DEAR PAW'S CORNER: I have a 19-month-old cat, "Sissy," who loves to chew on plastic shopping bags and whatever other plastic she may find. This started about six months ago. I feed her and her two siblings very well. Is there anything I can do to get her to stop? – Rae H., Weaverville, California
DEAR RAE: Plastic shopping bags make a lovely crinkling sound when chewed, and the texture is quite interesting. While some of the cats I've cared for over the years couldn't care less about gnawing on such things, others were fascinated with crinkly plastic, crumpled paper and similar interesting items.
Now, I can't tell you exactly why a cat picks a specific material to chew on. You should certainly take Sissy to the vet for a checkup and discussion about her new behavior. Often it's not health-related. Sissy may be looking for a little more excitement in her life.
The risk of chewing on plastic, of course, is that she might ingest bits of it, and that can cause significant health problems. A small bit of soft shopping-bag plastic may not seem like much, but if she's also sampling, say, the harder plastic of water bottles or milk jugs, small shards of those can be swallowed.
In the short term, I recommend keeping plastic shopping bags and other tempting items out of Sissy's reach, and spend more time playing with her and scattering cat-safe toys around the house to try and redirect her attention.
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: My dog "Hank" is 14 years old and has arthritis. I'm worried about walking him in the snow this winter. Last year, his legs and paws were too sensitive for boots, so I used to put little socks on his paws and cover them with plastic sandwich bags tied with rubber bands. That worked well, but last winter I couldn't get them on him because his legs and paws, especially the front ones, hurt too much. I've tried to train him to go on training pads inside the house, and he does so occasionally. However, he is adamant about going outside in the morning! – Lauren G., via email
DEAR LAUREN: I know you've heard me and others recommend booties for dogs going out in freezing, icy conditions, but in this case I think you should defer to your dog's judgment.
Hank really wants to go outside, and he really does not want to wear booties. I have a feeling that he is shifting his weight around and adjusting his paws when he's in the unfamiliar little booties, and that shifting and extra movement can exacerbate his arthritis.
If it is not super-cold outside (like, below zero), and Hank has clear stretches of sidewalk, he should be just fine with a short walk each morning to do his business. Try putting a doggie vest around him to keep his core temperature up, if he'll tolerate it.
Immediately after his walk, after he sits or lies down in a warm spot, check his paws for cuts or cold spots, and keep an eye on him to make sure he's warm enough and relatively comfortable.
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: As my dog gets older, I've been thinking more about when the time comes that we'll lose her. She doesn't have serious health issues now, just a little arthritis, but I wonder what I would do if she approached the end of her life and were suffering. How do you know when it's "time"? There is always such love and trust toward us humans, how do we know when the lack of quality of life outweighs our desire to care for and protect man's best friend?
Lack of control over bowel seems like a good marker, as does difficulty standing and lethargy. What guidelines do you suggest? – Amy M., via email
DEAR AMY: There are few clear guidelines for when it's time to make that final trip to the veterinarian and say our goodbyes to a beloved pet. That is always a discussion you'll want to have with the vet and with the other members of your family.
A number of factors come into play when determining end-of-life care for your pet. Their general physical condition and behavior; the disease(s) they're suffering from; their symptoms (and whether they're treatable); and more.
I've heard many anecdotes from pet owners about their dog or cat or Guinea pig's last days. Each loss is different. And while there are some signs that a dog's time is approaching, as you outlined, often a pet has many more days and even years left.
So, I don't have an easy answer. I do have a wish for your dog, that she has a happy and illness-free senior life for as long as possible.
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