Pet Talk
Columns, Pet Talk

Pet Talk

May 22, 2019

In this week’s Pet Talk, Maneka explains how to take care of senior dogs?

By Maneka Gandhi

What causes pet birds to bite?

All pet birds have a tendency to bite. They don’t like being touched. A bird may bite when it is tired, stressed, bored, injured, or otherwise ill. A common reason for biting is fear and/ or distrust of humans. The bird may recognise some people, specially those that feed. Others are strangers, and it bites out of self defence. Another reason is that many birds tend to bite when they are feeling playful or are over-stimulated.

What is the difference between cow milk and buffalo milk?

They are different animals, and the milk is different. Buffalo milk contains higher total solids than cow milk. This makes it thicker and creamier. Buffalo milk has more fat and more calories than cow milk. It can be preserved for a longer time than cow milk.

How do I know if any fish in my aquarium is unwell?

Abnormalities on the fish’s body, and its behaviour, are clues to know whether the fish is unwell or not.

Fish are usually active; therefore, behaviour such as floating, sinking, and hiding are often signs of a sick fish. Another unusual behaviour is scratching against objects in the tank due to skin infections (parasite invasions). Lesions, spots, and puffiness on the fish’s body point out parasitical infections or chemical irritation.

Also, if your fish is having trouble breathing, it will be gasping for air at the top of the tank, signalling unbalanced oxygen levels in the water.

Can smoking affect my pet?

Yes, smoking does affect your pet. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds. Dogs with long noses are at an even greater risk of developing certain nasal and sinus cancers, as they expose more tissue to the carcinogens when they inhale. Cats exposed to second hand smoke have an increased chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma (a type of oral cancer commonly found in humans who smoke tobacco) because the carcinogens in tobacco smoke can settle on a cat’s fur and be ingested when the cat grooms itself. Pets can also have strong reactions to smoke particles in the air. Just like humans, pets can develop respiratory infections, lung inflammation and asthma when exposed to second hand smoke.

My cats eat dog food. Is it harmful?

Dog food is not inherently harmful for cats. In an emergency where there is no cat food, it is okay to feed dog food to your cat. However, dog food is deficient in many nutrients and minerals that are essential for cats. Nutrients such as vitamin A, taurine, protein etc. are essential in a cat’s diet. These are absent in canned / dry  dog food, or are not present in adequate amounts. So, it is not advisable to feed your cat dog food on a regular basis and definitely not as an exclusive diet.

A pigeon has given birth to a few squabs in my balcony. What can I do?

If the babies have already hatched, then the only thing you can do is wait for them to grow up and fly away. The time between when they hatch from the egg to when they fly away from their nest is usually less than four weeks. Once they leave, the babies don’t come back to the nest again. Pigeons are very location-specific when it comes to their nest site. Moving the nest over even a few feet can cause the parents to abandon the nest and the newborns.


Do animals have blood groups?

Yes. As long as the animals in question have blood in them, they will have species-specific ‘blood groups.’ Thirteen types have been identified for dogs, eight for horses and three for cats etc. The blood groups of animals are based on proteins that sit on the outside of red blood cells.

Dogs have more than 12 blood groups, and their red blood cells may contain any combination of these since each blood group is inherited independently. The most important of these is called Dog Erythrocyte Antigen (DEA) 1.1. Typing of blood donors and recipients is done before transfusion. Approximately 40% of dogs are positive for DEA 1.1, meaning that they have that antigen on their red blood cells. If a dog is DEA 1.1-negative and is given DEA 1.1-positive blood, it may develop antibodies that rapidly destroy the red blood cells if a second DEA 1.1-positive transfusion is given. By selecting donor animals that lack DEA 1.1 or that match the recipient, the risk of sensitising the recipient can be minimised. A DEA 1.1-positive dog may receive either positive or negative blood. In cats we also have A and B but they’re not the same as A and B in human blood systems. Horses have groups including A, C, D, K, P, Q and U. Sheep A, B, C, D, M, R and X. Goats A, B, C, M and J.

What are invasive species?

An invasive species is any kind of living organism — an amphibian, plant, insect, fish, fungus, bacteria, or even an organism’s seeds or eggs, that is not native to an ecosystem and causes harm. They can harm the environment, the economy, or even human health. Species that grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively, with potential to cause harm, are given the label “invasive.” For instance in India the most common example is Prosopis juliflora, known as Ganda Bawal or the Mad Tree, which has taken over most wastelands . Another one is the dangerous Congress grass, or Parthenium, which gives eczema and asthma.

They are primarily spread by human activities, often unintentionally. People, and the goods we use, travel around the world very quickly, and they often carry uninvited species with them. Ships can carry aquatic organisms in their ballast water, while smaller boats may carry them on their propellers. In addition, higher average temperatures, and changes in rain and snow patterns caused by climate change will bring in invasive plant species.

What’s the point of putting the dogs back after sterilisation? Doesn’t the problem just continue?

No, when dogs are sterilised and put back in their own area, the population and the problems caused by dogs both reduce. Here’s how:

Each dog guards its own territory and does not allow new dogs to enter. Since they are all neutered, they no longer mate or multiply.

The main factors leading to dog aggression — migration and mating — are eliminated. So dog-fights reduce dramatically. With the decrease in fighting, bites to humans also decrease.

Since females no longer have pups to protect, this source of dog aggression is also eliminated.


Over a period of time, as the sterilised dogs die natural deaths, the population is greatly reduced.

How should I take care of senior dogs?

As age creeps up on your pet, you will notice a few changes in his or her demeanour. Their boisterous energy tones down, they tend to sleep more and hunt the house for warm spots to curl up in. They could have a decreased appetite and may gain, or lose, weight. They may even develop white hairs on their snout, chin and face. Different breeds age at different times. Bigger dogs tend to age sooner than smaller breeds.

Besides the change that occurs in your pet’s physical characteristics, internal changes also occur and, as pet parents, we need to alter the manner in which we care for them. Keeping them comfortable and healthy make be a little more difficult now. We discuss how you can adequately meet these changes.

  1. Diet: Older pets will require food that is more easily digestible. Food should contain plenty of anti-oxidants, to help the immune system, and plenty of vitamins and minerals. Speak to your vet on how to retain those that are important. Their metabolism becomes slower and they may put on weight, or reduce, drastically.
  2. Movement: As they age, a pet’s joints and bones become weaker. Climbing up and down will become much more difficult and, therefore, you should alter your pet’s space so that he can avoid this.

To ease the pain of these aching bones, a bed with ample support is required, thus it is a good idea to invest in a good orthopaedic mattress. The bed should be placed somewhere that is easily accessible. Try to avoid stair-climbing.

  1. Grooming: They become quite sensitive to the cold, so, ensure that you bathe them with only warm water and in a warm room. Dry them immediately after, and thoroughly. Their coat could become bad as they grow older, and you should keep up with regular, gentle brushing to encourage the release of natural oils. This makes the skin much better. Oral care is also required. Remember to brush their teeth on a regular basis, not only does this prevent gum disease but also encourages better breath.

To ensure that your pet is comfortable and healthy, remember to schedule health check-ups as often as every 6 months. This will ensure that you are up to date on any problems that your pet might have, and catching them early makes a world of difference to treat effectively.

What should I do when I see a community dog in danger or ill-health?

Don’t attempt to hug an injured dog, and keep your face away from its mouth. Perform any examination slowly. Stop if the dog gets agitated. Call the vet before moving the dog so they can be ready before you arrive. If it is a wound, or a minor injury, then you can treat it, but if you even have a hint of a major bruise then contact an animal hospital or an animal protection group. If you see any act of animal cruelty then speak about it. Never allow an animal to stay in danger. File a First Information Report and then contact an animal protection group. Make sure to follow up on the dog’s health.


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