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WEEKEND: YOUR PETS: How do you stand up to a threatening dog?

Byline: with PDSA vet Elaine Pendlebury

Q. I AM worried about my grandson being attacked by an aggressive dog when we go for a walk in the park. Have you any hints on how to deal with this?

A. IT IS important to recognise the difference between an aggressive dog, and one that is approaching you out of curiosity.

Most dog bites are from dogs protecting or defending themselves, their space, their resources (toys, food) or their family. In virtually all confrontations with an unknown dominant aggressive dog you need to assume submissive communication gestures and retreat.

Dogs displaying threatening behaviour, such as deep (non-play) growls, baring teeth, snapping and/or curling their lips are warning signs that an attack is imminent. A dominant aggressive dog will have his ears up and forward cupped toward you in a state of high alert. The dog will be upright and leaning forward. The tail will often be high and might be wagging stiffly, not in a relaxed sweeping way. If you know you are in the dog's space you need to back away.

Your impulse might be to scream at the dog and run, but this can trigger a chase instinct in dogs. Better to stand still and try to be calm. The only time running might work is if you are two steps away from your open car door, a climbable tree or a building.

Turn your body slightly to the side, head down and to the side but keep the dog in view out of the corner of your eye. Do not make sudden movements and do not scream or speak in a high-pitched voice.

Do not greet or acknowledge the dog and avoid petting, eye contact or other provocative communication. Anxiety is often associated with biting behaviour.

Stay still until the dog leaves and back away slowly until it is out of sight. Never turn and run.

Q. I HAVE taken on a white Persian cat who dislikes being groomed. How can we keep his coat in good condition and get rid of the few mats?

A. BRUSHING a long-haired cat should be done frequently, often once a day or more, as it improves the skin tone and gives your cat pleasure from your attention. A good-quality brush and wide-toothed comb are essential.

Try to ensure that your cat associates being groomed with a treat. Start off just doing a few brushes, and if he is calm, give him a favourite treat. Gradually lengthen the grooming time, giving him a treat when he is well behaved, but not if he is fractious, otherwise he will associate this behaviour with a reward.

If his tangles and mats are very severe your vet will clip the mats out. A professional groomer can help less severely matted cats that don't mind grooming.

For very small mats try delicately teasing them apart with your hand or a comb. If it causes distress then stop. Never try and cut the mats out yourself, as it is too easy to cut the cat's skin.

Q. I WOULD like information about pregnancy in guinea pigs. I want to look after my guinea pig properly if she gets pregnant, as I am trying to breed her.

A. A GUINEA pig's pregnancy is 59 to 72 days depending on the size of litter. The larger the litter, usually the shorter the pregnancy.

Females become sexually mature at four to six weeks of age, males at three to five weeks.

The optimum age for a guinea pig to have her first litter is at five to six months, but make sure the youngsters can be found good homes before you think about breeding them.

Keep weighing and handling a pregnant guinea pig to a minimum. It is best to keep a pregnant female from other animals and to house the sow and her piglets separately until weaning.

Giving birth usually happens 18 to 20 days after the first signs of any movement of the litter inside the mother. The delivery of the piglets takes an average of 30 minutes, at intervals of three to seven minutes.

A useful book is Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs, by V C G Richardson. The PDSA's website ( also has information on guinea pig care.

If you have a question for the vet, write directly to: Elaine Pendlebury, PO Box 5987, Chelmsford CM1 2GP.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 29, 2003
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