Alfie is an eight week old Japanese Spitz puppy

Alfie is an eight week old Japanese Spitz puppy

Hannah and Ben have had Alfie for two weeks, and he’s settled in well. There’s one area which has been causing problems: Alfie has needle-sharp puppy teeth, and he sometimes bites the children’s hands in a way that hurts. Hannah and Ben love playing games with Alfie, but the biting is putting them off. When Alfie was brought in for his vaccination, they asked me how to stop him from doing this. Play-biting is a common problem in puppies. Young dogs explore the world with their mouths, and they love to interact with people and objects. They’re learning all the time, and grabbing something with their mouth is a fast way to find out about something new. Does it taste nice? Does it move? Is it soft or hard?  “Mouthing” is a natural behaviour in pups, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop this completely. The answer is to redirect it towards objects that it’s good for puppies to chew.  Tough red rubber toys, called Kongs, are ideal, because they can be stuffed with food to make them more appealing to pups, and they are virtually indestructible, lasting for years. Other chew toys – e.g. made from rawhide – are also helpful, but they don’t last for so long, so they’re a pricier option. I told Hannah and Ben to keep a chew-toy handy, so that Alfie could have a toy to play with as an alternative to biting humans. Pups also have a natural tendency to play chase-and-grab games. In the wild, dogs hunt prey, and puppy-play is partly about training young dogs to carry out...
Taz the cat developed a limp and went missing

Taz the cat developed a limp and went missing

Taz is an independent creature, choosing to live in his own cat house outside Hilary’s back door. It’s a cosy place, lined with newspaper, blankets and a comfortable cushion. He comes into Hilary’s home from time to time, but the cat house has always been his favourite sleeping place. Hilary recently noticed that Taz had developed a limp. He was still as active and mobile as ever, but he was favouring his right foreleg, his head bobbing as he walked. She decided that a visit to the vet was in order, so she fetched the cat carrier in preparation for the trip. Taz must have had some distant memory of the significance of the blue plastic cage: when Hilary went looking for him, he’d vanished. He didn’t come back for the next four days. She looked everywhere, but there was no sign of him. Then one evening last week, she heard a miaow: Taz was at the back door. The lameness was now much worse, and he was holding his right foreleg up, unable to put any weight on it at all. It was as if he’d come back, looking for help. Hilary kept him indoors overnight, worried that if she let him sleep in his normal cat house, he’d disappear again. She brought him up to see me first thing the following morning. When I examined Taz, it was obvious that the focus of the lameness was in his right shoulder, which was swollen and painful. The poor cat was not at all happy as I gently felt the sore area. I admitted him for a short anaesthetic,...
Zig and Zag are Russian Dwarf Hamsters

Zig and Zag are Russian Dwarf Hamsters

When Max went to get a Russian Dwarf Hamster, he only planned to get one: he already had a larger, Syrian Hamster who seemed very happy living on his own. Max liked the idea of having another, smaller version of the same pet. When he talked to the pet shop staff, they explained that Syrian Hamsters (the most commonly kept type of hamster) are unusual in their preference for living in solitude. Most animals are social creatures who like to live in small groups. Max ended up coming home with two Russian Dwarf Hamsters, so that they could keep each other company. He’d been told that the two of them were males, so there was a shock in the household four weeks later when Max found a litter of newborn Dwarf Hamsters in the cage. It was now very obvious that he had been given one male and one female. There were seven tiny, wriggling, hairless pink creatures in their nest. After the initial surprise, everyone was delighted with the sudden, small population explosion. Two of the babies died in the first few days, but the five survivors seemed strong and fit, and Max had to decide what to do with them When he contacted the pet shop, they told him that they’d be happy to buy the young ones from him, but Max wasn’t interested in the money aspect: he just wanted to make sure that the young hamsters had happy lives. He decided to keep them himself, and so he set about organizing his home set-up to make this possible. The first thing was to buy a...
Alfie the Labrador swallowed a hairband

Alfie the Labrador swallowed a hairband

Alfie is a typical young Labrador: he’s full of energy and enthusiasm, and he loves picking things up with his mouth.  Labradors have been bred over many years as working dogs: the full name of the breed is Labrador Retriever. They have an instinctive strong desire to retrieve objects for their owners. Originally, this meant bringing back the limp bodies of ducks, pheasants and grouse that had been shot on a hunt. In a modern Irish household, many Labradors enjoy picking up anything at all that’s the right size to fit into their mouths, and they don’t necessarily bring them back to their owners. In this family home, everyone has learned that they need to have tidy habits, putting away their clothes at the end of the day. If anything’s left on the floor, Alfie comes along and picks it up. He particularly enjoys chewing fabric, and he’s destroyed many socks and knickers in the past. When Grace’s mother is doing the laundry, she can’t leave the clothes basket on the floor for even a few moments, or Alfie will grab an appealing “small”, rushing off to find a quiet spot to chew it to shreds. The problem hasn’t been completely solved by getting the family to pick up after themselves: Alfie recently chewed the lower reaches of the curtain lining in the living room. When he was given an expensive toughened bean-bag bed, designed for dogs, it took him no time to chew a hole in its corner, filling the room with tiny polystyrene beads. One week, Grace dropped an elasticated  “Alice in Wonderland” type hair band on...