Older dog might not welcome a new canine buddy

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Old dog and new dog

Old dog and new dog (Anthony Lee / Getty Images/OJO Images RF / April 19, 2013)

Q: I've been reading your book "Decoding Your Dog" and loving it! I'm an adult student studying psychology. It's great to read a book about animals with a psychological approach. My dog, Bailey, is a 13-year-old Maltese. His brother died last year and I'm thinking of getting another dog. In general, Bailey's not good with other dogs, however. He loves me, and I don't want him to get jealous. Any ideas? -- J.R., Florham Park, NJ

A: To some extent, you've answered your own question. Bailey isn't generally great with other dogs and is especially bonded to you. While I assume he had a loving relationship with his littermate, that doesn't mean he'd welcome another canine companion with open paws.

Of course, dogs are social and generally appreciate the company of others. A puppy would be a generally be the most non-threatening choice, but could both you and Bailey deal with a fun-loving, boisterous puppy? If Bailey is in good health, it could work. Certainly, a younger dog can lift the spirits of an older dog, but the reverse might also happen. I don't know Bailey, but my guess is that if you asked him, he'd be content to live out his life without another canine buddy.

The best solution might be to adopt an adult cat experienced in living with a dog. An energetic and active kitten might be too much for Bailey (and for you), which is why I suggest an adult cat.

Or you could simply cherish the time you have left with Bailey alone.

Thanks for your kind comments about "Decoding Your Dog" (Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27). The book is the first ever written by scientists who are specialists in veterinary behavior (members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists). I was one of the three editors (with Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi).

The focus is on dog behavior; there's very little opinion in the book, which uses science help pet owners prevent behavior problems or deal with them once they occur.

Q: I've enjoyed your ebook "Good Cat," especially the foreword written by Betty White. I'm old enough to remember a TV show she did with animals ("The Pet Set"). I'm 83 and now buy ebooks because I can select large-print.

You address so many cat behavior issues in the book, but not this one: Casper adopted me nearly 10 years ago; he just showed up at my doorstep as a kitten. I know he's happy because he's still playful, and he's very attached to me -- but Casper doesn't purr. My veterinarian suggested I'm an old lady who can't hear. I'm pretty with it, though, and I know Casper just doesn't purr. Have you heard of this problem? -- B.B., Orlando, FL

A: You do sound very with it! Yes, I have heard of cats who don't purr, but I wouldn't call it a "problem." I'll bet you're right about Casper being happy. And keep in mind that cats purr for many reasons. Some will purr at the end of life, even when they're in pain and about to be euthanized. Some purr as they play. Some never or rarely purr.

The purring sound is a result of the vibration of the laryngeal muscles (25-150 vibrations per second). Many people can feel a cat's purr, especially by gently stroking the pet under the chin and down the neck, but may not hear the sound.

For reasons unknown, some cats, like Casper, don't purr, but it's likely no reflection on his contentedness.

I was honored that Betty White agreed write a special message to introduce "Good Cat: Practical Answers to Behavior Questions" (Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, 2011; $2.99) The forward was actually written by author and certified cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson Bennett. The book features over 100 common (and not so common) questions and answers on cat behavior.

Q: Can you tell me about using brewer's yeast to get rid of the fleas? -- C.P., Charlotte, NC

Q: I have the new cure to prevent fleas! I've learned that using tea tree oil will solve the problem, and it's much safer and less expensive than many other products. -- V.D., via cyberspace

A: Dr. Michael Dryden, a veterinary parasitologist at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine-Manhattan, says, "Using brewer's yeast is totally illogical because brewer's yeast is used in labs to grow fleas."

As for tea tree oils, now commonly touted online as flea busters, be very cautious. According to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tea tree oils are toxic to pets. Even if enough fleas are destroyed to prevent infestation (which remains uncertain), the product can make pets very ill.

Dryden notes that fleas do transmit disease, and obviously no one wants the blood suckers in their homes.

"To avoid expensive exterminators, ask your veterinarian about the right product or combination of products to use," he says.

(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 Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://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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