LAS VEGAS — The following reader questions were answered at the 83rd annual Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas from Feb. 20 to 24. Nearly 15,000 veterinary professionals attended it for continuing education. Speakers included many of the world's top experts in veterinary medicine. Several of them agreed to weigh in on your queries.
Question: Is it OK to let your pets sleep in bed with you or not? You've supported the idea, but now I see some don't believe it's a good idea. — J.K., Houston
Answer: You're referring to a study from UC Davis that pointed out potential dangers of sharing your bed with a dog or cat. Much of their report focused on parasite transmission.
"The truth is that the vast majority of these parasites are preventable, using products recommended by your veterinarian," says Dr. Larry Kornegay of Houston, president of the American Veterinary Medical Assn.
As for reported dangers of being on the wet end of a dog kiss, Kornegay laughs and says, "Well, regular dental care can control much that bacteria."
He adds, "Listen, I'm all for using common sense."
Allowing pets to lick open sores — not a good idea, for example. Or to give you a kiss after having been in the trash — also not a good idea.
Immuno-compromised individuals, for example, should probably not be sharing the bed with a pet. Ask your physician.
"I can tell you humans have shared their sleeping spaces with dogs (actually ancestors of today's dogs) since the Stone Age," Kornegay says. "The human/animal bond has more benefits than potential risks, which are minimized with regular veterinary exams."
Kornegay concedes that his daughter shares her bed with a miniature schnauzer, and sometimes two cats squeeze in, too.
Q: I rescued a kitten at about four weeks old. He's wonderful, but he's always biting me. He'll even give me kisses, then bite. How can I teach him to like me? — T.C.W., Tampa, Fla.
A: I don't know the age of your pet, or how long you've had him.
In any case, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, comments: "You are the social partner with the kitten, assuming there's no other cat in the home. Particularly, if the kitten is still young, my first response is to add a second kitten."
A second kitten will instantly respond to your existing cat's hard biting and stop all play. You need to do that, as well.
"Even better, pre-empt your cat," says Landsberg. "If you see he's about to bite, get up and walk away."
It's ideal to predict the behavior based on cues from your cat, such as a tail flashing wildly back and forth, or the cat's ears going down. Don't wait to be bitten.
Most importantly, don't make a game of it (from your cat's perspective). You can certainly say "ouch" if the cat bites, but don't make a dramatic scene. Some cats relish such attention.
Landsberg adds, "Never use your fingers as a toy. Always have toys available, and play with your cat using an interactive toy (a fishing pole-type toy with features or fabric)."
By the way, your cat may be teething and/or may have never learned to inhibit his bites. This has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with not going to the right "school."
Q: My 9-month-old Lhasa Apso-mix bites at people's shoes as they're about to leave the house. Our dog even goes after my husband when he leaves for work. What could I have done to start this? — H.O., Las Vegas
A: Applied animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin, of San Francisco, has an idea, and that's to use her invention! It's a product called The Manner's Minder, a remote-controlled reward system that uses positive reinforcement for training dogs to shape new behaviors.
A feeding tray rewards dogs by dispensing treats. Dogs quickly learn to go to the Manner's Minder rather than chasing company or jumping on visitors when the bell rings.
The product is available online on various websites, including http://www.amazon.com, currently for $87. I know it's a hefty price tag, so here's another idea: Stuff a special treat inside a Kong toy or Busy Buddy toy (so it will take a few minutes to get out) or toss your dog's favorite toy in the opposite direction of the door. The dog will run after the toy or work the chewy instead of chasing shoes.
"At first, it's important to keep the leash on so you can direct your dog if necessary," says Yin. "Your dog will learn there's a special treat or a game that's more interesting, more fun than chasing people at the door."