Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Weak in the Knees

Today's Wall Street Journal has a front-page article about the prevalence of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in dogs. You won't find it online unless you're a subscriber, but it's worth finding a copy to read it, especially if you're unfamiliar with the problem or thought it only affected human athletes.

Written by Kevin Helliker, the article reports that the high rate of ACL tears is mystifying to veterinarians. Could it be the prevalence of obesity in dogs? A fat dog jumping on and off the sofa is putting a lot of pressure on his joints. And active dogs, unless they're well conditioned, are just as much at risk, especially if they're jumping and twisting to catch a flying disc. Cats are prone to ACL tears as well, especially if they're overweight.

How do you know if your pet is overweight? Sight and touch are your best guides. Look down at your dog or cat. Does she have a waist? If she looks more like a sausage, she's overweight. Put your hands on her body, thumbs lining up on the spine and the fingers splayed to the sides. Can you feel the ribs or are they buried under a layer of fat? Hint: you should be able to feel them but not see them.

If your dog or cat is overweight or has suffered an ACL tear or other injury, talk to your veterinarian about rehab. A good practitioner can put together a program that will help your pet lose weight and become better conditioned. Look for more about pet rehab in next week's Creature Comforts.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Dog Walking Weather

I was checking the weather today and noticed that the site had a feature that allows pet owners to determine the best time to walk their dogs--or cats. Here in California, we get a pretty wide range of walking times, apparently: the girls' petcast says they can be walked from 11 AM to 5 PM or 6 PM to 11 PM. I guess that means it's not going to rain until late tonight, if at all. It also notes that mosquito activity is low. Check your own personal petcast here.

And by the way, if you live in tornado alley and your dog starts barking incessantly for no apparent reason--like Sparkle the Jack Russell terrier, who lives in Crossville, Tennessee--you might want to start heading for the basement or some other protected area, with your dog, of course. Sparkle's home was destroyed, but luckily she and her people are all safe.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Equal Time for Birds

Larry Bird, my African ringneck parakeet, complains that I spend way too much time writing about the dogs and not nearly enough about his own beautiful self. Larry is 19 years old this spring. As you may have guessed from his name, we acquired him during the Lakers-Celtics playoffs in 1987. We tried to teach him to say "Go Lakers," but he was true to his color (vivid green) and would never repeat it. He does know a number of words and phrases, however: "Hi Larry," "Good morning," "What cha doin?" "Larry's a good bird" "Larry's a pretty bird" and, on occasion "Wipeout!" When we turn out the lights at night, he says "Good night!" He mimics door squeaks and makes kissing sounds.

But Larry's most unusual accomplishment is that he meows like a cat. Like several cats, in fact. He has two or three different meows, picked up from the various cats we've owned over the years. Most people think they're really hearing a cat when Larry meows. By the way, we also taught Larry to say "Here, kitty, kitty." After hearing him, one of my friends said, "That just proves that birds don't know what they're saying." I don't know about that. I think Larry used to get a kick out of biting the cats when they would stick their noses through his cage bars.

When he's not playing peekaboo with himself in the mirror, Larry likes to ride on shoulders and take hot showers with us. His favorite foods include scrambled eggs and chicken, leading us to nickname him "cannibal bird." The only drawback to Larry--besides the scattered seed and the powerful beak--is that when he wants attention, Larry shrieks. Not like a girl, thank goodness, but ear-piercing enough just the same. That's okay. We all need a good scream now and then.