My Pet World: 'Talking' pooch likely has no idea what he's saying

Question: My dog talks to me and says, "I wuv you."

I'm not crazy; that's exactly what it sounds like! You've mentioned that parrots are the only animals that can mimic speech. Can't dogs do this, too? — C.B., Montreal

Answer: I think you have a YouTube video to post — and you won't be the first. Thousands of people contend their dogs can say, "I love you." In fact, one video of a Siberian husky has received nearly 37 million hits.

As much as it sounds like Mishka the husky and other dogs are actually saying, "I love you," it's unlikely the dog is learning by mimicking, as parrots do. Instead, the dog's owners most likely shape the behavior with praise and attention.

Each dog likely began with a cute vocalization — maybe years ago — and a family member responded by laughing or telling Mishka he was very smart. Over time, the praise was most effusive when Mishka's vocalizations sounded more like human speech. (By the way, Mishka also presumably says "Obama" and "bye bye.") Not to be outdone, there are thousands of (presumably) talking-cat videos out there, as well.

At least some parrots seem to understand the meaning of what they're saying. It's not likely that Mishka does.

Q: My 19-year-old cat is on thyroid medication but it tastes bad, so she hates it. My vet said there's another thing we can do with radiation, but I'd have to bring Cleopatra to a special place for a few days. I'm on a fixed income, and this special treatment will cost around $800. My cat would also be alone, without me. Any advice? — S.B., St. Petersburg, Fla.

A: The "special place" you refer to likely offers radioactive iodine as a treatment for cats who are hyperthyroid. The pets are injected with the iodine, which destroys the overactive portions of the thyroid gland. The radiation is excreted through the urine and feces, and a safe level of radioactivity is obtained within a few days. Until that happens, the cat must remain.

Dr. Mark Peterson, of New York City, known worldwide for his expertise on endocrinology of small animals, typically touts radioactive iodine, but maybe not in your case. He explains that the cost savings is realized in a 12- or 13-year old-cat, who may live many more years without the expense of a daily medication, which is otherwise required for hyperthyroid cats.

"Your cat is 19, and I believe that being separated from you for several days may be stressful to you and the cat," says Peterson. "And I sympathize with your concern about the cost." He explains some options:

1) If the thyroid pill you're now giving Cleopatra is bitter, you could switch to another pill called Felimazole, which is small and sugar-coated, so playing the "hide the pill in the food" game might work; 2) Your veterinarian might be able to refer you to a custom compounder, who could create a tuna- or chicken-flavored thyroid pill; 3) You could place a medicated patch on your cat's ear. If you try any of these alternatives, you will need to monitor Cleopatra's thyroid level to ensure success.

You do have a 19-year-old cat, though, so clearly you're doing something right!

Q: I keep my cat in the garage as a mouser. She was never interested in the cars until recently. Now, she spends time on top of one of them. It's not for the heat, because we never use that car. Why does she do this? — D.S., Cyberspace

A: "All the better to see a mouse by," says Dr. Susan Little, a feline veterinarian in Ottawa. "Once a cat finds a suitable spot in the environment, it becomes a habit to spend time there."

If you don't want your cat on the car, you could place some empty soda cans on the roof of the vehicle. When your cat jumps up, the cans will make noise when they hit the ground, scaring the kitty. However, Little is more concerned about the safety of your cat. A garage is a hazardous place. There are often toxins present, such an anti-freeze or dripping oil, that your cat could ingest directly or swallow while grooming. If a car is being warmed up in the garage, and the door is closed, your cat could die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

You could strike a compromise: Put your cat out as a mouser for a few hours daily but otherwise allow her indoors.

Q: How do I update or change the information on the microchip implanted in my dog, Ben? Do I need a new microchip? — S.H., Nashville

A: I'm so glad you micro chipped Ben. Each microchip has a number that will never change. The microchip company recognizes you and Ben as a team because, hopefully, you've registered (online or by phone) with the company so your contact info is one file. If you change your address, cell phone number, e-mail address, or other key data, simply update your information with your chip provider.

If Ben should get lost, a veterinary clinic or shelter would scan him for a microchip. But the chip number alone isn't helpful without your name and up-to-date contact information.

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