Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
When you get a new puppy, whatever you do, don’t name it “Lucky.” I’m serious.
ELEPHANT BABY SOUNDS LIKE A BIT OF AN OXYMORON. AND rightly so. Elephant calves are bigger than an oven. I know because I saw the birth of an elephant at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
We’d been waiting for a month. The mother elephant, Indie, had come to the end of her two-year term and we knew the birth would be soon. Everyone was exhausted. We wanted to be there when it happened because Indie didn’t have midwives of her own species, as she would have had in the wild. We didn’t want her to be alone when she gave birth. We were on call and on edge.
Even when I went home to sleep, after working all day in the zoo hospital, I slept fitfully, awaiting the call that I knew would most likely come in the middle of the night. And it did. I lived only a few blocks away from the zoo and so I ran over to witness the mysterious and happy event. It was surprisingly quiet in the elephant house, but as I approached the mother elephant’s enclosure, I could hear her unusual, low-pitched rumbling that vibrated the walls all around. We knew to keep quiet and remain a respectful distance away.
I could see a shift in her belly as she paced, moaning and trumpeting. Every so often she’d make a low rumble and almost do a cha-cha-cha across her stall. Three steps forward, two steps back. Her undercurrent rumble was answered by two other elephants in the adjacent stalls. Their trumpeting sounded like a fanfare announcing the event to the world. I wished they could have all been together.
Indie’s belly became even tauter. Then, with no preamble, what looked like a gray beach ball appeared from under her and fell to the ground. It was the placenta-covered baby elephant all curled up inside the amniotic sac. The pacing movement of the mother’s legs rolled it carefully as if it were a fragile soccer ball. The sac broke open, revealing the fuzzy square head of the baby elephant. Then the entire baby unfolded and lay on her side. She slowly moved her pewter-colored legs, arms, and trunk.
It was a girl. A little soft-skinned, dark gray chunk of perfect girl elephant. She had rolled over nearly onto the feet of the head vet, Dr. Meehan. The veterinary team quickly checked her. She looked terrific. With long-lashed dark eyes, she was cartoonesque. Her trunk was smaller and her legs stockier than I expected. She was much more beautiful than I could have imagined. As the keepers and medical staff stepped away, the mother, tired but happy, stepped in close. Using her trunk to hold her newborn, she seemed to memorize every inch of her.
It was difficult to do anything for the mother or the baby—nature had taken care of everything. None of us could remain detached; we were all connected in a new and profound way.
I could not suppress a sob of joy. I looked around, taking in the scene in the dimmed lights. Those whose eyes met mine were filled with tears. Others were hiding their eyes. I realized every single person in the room was crying.
Perhaps our tears were inspired by the beauty of childbirth, the incredible elation of witnessing creation. But for me it was tinged with the sadness of the zoo setting—that this mammoth creature was not surrounded by her own relatives in the jungle. I wished there was an untamed place for her and her new baby.
The zookeepers opened the enclosure and let the other elephants in. Their gentleness astonished us. Each elephant, in turn, ran the tip of their trunks over every part of the baby’s body, as if they were reading braille. The baby seemed to bask in their tender attention. Then the sweet hunk of baby sought out her mother and their trunks entwined.
It was a miracle, nothing short of it. And we all were there to see it.
WITNESSING THE MOMENT OF birth for any creature is intense. The sisters in my family have all acted as midwife-helpers for each other. With fourteen children between the five of us, we have learned a lot. But nothing prepared me for the singular way a giraffe comes into the world.
It is a very peculiar thing to see. When the mother giraffe is about to give birth, she walks around in a distracted sort of way, but doesn’t seem to be in pain. From under her tail, two baby feet stick out and dangle, waving like batons. Then a balloon type thing appears and it seems incredible that the whole thing will just fall from such a great height. The mother giraffe has such long legs and she doesn’t squat during birth.
The nose comes out next and the giraffe baby looks like a diver getting ready to dive. The whole giraffe body pokes out of the sac and plummets out, hits the ground, unimpeded, in a heap. I worried that the new giraffe would be broken. They say the jarring landing causes the baby to take a big first breath. It looked to me like someone dropped a set of tangled hoses—tail, legs, neck. Then, as if an antigravity lever had been switched, the little giraffe stood up. Indeed, if he were in the wild, his life would depend on him getting up immediately. The long neck was the last thing to straighten and the head came up in a drunken motion.
Only seconds ago this giraffe baby had been folded like origami, and now he was already walking with his mother. At one point the baby’s legs were wobbling and the mother wedged her baby in between her two front legs to stabilize him and keep him standing, with the gentleness of motherly love.
We recently added a black Labrador puppy, Darwin, to our home. I have to admit that I didn’t relish the idea of revisiting puppyhood. I remembered all the long nights, needle-sharp puppy teeth, accidents to clean up, long hours of training, chewed-up favorite shoes, books, computers, and remotes strewn about the house. For that reason, I am usually a big fan of adopting older dogs because they are already somewhat trained and are grateful to be with a family. But ever since losing Tundra, we felt our house could use another family member. My husband overruled me and Darwin arrived, to the delight of our children.
A puppy brings youthful energy into a house, which you will need for those long nights and early mornings. To my surprise, I’ve found myself waking effortlessly to take Darwin out. I could not contain the happiness I felt just thinking about him and his adorable little self.
After a beloved pet dies, many people feel they will never want another pet again. While I respect and understand this sentiment fully, I would urge anyone who has lost a pet and is unsure of what to do, to visit an animal shelter. There are so many great pets out there waiting for a home. Connections happen quickly.
My lovely and ingenious friend Tamar Geller loves dogs. She loves them so much that she’s written some fantastic books, The Loved Dog, and 30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog, about the best way to train them. (She’s Oprah Winfrey’s dog trainer.)
Here are Tamar’s top-ten tips for making life with your pooch a pleasure for both of you.
DOG TRAINER TAMAR GELLER’S TEN RULES FOR HAPPY CANINE COHABITATION
1. There is no bad behavior. A dog behaves in a way that is appropriate for a dog. Dogs say “It’s so good to see you!” by jumping up and touching you with their paws. Angrily saying “Bad dog” when that happens will be confusing, to say the least. Like a toddler, a dog is guided solely by natural instinct. Unlike a toddler, they remain in that state for life. They can learn what is expected of them, but instinct is a tough thing to control. It never goes away. We have to understand that and coach them with lots of patience. It’s up to us to be good dog coaches!
2. Establish the rules early—and consistently. Sit down and think ahead. Do you want your puppy to be the sort of dog who jumps up and greets you when you walk in the door? If not, then do not encourage or reinforce jumping—even during the cute puppy phase. The same goes for feeding from the dinner table, sleeping in your bed, etc. Establishing the ground rules early is especially important in families. Everyone in the family must have united agreement on rules, so your dog will be able to follow them and be well mannered.
3. Learn your dog’s seven basic needs. Your dog has a good reason for his behavior or misbehavior. Seven good reasons, in fact. Everything he does is motivated by the need for one of these:
Security. Your dog will feel secure if your rules are consistent and reinforced by praise.
Companionship. Mere coexistence is not enough. Taking walks, playing games, doing things together—that’s companionship.
Hierarchy. Your dog will feel safe knowing he has a benevolent leader in charge of the pack. Dictators are counterproductive.
Excitement. If your dog is bored, it will entertain itself by digging, chewing, barking, etc., so plan at least one exciting activity each day: a hike, a new route for a walk, a new toy, or making a new friend.
Physical stimulation. Your dog needs physical exercise daily, preferably wolf games (chasing, wrestling, tug-of-war) with other dogs in a dog park, a doggie day care, or a canine playdate.
Mental stimulation. Dogs love to learn and they learn language easily. Keep teaching them new words for toys and activities.
Love and connection. All his life, your dog has the emotional needs of a toddler.
4. Improve vocabulary. Your relationship with your dog, like any other, requires mutual understanding—so be clear about what you want. Dogs can learn up to 150 words. Start saying “drink” when it’s drinking, “go to bed” when it’s in bed, “come” when it’s right next to you. Teach it the way you would teach a toddler: wait for a behavior, and then give it a name. Soon you’ll be on the same wavelength.
5. Teach with patience and fun and games, not dominance. Instead of training by intimidation, inspire trust and love so your dog will want to do the things that will please you. From studying wolves in the wild, I can tell you that the leader of the pack is there to serve his pack, not to serve his ego.
6. Recognize, Redirect, and Reward. If you want to change your dog’s behavior, learn the three R’s.
Recognize what basic need your dog is trying to meet with that behavior.
Redirect by showing him a more appropriate way to meet that basic need.
Reward the new behavior.
7. Socialize early. Nervous aggression (far more common than dominance aggression) stems from a dog being too sheltered when he was young. Expose your dog early to everything he might encounter in life and associate those things with pleasure. Carry treats and use them, with words of encouragement, to ease your dog through any scary encounters. Teach it “safe words” like “friend” and “take it.”
8. Teach the Big Three important behaviors first.
“Sit”is basic manners, the equivalent of teaching a child to say please.
“Come”is for safety and should be fun!
“Leave it”means stop what you’re doing and is considered advanced behavior, but I teach it right away—it could save the dog’s life.
The key is to teach all three behaviors in a way the dog will associate with fun.
9. Wolf games are a daily must. Dogs crave games of chase, wrestle, and tug-of-war. Most “bad” behaviors (nipping, tugging on your robe, stealing something to initiate a chase) come from dogs being deprived of wolf play, which is a basic need. Play tug-of-war many times a day to relax your dog and make him look at you like you’re the best thing that ever happened. This will increase your dog’s feeling of love and connection and make him happy to be in your control.
10. Save “Heel” for later. It’s difficult to teach a dog to stay by your side during walks when he is very young, because you have to fight the outdoors for his attention. Teach him to sit first, while you are standing, kneeling, and lying down—using hand signal and verbal request. He must associate saying please before getting what he wants: a treat, a toy, a walk. Both of you will be happier when that hierarchy is established.
ROYAL TREATMENT QUICK DOG TRAINING LESSON
I LIKE WHAT TAMAR has to say. I also tell all my clients to teach “Drop it” right away. (Tamar Geller uses a similar phrase, “Leave it.”) This command is essential for all dogs and particularly for puppies. For their safety, they must learn to drop anything they have in their mouth in an instant. It is easy to teach, but takes persistence. Because it is such an important command, I will tell you how I taught my puppy Darwin to “drop it.”
Put something your dog doesn’t care about in his mouth, like a spoon or a chopstick.
Put your hand over the top of the muzzle and use your fingers at the sides of the mouth to open the mouth fully.
Say at the same time, “Drop it!”
Because of gravity and your hand opening their mouth, your dog will drop the item.
This is the time, as Tamar says, to “make a party” by showing excitement and happiness that he has dropped the chopstick.
Your dog won’t know what he did but will understand quickly.
Training is in the repetition. Do this several times a day for a few days.
Do not say the command unless your hand is on their muzzle, making the mouth open.
After a few days, you will notice that his mouth slackens as you are saying the command.
Let him start dropping before you press the mouth open. Stay near the puppy, ready to open the mouth if he doesn’t.
Gradually become less and less involved with the opening of the mouth, as your dog does it himself.
Don’t say “Drop it” if you’re not sure he will do it or you aren’t close enough to do it for him. Otherwise he will think, “When she says ‘Drop it’ I don’t have to do anything.”
Don’t just train the dog. Train the dog to live with you.
Things to Do and Know That Will Make Life Easier with Your Puppy in the Long Run
Teach your puppy “Drop it” ASAP.
Do not overvaccinate (see Dr. Dodds’s recommendations).
Detox with homeopathics prior to and after vaccines.
Use thuja and lyssin homeopathic remedies, especially after vaccination for rabies.
Feeding puppies raw food is a great idea.
Play with paws. Then hold them still, as if you were trimming the nails.
Hold your pet still and examine teeth, ears, skin, belly, and tail.
Chew toys—buy safe, good ones that are not easy to chew open or swallow whole. No bead stuffing, long strands, or plastic eyes or noses to swallow. Just look it over with an eye toward visualizing the youngster chewing/swallowing parts or all of it.
Never yell at dog while training. They hear much better than we do.
Raise the kind of dog you want in your home, not the kind of dog someone else wants you to have. If you don’t care about them being on the couch, let them on the couch.
If it’s awkward to get them to go out the door after you (for hierarchy training)—the leash gets caught in the door, and the dog is on the wrong side, and you have packages—don’t stress about it. Training is there to teach a dog the manners of your home, however you want them.
Do not feed “life stage foods.” Just feed an excellent diet. Once weaned, a puppy eats what the pack eats, not a special puppy diet. Most puppy diets, while they might have improved nutrition compared to a typical adult formula, still have too much carbohydrate and calories and too little protein. Puppies on sugar (carbs) grow too fast and can have behavioral issues. Choose an appropriate diet for health.
Trying to train an animal that is eating a high-carb diet is like trying to teach a child on a candy diet.
Make sure treats, including training treats, conform to the Royal Treatment standard.
Know that until the age of six months, puppies poop 4–6 times a day.
Don’t freak out if the vet finds worms in a stool sample. All puppies come with gastrointestinal worms and are usually given a de-wormer.
Heartworm disease is carried by mosquitoes and the first stage of the disease occurs when an affected mosquito bites a dog and transmits microfilaria into the blood. This stage itself does not pose a health threat; heart disease occurs when these microfilaria develop into worms that lodge in the heart about 50–60 days after infection.
Heartworm medication given monthly prevents heartworm larvae that may have infected the dog in the previous 30–60 days from becoming worms embedded in the heart. This is why we say that it “protects for the month before it is given.”
This is also why in the Chicago-area climate, unless there is an unseasonably warm March, we give the medication from June (to protect for May and some of April) through December (to protect for November and some of October) during any possible mosquito exposure.
There is no need to give the heartworm medication if there are no mosquitoes.
If you travel with your pet where there are mosquitoes, it is important to give the heartworm medication within 30 days after any exposure.
Some breeds, such as collies, do better on Interceptor rather than Heartgard.
Use flea and tick medications only in the case of exposure. In most cities and suburbs you don’t have to use them all year round, or even regularly if your exposure is limited. If you live in Florida, you may want to use it monthly all year. Use prevention if tick-borne diseases are prevalent in your area. In Chicago we don’t really have them, but Lyme, Ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the most common tick-borne diseases found in states near Illinois.
Many products combine medications to treat several things at once. But like shampoo and conditioner, it is often cleaner to do one thing at a time. You are less likely to overmedicate if you choose your purpose and then get your medications rather than the other way around. I do not recommend the sledgehammer approach. I avoid a product that takes care of fleas, stops them from reproducing, repels ticks and mosquitoes, and prevents heartworms, mites, GI parasites, and aliens.
Keep meat baby food on hand in case you need to syringe-feed any baby carnivore (remember, assist-feeding is across the tongue, not straight down the mouth).
Puppies can become hypoglycemic quickly, especially if they are small. It can be a real emergency. Regular eating is important. Vomiting and/or diarrhea are often an emergency. Puppies crash quickly and need fluid support from a vet. Once they are stable, keeping some powdered clay, slippery elm, and probiotics on hand help them recover from loose stool.
Baby-proofing is not enough. You have to puppy-proof.
Because their sense of smell is twenty-seven times better than ours and they want to smell, explore, and get to know their world, puppies get into everything! Their only real way to learn about their new world is to grab, chew, and identify with their mouth. Puppies are an equal-opportunity destructo-machine. Ferragamo shoes and Coach bags are as intriguing as old tennis shoes and underwear.
ARE MICROCHIPS SAFE?
I PUT A MICROCHIP in each of my pets. I believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.
I am concerned about the increasing reports of possible tumors and inflammation associated with these chips, but an exact causal relationship is not yet conclusively proven. Other causes for tumors, such as vaccination, seem more likely to me, and I have not seen any tumors at the sites of microchips in my patients. All in all, I believe microchipping a pet is a good idea.
Socialization is essential to a pet’s health and well-being. Make sure they know how to deal with the people and animals that may come in and out of their lives. Above all, a healthy immune system is your pet’s best defense against all invaders.
Check for Hernia
It is located by the belly button.
See if there is a lump that can be pushed into the belly and then pops out again. Depending on how large it is, it may need to be surgically repaired (e.g., during the puppy spay or neuter). It’s usually not a big deal, but it’s better if you find it before you have the dog spayed or neutered.
Remember to learn what’s normal for your pet. Look at them, feel them, smell them.
Remember to smell the ears—you will then recognize the normal ear smell.
If there’s an odd smell in the ear, there may be an infection.
If you see black discharge in the ears, have your vet check for mites. They are easy to treat, but won’t go away on their own and can be not only irritating, but in severe cases lasting months, can cause deafness.
Be aware that dog collars can become too tight as puppies grow. Remember to loosen.
Be careful not to have a collar too loose. If the puppy is startled or jumps back, he can pull out of a loose collar and run into the street.
Kitten collars can become too tight as they grow. Remember to check them.
Use breakaway collars for cats. They need to be able to come off if the cat gets stuck.
Almond oil or olive oil in the ear can help keep mites at bay. Mix in a few drops of vitamin E as well.
If you’re trying holistic treatments for ear mites, be diligent. Make sure to treat at least every three days for six weeks.
Don’t use concentrated tea tree oil to treat the ears, especially in cats. Just a few topical drops of undiluted tea tree oil can be toxic to a cat or kitten. I have seen it happen.
There are allopathic medicines that will kill the mites and their eggs, and they certainly work. Depending on how severe the infection is, you can decide what method to use. Often the infection needs to be treated with a conventional medicine.
A PET BY ANY OTHER NAME
NAMING A PET IS great fun because the sky’s the limit. I have a cat patient named Toast (not great when your pet becomes terminally ill) and patients named Mr. President (an orange tabby) and Winston Churchill (clearly a bulldog). I love hearing my receptionist say, “You can bring Mr. President into room A.” Someday . . .
Beware of scheduling snafus when you call for a vet visit if you name your pet Tuesday. This is an email my staff received from a wonderful client whose dog has that name.
was wondering if I can bring tuesday in next week for treadmill/laser treatment on tuesday around 3 and thurs around 3. Tuesday could use two treatments this week. Next week Tuesday can’t come on Tuesday, but Thursday would be great. See you Tuesday.
Tuesday and Heidi
Once the new pet is home, you’ll have the fun of coming up with the perfect name for it, whether it’s a dog, a cat, a mouse, or a chimpanzee.
FABULOUS PET NAMES I HAVE KNOWN
Princess Augusta Jones
Coco Taylor Crime Fighter
Whatever you call your new pet, I know that animal will grow into its name with personality and love. They always do.
A ROYAL TREAT: FROZEN CUPCAKES FOR YOUR PET’S FIRST BIRTHDAY (AND EVERY YEAR THEREAFTER)
ONE OF THE BEST things about having animals around the house is birthday parties!
Since you can’t have a birthday party without birthday cake, here’s an easy recipe for frozen birthday cupcakes that are healthy but still delicious. Your pooch will love you for it.
First, mix up a batch of canine “cake”—mostly chicken baby food, with some cooked oatmeal, plain yogurt, and a bit of pumpkin for pizazz.
Pour the goop in a muffin pan or mini-muffin tins and freeze them.
Frost with yogurt mixed with a little cream cheese for stiffness. (You can use natural food coloring, if you like, but remember it will color your puppy’s tongue.)
You might even top it off with some small rawhide twists or tiny twigs for candles—but resist the urge to light them on fire!
Frozen cake is yummy (especially in summer) and less likely to cause tummy upset than other treats or recipes requiring wheat, corn, peanut butter, and sugars.