If only this dog could talk...

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Q: Early Christmas morning -- at 3:30 a.m., to be exact -- our dog began barking. We finally came down to investigate and noticed the wood in the fireplace was out of place, and the cookies our little girl left out for you know who were gone (they were too high for our dog to swipe). What did our dog see, I wonder? -- T.B., Cyberspace

A: For the answer to this question, I utilized my special hotline to Santa's veterinarian, Dr. Rene Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"Well, the timing seemed right, so perhaps the dog did catch a sniff of Santa. I doubt the dog actually saw Santa," says Carlson. "You see, I recently learned just how fast he (Santa) is. He has to make 1,800 visits per second to get to all the homes around the world. Santa is very speedy, and so are those reindeer." Carlson did special pre-Christmas reindeer exams to verify that the coursers were flight-ready and insure that Rudolph's nose shined bright.

Q: We've spent a fortune on dry dog foods for our 1-½-year-oldYorkie, but she won't touch them. We've also tried the best canned foods. I worry because now I've resorted to cooking for this dog, even though lots of times she won't even eat what I make. I'm sick of trying to figure out what she wants. (I do know she likes chicken.) I'm tired of giving away our expensive dog food to the neighbors. Any advice? -- S.L., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Jeff Klausner, chief of medicine for Banfield, the Pet Hospital, says, "If you haven't done so recently, have your dog checked by a veterinarian. For example, portosystemic shunts (abnormal vascular connections) sometimes occur in Yorkshire Terriers, and weight loss and a poor appetite can be symptoms. But assuming your dog is fine physically, somehow this dog has trained you."

Another possibility is that you're simply offering too much food for too small a dog, and she just isn't hungry.

While some dogs may be picky eaters, anorexia has never been described in otherwise healthy dogs. Klausner, of Portland, OR, adds that in his opinion, manufactured food is the best choice. Particularly with small dogs, obesity is more likely to occur when they're fed home-cooked meals. Also, home cooking is typically expensive and time consuming, not to mention the difficulty of preparing a well-balanced diet for dogs. For example, a diet of only chicken would not be a good idea for your dog over the long-haul.

Klausner suggests add a touch of moist of dry dog food to your pet's home-prepared chicken meals. If she doesn't eat the mixture within 15 minutes, pick up the food dish and try again several hours later. She might even skip eating for an entire day. Once she begins eating regularly, however, offer less home-cooked chicken and more manufactured food.

Whenever your dog refuses to eat, simply remove her food and skip the meal. Over time, she'll skip fewer and fewer meals.

Q: I made a New Year's resolution, which you helped inspire, to keep our cat, Charles, indoors. Our veterinarian agrees with you on this, and since Charles is at least 13, the vet said handling it would be more challenging for the cat to handle our cold winters. Since you got me to make a resolution, what is yours? -- D.A., Lagrange, ME

A: Your decision was a wise one. Even in the country, cats must contend with many dangers outdoors. It's also true that as cats age, keeping warm in climates like yours becomes more challenging, and some of the corners they choose to stay cozy can be deadly. Last week, I received an email about a cat who got stuck inside a home dryer vent. Cats sometimes snuggle under car hoods as if they were electric blankets. If an unknowing driver turns on the ignition, these cats can be severely mangled.

Older cats often slow down, and when their hearing declines, the combination could mean the difference between surviving an attack or being killed by a coyote or bird of prey, or crossing a street safely vs. being hit by a car.

My New Year's resolution is to use my various media platforms, including this column, to support preventative care for pets. I don't have all the answers, but during 2012, I plan to offer many perspectives on this issue.

Sadly, veterinary visits are on the decline. As a result, preventable and treatable illnesses are on the rise, including diabetes, ear infections, hookworm, and dental disease. Many diseases, even some cancers, can be treated more effectively and at less cost when detected early. Prevention, of course, is far less expensive than treatment. Cats, in particular, are missing veterinary care.

A visit to a veterinarian shouldn't be an ordeal, or a last-ditch effort. At the same time, veterinary medicine, in some cases, does need to be more affordable, and options like pet insurance are a part of the solution.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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