Q My dog has never really been around little kids. The other day we met a toddler when we were out walking. I said he could pet her because her tail was wagging, but then she snapped at him! Now I’m worried because she’s unpredictable. What can I do?
A It’s a common misconception that a wagging tail means that a dog’s friendly, but that’s just not the case. Dogs wag their tails for a variety of reasons.
It may be helpful to think of a wagging tail as a smile. When people smile, usually it’s because they’re friendly or happy. However, sometimes a person might smile because she’s nervous. Sometimes someone may smile at you for less-than-friendly reasons.
In such a way, dogs may wag their tails when they’re fearful, uncertain or even aggressive. A wagging tail is a social signal, but it’s not necessarily a friendly one. When a dog wags his tail, he’s telling you that he plans to interact with you in some way, but not how he plans to interact with you. He may want to greet and lick you, or he may want to bite you so you go away.
Rather than looking at your dog’s tail to determine his feelings about a stranger or situation, take a look at all of his body language cues. If he’s wiggly with soft crinkly eyes and a relaxed face, he’s probably okay. If he’s stiff, backing away, or has a tense face or hard round eyes, he’s telling you that he’s uncomfortable in that situation and needs more space.
When introducing your dog to others, always let him approach. If you have any concerns about fear or aggression, contact a certified professional dog trainer.
Q What are the most common cold-weather hazards for dogs and cats?
Thanks to the kind and caring vets at Affiliated Emergency Veterinary
Clinic in Rochester for their input on this topic.
A There are several dangers to watch for in cold weather. Here are a few common hazards:
Antifreeze Poisoning: Ethylene glycol is the most prevalent ingredient (95 percent) in most antifreeze solutions. It can also be found in some other household products. It tastes sweet, so it is enticing to dogs and cats, and they will drink it. Ethylene glycol poisoning results in death if not diagnosed and treated quickly. Even a few licks can be lethal. Symptoms include vomiting, depression, stumbling, weakness, muscle trembling, drinking a lot of water and frequent urination. If you suspect poisoning, take your pet into the vet immediately. New, safer antifreeze using propylene rather than ethylene glycol is also available.
Salt Toxicosis: Wintertime ice melts can be poisonous if ingested in large enough amounts. Dogs are more commonly affected than cats. Dehydrated or vomiting dogs and cats or outdoor pets with no access to fresh water (such as during cold weather when water freezes) are also at risk. Pet-friendly ice melts are available.
Hypothermia: When a dog’s body temperature falls below 99.5 degrees F or a cat’s below 100 degrees F, they are considered hypothermic. Especially young or old animals, those with short coats, and those with heart disease are at higher risk. Frostbite may also develop, especially on extremities like the ears, paws or tail. Avoid extended exposure to low temperatures. If your pet lives outdoors, make sure to provide access to an insulated shelter out of the wind, with warm bedding such as straw, and provide extra food for energy during the colder months. Consider consulting a trainer to help you integrate your pet into your home.