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Your Perplexing Pet Questions Answered

Does your pet puzzle you?

In our "Early Show" series "Early's Experts," veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell answeed viewers' questions:

Send Dr. Debbye Turner Bell a Question

Also, all of the pets featured in today's segment are up for adoption with the Humane Society of New York.

1. SKYPE: Gina of Nesbit, Miss., asked, "I would like to find out why my little schnorkie, Diamond can be a sweet girl, but then when she's lying down and you start to pet her or try to pick her up, she starts growling and snarling at us! She has even tried to bite me! We love that baby, but if she ever tries to bite my husband...out she goes! What's happening here?"

ANSWER: There are a variety of reasons a dog will bite and many of them have nothing to do with being mean. More often than not, a dog will bite out of fear, rather than aggression. Dogs that feel threatened, unsure, or challenged will respond by biting as a self-defense mechanism. Dogs that have not been spayed or neutered may display aggressive behavior related to their sex drive. Dogs are territorial creatures and will protect their turf. So a dog might bite if their food, toys, or pups are bothered. A surprised dog will bite. If you approach a dog unexpectedly or he doesn't hear you coming, his instinct might be to bite out of fear. Dogs that are not properly behavior trained and socialized are more likely to bite. Biting has more to do with circumstances, behavior, training (or lack thereof), and ignorance on the part of human beings. There is also the chance that Diamond has a discomfort or pain and when you pick her up it aggravates the area. Have her checked out by your vet to make sure that everything is OK.

CORRECT WAY TO APPROACH AN UNFAMILIAR DOG
1. First get the "OK" from the owner!
2. Hold out hand-fingers closed, palm down-slowly toward the dog. Allow the dog to approach your hand and sniff it.
3. Wait for the dog's "OK." If he wants your affection, he will lower his head, perk ears, or even come closer to you. If the dogs puts his ears back, flat on his head, or growls, or cowers, don't pet him!
4. Pat the dog on the top of his head, or along his back. Avoid touching his belly, tail, ears, or feet.

WRONG WAY TO APPROACH AN UNFAMILIAR DOG
1. Running toward an unfamiliar dog.
2. Getting eye level, very close, and smiling. When you smile at the dog, he thinks you are "bearing your teeth" at him. This is an invitation to fight!
3. "Surprising" a dog. (i.e. sneaking up on him or startling him while he is sleeping) Often, the dog's defense mechanism will kick in, and he will bite in self-defense.
4. Ignoring their warning! If a dog barks ferociously or growls when you approach his territory, bed, etc. and you continue, that is an engraved invitation to get bitten. They are warning you that they don't like that and to stop. Listen!
5. Inappropriate touching. Dogs generally don't like their ears, tail and feet tugged. Some don't like being inverted and rubbed on their belly. This is a position of submission and an aggressive dog will resist this "challenge" vigorously.

WAYS TO PREVENT AGGRESSION IN YOUR PET
1. Spay or neuter your animal. This is not only good for the health of your dog, it can decrease the dog's drive to roam, and compete for the affections of the opposite sex. Often intact dogs (those that have not been spayed or neutered) are more territorial, aggressive and protective.
2. Avoid playing "tug of war" with a dog. Many dogs interpret this as aggression. If they "win" they feel empowered. If they feel threatened, they may try to retaliate.
3. Avoid "rough housing" with or other sudden movements toward the dog's owner. Many dogs will see this as an attack on his owner, and will attack you to defend the owner.
4. Socialize and behavior train your dog.
5. Do not try to take food or toys away from a dog. NEVER bother a dog while he is eating. The most common situation where a dog bite occurs is while a dog is eating!!
6. Have enough toys for your multiple dog household, so that the dogs do not have to share. They also should not share food and water bowls.
7. Do not allow your dog to roam unsupervised or off-leash.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET BITTEN
1. If the bite is serious, call 911.
2. Wash the bite wound thoroughly with soap and water. If the wound is deep, painful, discolored, or swollen, contact your medical professional.
3. If possible, confirm the dog's rabies vaccination status.
4. Report the bite to your local authorities and veterinarian.

2. FACEBOOK: Theresa asked, "I have a 14 year old cat that cries lately and I want to know if she in pain or doing it for attention. Can you please answer this for me? I love her too much and I don't want her to suffer if she is in pain."

ANSWER: Cats meow for many different reasons. Sometime they just like to hear the sound of their own voice and other times it may be an indication of something serious going on. Cats will meow if they are hungry, bored, lonely, in heat or see other cats nearby. So, take a little time to assess the times and situations when she meows the most. Try feeding her and see if that cuts out the chatter. Or give her a little extra love and attention or have a play session with a feather or pen light. Also, cats will vocalize if they are in pain or discomfort. So if the meowing is more like a wail, then take her to the vet right away. Because you mentioned that your cat is 14 years old, a couple of common "old cat ailments" come to mind. At this age, she is definitely considered geriatric (or a senior citizen). Old cats can sometimes be prone to kidney disease and also an endocrine disease called hyperthyroidism. The discomfort of kidney disease may cause a cat to vocalize more. And the physiologic changes associated with hyperthyroidism can also make a cat "talk" a lot. I don't know if your cat has either of these conditions, or any other ailment, so it's important to take her to your veterinarian for a thorough exam. At her advanced age, regular vet checks are very important to head off problems before they start and catch issues early before they become big deals. Some cats do suffer from dementia as they age, so the incessant meowing may be caused by disorientation or confusion. So take her to the vet to be checked out and to rule out diseases and disorders. If she checks out fine, then just relax and enjoy the conversation!

3. TWITTER: @courtneywright1 says, "My two 11-month-old Westies don't seem to like the cold weather. What can I do to keep them safe/comfortable/healthy this season?"

ANSWER: While people merely need to put on a coat and gloves to stay warm in the cold, pets need us to protect them from old man winter. All outdoor pets should have shelter from the wind, rain, and snow. When the temperature outside drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), we should provide adequate protection from the elements for our pets. When the outside temperature and/or wind chill drops below zero, then our pets should have access to shelter that has heat! Young pets don't regulate their body temperature as well as adults, so bring them inside when it gets cold. Also, older pets, or pets with illness are especially susceptible to the cold. Keep them inside with you.

Pets may need extra food in the winter so their bodies will have more fuel to keep them warm (indoor pets might eat less since they are less active). So don't be surprised if Fido asks for a second helping in the winter. Give them to him! Plus, pets need access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times. It is better to use a heavy plastic water bowl in the winter instead of metal. Metal loses heat quickly and the water will freeze faster. Plus there is a chance the dog's tongue could get stuck to the bowl. A heated bowl is best for outside dogs.

When you take your dog for her daily walk, put a sweater on dogs with short or thin hair. Dogs that should wear a sweater include older (geriatric) dogs, short-haired dogs (like chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, dachshunds, greyhounds, boxers, Boston terriers), and dogs that are sick.

Ice balls can form around your dog's feet or between the toes. These can be painful and very uncomfortable. Clipping the hair around the feet will help reduce this. Plus, try applying a little Vaseline or cooking spray to the bottom of their feet before a walk to keep ice and snow from sticking. Make sure to wipe the dog's feet when she comes back inside. Salted roads and sidewalks can be irritating to the dog. If their footpads are cracked from the cold weather, the salt will be like "salt in a wound". Not fun. Plus you don't want your dog licking all that salt and swallowing it. Be sure to wipe off your dog's feet when she comes in from a walk. Booties are very helpful in keeping the dog's feet dry and clean of salt and other chemicals. Of course, it may take some time to teach your dog to wear them!

Be careful not to let your pets get too close to the fireplace and space heaters. Burns are not uncommon at this time of year, as pets can accidentally knock over heaters or get too close to an open flame.

Antifreeze poisoning is a big risk during the cold months. This is a life-threatening medical emergency. If your dog or cat ingests antifreeze and receives no medical attention, they could die in less than a day. Signs of antifreeze poisoning: depressions, lack of coordination, diarrhea, thirst, and seizures. (Ethylene glycol is the toxic agent. Antizol-vet can be given to stop the effect of the ethylene glycol). There is a safer antifreeze that is made with propylene glycol that doesn't damage the kidneys but it is still toxic and can damage the nervous system.

For more questions and answers from Dr. Debbye Turner Bell, go to Page 2.