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Published January 27, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Alleviate Chihuahua aggression

Dear Dr. Fox: I recently acquired a female Chihuahua from Canine Castaways. She is 5 years old. She can be very timid but gets quite vocal and aggravated when my husband gives me something or touches me.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I recently acquired a female Chihuahua from Canine Castaways. She is 5 years old. She can be very timid but gets quite vocal and aggravated when my husband gives me something or touches me. She doesn’t snap but looks as if she will. She has not nipped him, but she will not go with him unless I give the OK. Other times, she will sit with him and play.

How can I lessen her aggression with him? When going for walks, she will go only if I am with them. We have had Chihuahuas before, but they have always treated us equally. We would like her to be a two-person dog. – M.W., Naples, Fla.

Dear M.W.: As long as your husband doesn’t feel rejected (some immature spouses actually become jealous in situations like yours), half the problem is solved. Acceptance of your dog’s immediate bonding and preference toward you is a first step. She may have been teased or abused by a male, and it will take time for her to trust your husband.

Have your husband take her for walks along with you, using a harness rather than a neck collar, and after a few days send them off without you going along. Have him take over grooming, passing him the brush as you are grooming the dog. Ditto with the food bowl – bend down with it in your hand, call the dog over to you, then give the bowl to your hubby to put down. This way, she should learn to trust him. When your husband gives you something or touches you and your dog acts protectively or seems jealous, you can teach her self-restraint by putting her on the floor and getting her to sit and stay. Then reward her for good behavior. A dog-training clicker to make a distracting sound is an alternative, as is a squeaky toy

to redirect her attention.

Dear Dr. Fox: My cat, Fanni, is almost 21 years old. She has had no health problems throughout her life. However, she now has a tumor around one of her nipples, and it is increasing in size. It also bleeds occasionally, and the skin around it looks raw. She also has an ulcer on her back that doesn’t heal. Between the two of us, we keep these areas clean. She does not act like she is in pain. She still jumps up on the bed and climbs stairs (albeit slowly).

When do I decide it’s time to put her down? Her appetite is good, her excretory functions are regular and consistent, and she purrs and interacts with me. She sleeps a lot and frequently sits with her eyes closed but not sleeping.

These tumors have been around for several years, but only within the past six months have they changed in size. At what point do I make the decision? – J.D., Wheaton, Md.

Dear J.D.: Have a mobile/home-visiting veterinarian examine your old cat and express your reservations about surgery. This is your call, but I would support a decision against surgery, considering the advanced age of your cat. Comfort and quality of life are paramount, as is good nutrition that includes high-quality protein that is easily digestible (such as Gerber’s chicken and turkey baby food). These may help improve your cat’s overall condition, along with a few drops of fish oil in her food – this will also help alleviate any arthritis and kidney problems and may help fight certain cancers.

The veterinarian can treat the ulcer and evaluate the tumor. It’s possible the cancer may have already spread to the lungs and other internal organs. The vet will advise you on what to look for as her condition worsens or other age-related health problems develop. The stress of surgery on older animals, even with modern anesthetics and the best pre- and post-operative care, only too often delays the recovery.

I’m sure my conservative response will upset some readers and veterinarians, but we must separate our own vested emotional and financial interests from the best interests of the patient. Removing the growth when she was younger would probably have been prudent. This decision for an old animal is never easy. One must be cognizant of the consequences, like guilt and blame, of deciding to do nothing. Death is ultimately unavoidable, but prolonged suffering is not, and euthanasia can be a blessing indeed.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website,