Dear Dr. Fox:

When our miniature poodle sees herself in the mirror, she gets all excited and barks at her reflection and runs around.

We have new sliding mirror doors in our basement, and every time she goes down there, she does this. We also have a stand-up mirror in our bedroom that we often have to tilt or cover with clothing so she does not see her reflection from the bed. One would think that after multiple times she would figure out there is no other dog.

Does this poodle’s behavior necessarily mean our dog is either smart or stupid? Is it characteristic of particular breeds?

C.B., Beltsville

DF: Mirror tests have been done with various animal species.

Some, such as elephants and chimpanzees, show reactions when they see that a mark has been put on their foreheads. This might reflect a higher degree of self-awareness, if not narcissism, compared with other species that do not react to a change in their familiar mirror image. Most dogs and cats quickly habituate to seeing themselves reflected in a mirror, but some, like your dog, will make a game of it.

One simple test of awareness is to stand behind the animal while looking into a mirror. The animal will often turn around, knowing that you are standing behind it and look at you. A common reaction among cats and dogs is to go behind the mirror to see whether there actually is another animal there.

How often does your dog see other dogs and interact with them? She might benefit from a doggy play group.

handle food safely

Dear Dr. Fox:

Does your dog food recipe use cooked or raw hamburger mixed in with brown rice?

K.S., Ellicott City.

DF: Bacterial contamination, especially of ground meat, is an increasing public health concern. It is responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning annually, as well as massive recalls of contaminated food.

First, always handle raw meat and poultry products with care. My dog food recipe calls for combining raw rice, raw ground meat and other ingredients and then cooking the mixture to eliminate the risk of bacterial contamination.

But if you thoroughly mix raw hamburger (ideally from grass-fed, organically certified animals) into rice immediately after the rice is cooked, the high temperature of the rice is sufficient to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Preparing the dog food in this way also helps preserve the nutritional value of the animal protein.

Organically certified meat and poultry products have been shown to have less bacterial contamination and are preferred by those informed pet owners who feed (and handle with care) raw or partly cooked pet foods.

jealous bird

Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted a blue parakeet that is still jittery around my husband and has nipped his fingers more than once. He’s fine with me and likes to nibble and rub my ear. Sometimes I think he’s courting me. What should we do about his nipping? Is he jealous of my husband?

B.K.G., Arlington County

DF: Your bird is probably used to being around and being handled by women, because birds naturally imprint or develop strong attachments early in life. Ideally, therefore, they should be socialized with male and female handlers and, where possible, with children.

Parakeets are highly social birds that live in large flocks in the wild; it’s borderline cruelty to raise and keep them alone in separate cages their entire lives. Although they compensate to a degree by bonding with humans (even engaging in courtship behavior, as well as social preening as they would with a mate), they generally fare better in pairs or small groups in large flight cages. With time and patience, your “rival” husband might win him over. Meanwhile, wear a protective glove.

noisy bedmate

Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted Lucky, a neutered Boston terrier, five years ago. He always has slept between my wife and me with his head on a pillow. But Lucky suffers from “restless paw syndrome.” Consequently, we suffer right along with him.

Because of this, we cannot get a full night’s sleep. He is constantly moving around and jabbing us with his paws. Do you have any suggestions?

N. & M.S., Boca Raton, Fla.

DF: Sleeping with a restless dog is the price you pay for not training him to sleep at the end of the bed or in his own bed. Boston terriers are also known to snore, so I can’t imagine sleeping with his head next to mine.

Some tough love is called for. Be prepared for a few sleepless nights while you train him, with praise and treats, to stay on his own pillow at the far end of the bed or in a soft dog bed beside you. Ingrained comfort-seeking habits are hard to break in man and beast alike.

tough decisions

Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted an 11-year-old “doxiepoo” (dachshund/poodle) named Andy. We understand that this breed lives 11 to 15 years. Unfortunately, Andy probably won’t make it to 15.

Andy has Cushing’s disease, which explains his constant thirst and need to urinate, and the loss of hair on his hips. The vet said the treatment of choice is weekly chemotherapy that is not without risk. Chemo will not extend his life but will control symptoms, such as frequent urination. It’s also very expensive.

Even if cost were not an issue, we are reluctant to put him through the rigors and risk of chemo for essentially our convenience; we can handle the urination. We are thinking that the best way to handle this condition is to let it run its course, and as long as Andy seems to be enjoying himself, he’ll have a loving home with us. Perhaps this is an unwise choice.

Andy is affectionate and filled with energy, and he doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort.

A.P., Martinsburg, W.Va.

DF: There are many endocrine diseases, other chronic degenerative diseases and various cancers that affect older animals whose quality of life is reasonably good. They are not in pain or apparent suffering and, like your dog, still enjoy life. But as the condition progresses, your caretaker role will increase significantly.

The costs and, most especially, the side effects of treatment must be weighed against how much longer the animal will probably live without treatment and might live following treatment, and whether there would be any significant improvement in quality of life. In many instances, there is no real way of knowing, and embracing the uncertainty principle is the best option. Longevity is too often overrated as a measure of treatment success, especially when repeated treatments and constant monitoring affect animals’ well-being and that of caregivers.

In some communities, veterinarians are promoting and practicing hospice care for companion animals. Advanced diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are being marketed in human and veterinary medicine. The above considerations can help put things in perspective, as well as the fact that his hyperactive adrenal disease might develop into secondary diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis and poor wound healing.

Discuss with your veterinarian supplementing his diet with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, vitamins C and B6, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and melatonin.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011 United Feature Syndicate