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Interview With Vet Marty Becker, Author 'Your Dog: The Owner's Manual'

Tips on caring for your canine family member

Q. What nutritional excess have you seen recently?

A. I saw a Chihuahua today that should weigh around 10 pounds but weighs 30 pounds. All the dog eats is chicken. Well, that messes up the calcium phosphorus balance, and you get these bones that are just about as brittle as a toothpick. Then there are people who want to buy organic, holistic food that is super expensive. As long as the dog food is nutritionally complete and balanced and has the AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] guidelines on it, you'll be fine. Ask your vet for recommendations. Otherwise it's impossible to weed through the tantalizing ads and competing claims to know which product is best for your pet.

Q. If we wanted the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to our dogs, what's the one thing we can do to keep them healthy?

A. Keep your pet in good oral health. If you do that, your pet is going to live 15 percent longer. Also, if you keep a pet at its ideal body weight or near its ideal body weight, it's going to live 15 percent longer as well. So the furry fountain of youth doesn't lie in the makeup of the food as much as it does in the quantity of food you feed it, how much exercise it gets, and what kind of regular oral care it gets. Daily or every other day oral care is important.

Q. And regular bathing is as well, you say.

A. Bathe your pet weekly. This is new. This is what veterinary dermatologists recommend now. When you bathe a pet weekly, you're helping to prevent skin problems and skin allergies. If you bathe them weekly, you flush the allergens off, and you're always helping to take good care of yourself, so that you're not exposed to whatever your dog might have picked up. It pays huge benefits.

Q. How about taking dogs to groomers?

A. Most people can't really clean their dogs' ears or the anal glands, and they can't trim their nails. Most pets actually really like going to the groomer and being groomed. They like the physical contact. And groomers also catch things early on, like matting close to the skin. So I recommend it.

Maureen Mackey lives in New York.

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