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Pet Talk With Dr. Marty Becker

America’s top veterinarian answers your questions about your furry and feathered pals

Transcript from live online chat with AARP pet expert Dr. Marty Becker.

AARP Host: Welcome to our first pet chat with Dr. Marty Becker.

Marty Becker: Hello, I'm looking forward to taking your questions. I live on a horse ranch in Northern Idaho. I don't just play a veterinarian on TV. I've been a practicing vet for over 30 years.

AARP Host: That's good enough for us! Why don't we get started?

Sandy: Is a dog's constant barking a behavior thing or is there something else wrong?

MB: Great question, Sandy. Well, dogs are a lot like people. Some like the sound of their own voice more than others. Let's take two dog breeds that start with the letter "B". Basenjis are almost mute and beagles are chatterboxes. But overall, within breeds excessive barking is usually about boredom. The one overall treatment for this boredom is exercise. Get a dog panting every day and the barking should subside.

Joy: I have lots of little grandkids. What breeds of dogs are good with small children?

MB: I am a grandparent myself and I've asked the same question, Joy. In general, when you are looking for a breed of dog, it is best to ask your vet for a recommendation. If you look at a book about dog breeds or online, it will give a description of what kind of job the dog was bred to do. I tend to avoid terrier breeds. We have a saying, "Terrier Tenacious." Also avoid herding breeds. The retriever breeds are a good overall pick. Small mixed breeds from a shelter are also a good choice. And I've asked veterinarian behaviorists over the years, "If you can pick one ideal dog, what would it be?" And they pick the Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

Guest: Every once in a while my dog will eat grass — lots of it — does this mean she has a stomachache? Most days, she doesn't even eat a blade.

MB: It's normal for dogs to eat grass. They especially like tender grass that is moist, such as after being watered or rain. They like to nibble the tips. Dogs are what we call omnivores. They like to eat a mixture of plants and meat, unlike cats that require meat. The only time I worry is if they eat it extensively. That can be a sign of irritable bowel disease. One of the signs a dog has a digestive upset is if the stool is loose or has visible mucus in it. The first thing we reach for in this situation — if a dog otherwise seems healthy — is probiotics, which you can get from your vet.

Linda: I have 13 parrots who eat a variety of pellets, seed mix, birdy bread that I bake and healthy "people food" that I share with them — like fruits, veggies or anything "healthy" that I am eating. What is your idea of the best diet for our parrots?

MB: Linda, I have to imagine you wear earplugs in your house with 13 parrots! My good friend Jack Hanna would enjoy a visit to your house. Linda is a good reminder for those of us who have dogs and cats that people also have a strong bond to birds. I have a lot of friends who are avian vets and one key message is to make birds' diet 100 percent pellet food, because it is then nutritiously complete. It is also good to give a bird a variety. And most fruits and veggies are good for them and provide an enrichment activity. You just have to avoid avocados, as many varieties are toxic for birds.

Catherine: My cat is licking and biting itself until there's almost a bald spot on the fur. Is it something he's eating or what's the problem?

MB: Short of going to the hair club for cats, we've got to get to the bottom of this problem. If you live in area that has fleas, that is the No. 1 cause of skin problems in cats and dogs. So if they are scratching behind the rib cage and the middle of the back, then it is almost always a parasite problem. Get a spot flea-control product from your vet or online and apply the liquid between their shoulder blades for full body protection.

Debbie: Do you believe in training a dog with an e-collar?

MB: Debbie, I'm against any form of training that utilizes punishment as its primary mechanism. We've learned with our children and grandchildren that positive reinforcement is always best. It's better to catch them doing something right and reward them. Remember that pets speak a different language than humans, so don't expect your pet to understand what you are saying.

  • We have to show them what we want them to do.
  • Ask them to do it.
  • And then reward them for doing it.

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