Q. You have said that adding pumpkin to a dog’s food can help it lose weight. My basset is very overweight, and we have tried everything else. Could this work for us? -- Michele Andrews, East Islip
A. Many carnivorous animals like pumpkin. In fact, many zoos give pumpkin to their big cats and wolves. There is just something about the smell and texture of it that they enjoy. Canned pumpkin has lots of fiber and hardly any calories, so if your dog is overweight and you add the pumpkin to the food, then the dog feels nice and full and is getting fewer calories.
When my dogs get older and are not as active as they used to be, they all develop weight problems, so I remove half their normal ration of food and replace it with the pumpkin.
The only time you may not want to do this is if your dog is on one of those special prescription diets. In that case you must always consult with your vet before changing your dog’s diet.
Q. My sun conure is a great pet, but every time I put his dish of parrot pellets in the cage he eats a few, then spends the rest of the day flinging the rest all over the floor. These pellets are very expensive. Is there any way that I can put some kind of cover over the dish so that he cannot do this anymore? It cannot be because he is bored as his cage is so full of toys that it looks like a bird version of Toys R Us. -- Virginia Maxwell, Mineola
A. Pet stores sell certain covered dishes and splash guards that force a bird to stick its head into an opening of the cup in order to eat and thus prevent it from swiping its head back and forth and scattering the pellets about. However, if yours enjoys playing with his food after he is done eating, then most likely he will still figure a way to do that even with the covered dish. I would advise you to just put the dish of food in the cage for an hour in the morning before you go to work and then an hour at night when you get home. He will have plenty of time to eat as much as he needs, but after he is full he will not have access to them so that he may use them as toys.
If you feel guilty about leaving him during the day without any food in his cage, put in a dish of vegetables cut into large chunks that take a long time to chew — such as sweet potatoes, carrots and celery. He can chew and eat these during the day and they are not quite so easy to fling about as the parrot pellets.
Q. My son’s 5-month-old guinea pig has lost quite a bit of fur on his back and the bridge of his nose, and the skin is raw and red. He is scratching at it all the time. He has never been sick or had any other problems since we bought him three months ago, and we cannot figure out how this could have happened. Our dog has a similar problem and the vet said that it was a food allergy and put her on a special diet. Can a guinea pig have an allergy as well? -- Sara Spitz, Woodmere
A. Most likely your guinea pig has an infestation of skin mites, microscopic arthropods that live under the animal’s skin. The irritation is very uncomfortable for the guinea pig and the condition must be treated as soon as possible. Since the mites are under the skin, nothing that you apply topically will kill them. They must be treated with a medication called ivermectin that must be administered by a vet. Without the care from the vet, they will never go away, but with the correct medication it is quite a correctable condition.