taking your dog to the park once a week to chase tennis balls until he's exhausted, take him for a long walk daily. If your dog is having problems with physical activity, talk to your veterinarian. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may help, as may supplements such as glucosamine or alternative treatments such as acupuncture.
For his mental health, talk to your veterinarian about products that help with brain function. And keep those brain cells clicking by using food puzzles. These toys require pets to play with them to get the food out, little bits at a time. They can also be a part of your plan to keep your less-active senior dog from putting on excess pounds.
Your dog has no real sense of shame or embarrassment, so he suffers no loss of face if you come up with some ideas to make his life a little easier. Truly, the number of ways you can give your oldster a break is limited only by your imagination. Here are a few tips to get you thinking:
-- Beds. Think soft. Think cushioned. Think low. Think heated. Your dog will thank you for all of these thoughts, especially in cold weather.
-- Clothes. Older dogs, like older people, have a more difficult time maintaining their body temperature. This problem is even more pronounced in slender, short-coated breeds like the greyhound or whippet. So check out the sweater selection at your local pet-supply store, repurpose thrift-store children's clothes, or make your own if you're crafty.
-- Ramps and steps. If your dog is allowed on the couch and the bed, get steps to help him if he can no longer make it in one jump. You wouldn't want to watch TV without your dog at your side, would you? A permanent ramp going down the back porch steps or a slide-out ramp to help your dog get into the car will also be appreciated.
While you're making household adjustments, don't forget to make an appointment for a senior dog checkup. Your veterinarian may recommend some diagnostic tests in addition to a physical examination -- typically, blood work and an X-ray -- to spot problems early or to establish a baseline of what's normal for your dog. You should also consider having your dog's teeth attended to, because gum infections and mouth pain will severely affect the comfort and health of your dog. Most veterinarians recommend twice-annual checkups for senior dogs, by the way.
The senior dog checkup is also a good time to determine if your dog's slowing down means his diet will need to change to take excess weight off his joints.
Helping to keep your older dog healthy and fit will mean his senior years will be happier and more comfortable as time goes by. When the weather is cold, nothing will seem so important to your dog as what you can do to offset the challenges of aging.
Beak trims not
needed for bird
Q: Do I need to trim the beak on my African Grey parrot? I find contradictory advice in books and on the Internet. -- via Facebook
A: Although beaks are constantly growing at a rate of one to three inches per year, depending on the species, the beak of a normal pet bird does not need to be trimmed. Your bird will keep his beak at the proper length through normal chewing activities. Chewing is essential both for the physical and emotional health of a parrot.
Overgrowth of the beak is frequently a sign of illness, such as liver disease or malnutrition. In many situations, there may be a malocclusion, or misalignment of the upper and lower mandibles, not allowing normal wear to occur and resulting in beak overgrowth.
Contrary to some information you've found, don't accept "beak trims" as a routine health care measure -- they're not. A bird who gets routine "beak trims" instead of proper medical attention may get an attractive beak, but the bird is likely to die of the primary disease that is causing the abnormal growth of the beak in the first place.
Many of these malocclusions, nutritional issues, or liver problems can be corrected if diagnosed and addressed early and accurately.
Strong as they are, beaks sometimes break. Common causes of beak fractures include fighting between birds of different sizes (with the smaller one usually getting the worst of it) and excessively short wing trims that offer no "gliding" ability, so a falling bird lands hard on his beak (or on his fanny, which can also be injured).
For optimum beak health, provide your bird with lots of things to chew on. If you see a beak problem, don't try to deal with it on your own. Your bird needs the help of an experienced avian veterinarian to properly diagnose and treat any problem. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dog's licking won't
help your wounds
-- The idea that a dog's saliva has healing powers has been around at least since the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose physicians believed it to be an antidote for poisoning. Later, St. Roch was often pictured with a dog licking a sore, reflecting the belief that the patron saint of plague victims knew something about a cure and that his dog's saliva made him healthy. Modern medicine, no surprise, doesn't look kindly on such theories. And by the way: Dogs are attracted to open wounds because the serum from them is sweet.
-- The phrase "Beware of Dog" is so old that its Latin equivalent -- cave canem -- has been found on signs in Roman ruins. The word "watchdog" isn't quite so old; the first mention of it is by Shakespeare, in "The Tempest."
-- Neuter a dog with a needle? The return of an injectable drug that sterilizes male dogs is being watched closely by animal-welfare organizations and veterinarians, in hopes of having another tool at their disposal in keeping the number of pets needing new homes down. According to the VIN News Service, Zeuterin is a solution of zinc gluconate that's injected directly into the testicles, killing existing sperm and stimulating inflammation that leads to scarring. The resulting scar tissue results in infertility. -- Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.