Country Living's resident vet, Dr. Robert Sharp, answers important health and behavior questions about your favorite dogs. (Have your own questions? Drop Dr. Sharp a line at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Q: I just took in an abandoned cocker spaniel, and I'm concerned she may have heartworms. What should I be looking for?
A: Unfortunately, by the time a dog exhibits noticeable signs - a swollen abdomen, chronic cough, and lack of energy - he or she may have had heartworms for years, and the disease is probably advanced. So don't wait: The simplest way to catch the problem early involves a basic blood test your veterinarian can perform.
Q: My goldendoodle puppy, Ranger, seems confused by the concept of fetching. How can I get him to play?
A: Most dogs love to chase stuff: squirrels, the neighbor's cat, and, of course, balls, sticks, and Frisbees. So, the first part of any game of fetch - bounding after a given object - probably comes naturally to your pet. The trick? Teaching him to bring the prize back to you. Begin indoors, with Ranger's favorite toy and some treats. Sit on the floor and toss his plaything in the air; show him you're having fun. Remember, this can be strenuous work for a dog, so wrap things up when your pet starts to get tuckered; he likely won't put an end to the game himself.
Q: My standard poodle, Sophie, often develops tear stains around her eyes. What can I do to keep her clean?
A: When a pooch produces more tears than the duct system can remove from the eyes, the surplus spills over the sides. If the skin stays moist for too long, the area could become inflamed or infected. First, have your vet check for correctable causes: Sophie's tear duct might be plugged up, or she could have an eye infection. A stray eyelash, dust, or smoke can also contribute to excess tearing. Standard poodles like yours spend a good deal of time at the doggy salon. Ask your groomer to clip the hair on Sophie's snout very short. This makes it easier for you to clean her tears on a daily basis.
DogQ: My dog chews through supposedly indestructible toys in no time. Can you suggest products that'll stand up to his bite?
A: Just as dog owners must find the right leash and kibble, they also need to provide suitable entertainment for their pet. And while a five-pound Pomeranian might be content with a plush plaything or two, bigger breeds, such as Labs, German shepherds, and coonhounds, require diversions that won't fall apart after a few enthusiastic chomps. I can think of three excellent choices designed for big, strong jaws. First, there's the hollow, snowman-shaped Kong (kongcompany.com). Fill the rubber toy with peanut butter and put it in the freezer for a few hours. Though the dog's initial objective is to get to the treat inside, the Kong itself will hold your hound's interest long after he licks it clean. There's also the GoughNut (goughnuts.com), a rubber ring that comes with a guarantee from the manufacturers: They'll replace it if your pet manages to gnaw past the outer layer. And I'm a big fan of Nylabones (nylabone.com), a line of heavy-duty synthetic bones.
Q: Our wheaten terrier has been depressed since our 13-year-old retriever died. What can we do to raise her spirits?
A: Time's the only thing that truly heals this wound. It may take a couple of weeks or a couple of months, although the good news is that your pet will eventually act like her old self again. Shower your wheaten with extra attention and treats - keeping in mind that both you and your pup have lost an important member of the family.
dogQ: Every time I take my dog for a drive in my truck, she gets sick. What do you suggest?
A: The secret to helping your pet overcome her queasiness is patience and repetition. Put the dog in your truck and take her for a short drive; then stop, get out, and play with her before heading home. After a few weeks of increasingly longer trips, your pup should be able to travel just about anywhere.
Q: Does my dog need to wear a life vest when he comes canoeing with me?
A: Provided you own a strong breed, such as a retriever or shepherd, that excels at swimming - and the pond you paddle on isn't too wide - I'd let your dog enjoy his canoe trips unencumbered by a safety vest. If, however, your dog has short legs or weighs less than 15 pounds, invest in a flotation device, as he probably doesn't possess the strength to swim on his own for very long.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.