Q: I have a 9-year-old pit bull mix that is about 20 pounds overweight. I feed her three cups of dry food and half a can once a day. She doesn't get much exercise because she gets totally out of breath. When I take her around a small block just once, it's so bad that it looks like she is going to have a heart attack. I have a big yard but she doesn't do much running around. Should I start by feeding her weight-control food and less than I am giving her? --Eddie Molewski, East Islip
A: Twenty pounds is a lot of extra weight for a dog of that size. I would first take her to a vet to be sure there are not other underlying issues. If the vet says she is healthy but just needs to go on a diet, then keep this in mind. Most processed weight-control formula dog foods are really not palatable enough to attract the attention of dogs like yours.
Since she does not get much exercise, she really does not need too much protein in her diet. Since eating seems to be her main activity and joy in life, then cutting back on her volume of food may cause drama as well.
I suggest you buy many cans of pumpkin -- not pumpkin pie filling. For some odd reason, carnivores love the taste and texture of pumpkin. It has lots of fiber that makes the dog feel full, and it has no fat at all. So cut back her daily ration of food by half -- 1 1/2 cups of dry food and 1/4 can of wet food -- and replace the missing amount with the canned pumpkin. This way, she is getting the same volume of food but half the fat and calories. She will lose weight and not feel deprived at all. She may do even better if you divide the total volume in half again and feed her twice a day rather then once a day. This will keep her from mooching and begging for treats and snacks throughout the day. If you do want to give her treats between meals, a piece of apple, carrot or sweet potato is a better choice than those high fat, salty treats sold for dogs.
Q: I live in a co-op building with a balcony on the second floor. A lady in our neighborhood feeds the pigeons every day in a small lot next to our building. The problem is the pigeons perch on the railing of my balcony for hours every day, waiting for the lady to come and put the food out. I realize from her demeanor that there is no point in confronting her about this. Is there anything I can put on my balcony to keep the pigeons off? I tried a fake owl, but that did not work. --Kenneth Levy, Long Beach
A: Get a few of those children's toys called Slinkys. Just stretch one out and securely tie it to the edge of the balcony with nylon zip ties. The birds cannot perch on the railing anymore, and the Slinky will not hurt them if they try to land on it. Just be sure you use enough zip ties so the Slinky is secure and flat against the railing. If it is loose and floppy, the birds may get tangled in it.
It will take the birds only a few days to figure out the railing is not a nice place to perch anymore and to look for another. If, however, the pigeon feeder is there every day, then new pigeons are always going to show up that may want to perch on the railing, so the Slinky may be a permanent part of your decor.
Q: We bought a pair of female gerbils for our two sons to share as pets and, for the last month, we have all enjoyed them very much. However, just now I heard my sons screaming, and when I rushed into their room I saw a bit of fur on the floor and one of the gerbils running about in the cage with no skin on her tail at all. It seems that my boy picked her up by the tail and all the skin slipped right off like a jacket. The gerbil seems just fine with it and there is no blood or anything, but we do not know what to do. --William Conway, Smithtown
A: This is a defense mechanism that gerbils and some other rodents have. When pressure is put on the skin of the tail, the blood vessels pinch off immediately and the skin breaks right at that spot and slides off, the same way certain lizards' tails will break off. This way, the predator has the tail in its mouth and the prey animal can make good its escape. The gerbil's fur, however, cannot grow back again.
The pet store that sold you the gerbils should have warned you that picking them up by the tail is something that should never be done. If your children are a bit nervous to hold the rodents in their hands, they should scoop them up into an empty coffee cup.
Right now, you do not need to do anything. As bad as the situation looks, the gerbil is not affected by it, and in a week or so, the skinless tail will dry up and fall off. The gerbil will just have a little fluffy stub for the rest of her life.