Q: My cat gets the hiccups and sometimes belches. I've always had a cat, but this is my first male, and he's a sweetheart. Do male cats in particular get hiccups? What should I do about it? — E.R., Cyberspace
A: "In my 42-year career as a veterinarian, I've never seen or heard of a cat with hiccups," says Chicago veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Rubin. "So, no, male cats are not more likely to get the hiccups."
Rubin says your best bet is to videotape whatever is going on so your veterinarian can see it. Your cat could have a gastric reflux issue, a diaphragmatic hernia, or who knows, he could simply be gulping water, then belching. True hiccups are unlikely.
As for what to do about the problem, that depends upon what's actually going on. Traditional cures for hiccups in people don't really work (scaring someone, holding your nose while drinking a glass of water, etc.), so don't hide around a corner and holler, "Attack dog!" If your cat can actually drink water from a glass while holding his nose, this may not stop the hiccups but might earn you a spot on David Letterman's list of "Stupid Pet Tricks."
Q: One of my parakeets appears to have a neurological problem. When she flies, she loses her balance when landing. She also loses her balance while perching. Her stool has increased in quantity. The vet said she might be egg-bound and referred me to a specialist. However, my bird is so stressed at the vet I'd rather try to help her at home. Any ideas? — P.S., Cyberspace
A: Indeed, there may be an "egg-bound issue," says Dr. Peter Sakas, a Niles, Ill., veterinarian with a special interest in birds. "What might be going on could relate to nutrition, causing hypocalcimia (low calcium), which then explains the problem with the egg being stuck. And there are other possible explanations, including liver disease."
What you can do at home is to make sure your parakeet is on a nutritionally sound diet. You do need to see a veterinarian experienced with parakeets. This would not provide a diagnosis, but also help you better understand how to calm your frazzled feathered friend.
Q: I'm 15 and seriously considering becoming a veterinarian. What classes do you recommend I take in high school and college? I'm now taking English and advanced algebra and chemistry classes. I'm an honors student. Which college or university is best, and what classes should I take there? — D.C., Hartford, Conn.
A: Dr. Jack Walther, of Elko, Nev., past president of the Schaumburg, Ill.-based American Veterinary Medical Assn., has been a vet for about 50 years.
"When in high school, take lots of science and math, and whatever classes might help you communicate with people," he advises. "And all throughout high school and into college, those good grades do make a difference."
Getting into veterinary school is competitive; in fact, many suggest it's more difficult than being accepted for medical school, partly because there are so few veterinary schools. It might help to attend a college or university with a veterinary school.
Walther adds, "You'll want to take the pre-vet courses already outlined, which will include biology, embryology, physiology and all the 'ologies," Aside from good grades, vet schools will consider your work record and hands-on experience. A job at a veterinary clinic, or volunteer work at an animal shelter might give you a leg up.
"What's more, you'll determine for yourself what being a veterinarian is all about by seeing what we do first hand," Walther notes.
The trend at the moment is to work with dogs, cats and other pets, or to pursue more schooling as a small animal specialist. However, expressing a desire to work with farm animals, zoo animals or in government - where there are greater needs - may enhance your chances.
Q: When I lean over to pick up Shirley, our shih tzu, she backs away. Why? — M.N., St. Paul, Minn.
A: It could be your dog is remembering a bad experience; she may have been dropped by mistake or handled roughly in the past. It might be her personality; reaching over a dog — especially a small dog —is intimidating. Then again, maybe your pup is just too antsy.
Whatever is behind Shirley's worries, here's how to fix the problem: Either tell her to sit for a treat, or have her sit in your lap (while you're sitting on the floor or on a sofa). Act like you're going to pick her up but don't, and offer a treat. When Shirley's anxieties dissipate, pretend to pick her up again, then actually do so, but only for a few seconds. If she's cooperative, offer a treat, and maybe even carry her (a short distance) to dinner or play a fun game. This way, she'll associate being picked up with something she enjoys. You'll soon be toting Shirley all over the place.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD@STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.