ASK THE VET: Teach children respect for dogs to prevent bites

Q: We recently adopted Tucker, a young, neutered, mixed-breed dog. We don't know how he behaves around children, because our kids are adults and we've remained distanced from our neighbors.

As soon as the pandemic is over, our grandchildren will visit. What can we do to prevent Tucker from biting one of them?

A: Start by taking Tucker to a group training class that uses treats, praise and other rewards to shape behavior positively. Socialize him with other dogs, adults and children who know dogs, and familiarize him with unusual noises and places. Dogs that are well socialized and trained are much less likely to become aggressive.

Most bite victims are children, usually boys between the ages of 5 and 9, who are provoking dogs they know. The most common injury sites are the face, neck and head.

When your grandchildren are with Tucker, supervise them at all times. Make sure Tucker has a safe, quiet retreat, such as his crate or your bedroom, that the children know is off-limits to them.

Instruct them to remain calm and quiet around Tucker. Tell them not to awaken him when he's sleeping, not to go near him when he is eating, and never to take food or a toy from him.

They must not pull his ears or tail, or tease him by slapping his face or paws and quickly withdrawing their hands. Don't let them engage in rough play, such as wrestling or tug-of-war.

Just as you taught your children about personal boundaries and how to say no to unwanted touch, tell your grandchildren to always respect Tucker and his physical space so he will trust them in return.

Q: When do cats go into heat, and how early can they be sterilized? A stray kitten adopted us a few months ago and now lives in our barn. We don't want to add to the cat overpopulation problem or have to find homes for a litter of kittens.

A: Your kitten should be sterilized between 2 and 6 months of age. In veterinary parlance, females are "spayed" and males are "neutered."

Female cats can go into heat and become pregnant as early as 4 months old. They begin their seasonal heat cycles in January, as daylight hours increase. So, now is the time to take your new kitty to the veterinarian.

Cats are seasonally polyestrus, which means they go into heat, or estrus, many times during the seasons with abundant daylight and warmth. This reproductive strategy improves survival of their kittens and explains why there's a cat overpopulation problem.

Each heat cycle lasts about a week. If the female cat, called a queen, doesn't get pregnant, another heat cycle begins almost immediately.

Female heat behaviors include rubbing, nuzzling, rolling, crying, yowling, raising her hind end suggestively and urinary marking. Unneutered males commonly spray urine, yowl and fight with other tomcats.

After the male breeds with the female, pregnancy lasts two months. The queen can get pregnant again while she's still nursing her kittens, so outdoor cats commonly give birth to two litters every season.

Call your veterinarian now for an appointment. Kittens heal quickly after this surgery, and research shows that sterilizing kittens as young as 2 months old does not adversely affect their health or behavior.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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