My Pet World: Can our pets become alcoholics?

Recently, I celebrated 15 years of answering your questions. Here are some favorites among the thousands I've received:

Q: My cat got into my wine glass while I was away from the table. I caught him red-handed with the red wine. I noticed he enjoyed it. I don't think he got drunk but he sure did sleep well that night. I know that because he's so small even a few licks could be damaging. I don't think this will happen again, but I'm curious. Are there any alcoholic dogs or cats? Also, is alcohol any more dangerous for pets than for people? — S.E., Montreal, Quebec, Canada

A: Dr. Steve Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Center, Urbana, Ill., says, "The primary reasons we don't want pets drinking alcohol is that their bodies aren't adjusted to it. And if they over-indulge, they may lose balance and fall from a counter or down stairs."

Also, it's true that just a few sips for a cat or small dog may be equivalent to a glass of wine for a person. There are no known studies on long-term use of alcohol in dogs or cats. However, Hansen suggests that pets, cats in particular, may be even more susceptible than people to renal, and especially liver issues, from too much of a good thing.

By the way, there are anecdotal stories of dogs who've been encouraged to imbibe, particularly in college fraternities; so certainly, alcohol addiction is possible. In fact, on St. Kitt's in the Caribbean (as it happens, the home of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine), monkeys who live near the beach visit local bars and many are truly addicted to alcohol.

Q: How do you potty-train a baby iguana? — J.D., Cyberspace

A: Iguanas are naturally clean, according to James Hatfield III, author of "Green Iguana: The Ultimate Owners Manual."

Your enclosure must be spacious, giving your iguana a place to do its business away from its primary living space.

Stack three pieces of paper towel together and place them inside two full pages of newspaper (folded paper towel size). Tape the edges together with masking tape. You've just created an absorbent iguana toilet. Construct several of these "toilets" so you always have replacements handy.

Place toilets in two corners in the iguana's habitat; choose places where your lizard is now relieving itself. Encourage your iguana further by putting a sign on the toilet that says, 'Go here!' Because iguanas can't read, however, placing bits of feces on the toilet will have same effect.

Once your lizard is walking around outside the enclosure, place toilets in the corners of rooms.

"You can tell when an iguana is about to do its business," says Hatfield. "When you see the tongue flick at a specific direction and the iguana does that rumba action with her rear end, pick her up and gently place her on her toilet." He insists iguanas are easier to house-train than dogs.

When your iguana outgrows the paper towel-sized toilets, enlarge them by taping two paper towel/newspaper toilets side-by-side inside a plastic storage container. Cut out the sides of the container so the lizard can easily get inside. Make sure there are no sharp edges. Never use kitty litter for an iguana.

Q: I have a pet goose. I thought the goose would enjoy the pond our backyard. Instead, he stays by the door and follows me into the house, walking from room to room. He loves me but is aggressive toward strangers. Is he just lonely, or this a normal way for a goose to behave? He's messy, too! - S.D, Gainesville, Fla.

A: Taking a gander at your question is avian veterinarian Dr. Peter Sakas, of Niles, Ill. He says some geese pair with a partner for life; apparently, this one has chosen you. It's not necessarily a sexual thing; just a sort of lonely thing. Or perhaps the goose was imprinted on humans at such a young age that he has no idea he's a goose.

Sakas says geese can become very territorial; from the goose's point of view, you belong to him and your house does, too. It's no surprise that he'd guard what is his. In fact, there are instances of people using "guard geese" the same as they would guard dogs to protect property.

"You offer evidence that you can lead a goose to water but you can't make him swim," Sakas says. He explains that some species, including domestic geese, don't spend much time in the water. If you happen to have a Canadian goose, you're actually breaking the law. This is a protected species and it's illegal to keep these birds as pets.

Any goose, particularly one that's not domestic, can harbor diseases in those messy poops. And, no, geese can't be house-trained. As much as your goose may want to follow you inside, that's probably not a good idea. How far can it go? Well, if it's up to the goose, he'd likely want to share your bed.

Add another goose to the scene, and yours might stop fixating on you. Sakas says that plan calls for a backup because there's a chance your goose is so attached to you that he'd attack the newcomer.

Q: My 2-year-old dog sticks out her tongue when I talk to her. And she's licked the pigment off her nose. What's wrong? — T.K., Cyberspace

A: As for the change in your dog's nose color, Dr. Donald Ostwald, of Denver, says to ask your veterinarian about an autoimmune disorder of the skin called pemphigus, or perhaps even sunburn. Dogs' noses just don't change color without an explanation.

Dogs may repeatedly stick out their tongues if there's a dental problem or some other medical issue; it's unlikely your dog is doing this because she doesn't like what you're telling her, unless you've actually trained the behavior by giving her attention for being rude.

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(at)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.

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