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Published: Saturday, 3/6/2010

Owners are giving dog mixed messages about toys

Dear Dr. Thompson: We have a 5-year-old golden retriever that will bring us clothes, shoes, and other things she finds for a treat. However, when we are asleep she will tear up any paper item she finds, and sometimes clothes. Is there something we can put on these to discourage her? We know she is spoiled, but is there a solution?

ANSWER: What you are describing would fit the description of a mixed message for your dog. She alternates between getting rewarded for a behavior and punished, depending on whether or not you are there to give her a treat. She is a dog who sounds like she needs a job and an appropriate outlet for her energy. Her other problem may be that she does not understand what is a toy and what is not because she is rewarded for bringing you everyday items.

I would recommend getting her two or three items that can be hers. Use those for fetch games to vent some of the considerable energy I am sure she has. It is amazing how regular exercise can alleviate destructive behavior in many dogs. Fetch games also will allow for positive interaction between the two of you.

It is also important that you not reward her for bringing you items that are not her toys. Negative reinforcement without a connection will only confuse her more and may result in more destructive behavior. Give her a useful outlet for her energy and eliminate confusion over what is appropriate and you may avoid much of the trouble you are having.

Dear Dr. Thompson: My cat is having trouble with constipation from time to time. He has had to go into my veterinarian a couple of times for this. My vet recommended a tube of laxative, but my cat hates it and it makes a sticky mess. Is there an alternative to help keep him from getting constipated?

Constipation is a common problem in many cats. Often it is an inconvenience, but sometimes it can have serious implications if your cat does not go for a few days.

Your veterinarian should rule out a problem with the lower part of the digestive tract called megacolon, where the last part of the large intestine loses its ability to function properly. It is also important to not use any over-the-counter enemas because some can have serious side effects in pets.

If it is just a case of uncomplicated constipation there are a couple of options as natural laxatives.

There is the product called Laxatone that you described, but it can be messy if your cat does not find it palatable. Plain canned pumpkin is a great source of fiber that many cats will eat mixed with their food or as a treat.

I normally do not recommend giving cats milk, but for your situation it may be appropriate. Cats are lactose intolerant and you can use that to your benefit.

Give a small bit of milk to start to see he how he responds. Adjust the amount so that he is regular but not having diarrhea. If those do not work your veterinarian can prescribe some oral medications that will help.

Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to askthevet@theblade.com or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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