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ANIMAL ISLAND: Advice for pet owners from Marc Morrone

Today, Newsday debuts a Q&A column with "petkeeper" Marc Morrone.

Morrone may be familiar to you. He has been appearing on Cablevision's News 12 with his Animal Island segment for years. He's also Martha Stewart's "petkeeper" and can be seen on her TV show and heard on her satellite radio program. He has four pet advice books coming out next fall with BowTie Press.

Morrone is not a veterinarian, but he sure knows animal behavior and wants to help you solve your pet problems. You can e-mail him at petxperts2@aol .com, or write to him at Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY, 11747; attn.: Marjorie Robins. Include your name, town and a contact number.

BY MARC MORRONESpecial to Newsday

Q: My dog is extremely spiteful, and every day he tips over the garbage can when I am at work. He does it on purpose because he always looks guilty when I come home from work. Plus, he never does it on the weekends when we are home. What should I do?

-- Bob Hughes, Huntington

A: The idea that the dog is spreading this trash around your home to make you angry is not a possible scenario. He is only doing it because he has the time to do it, and the garbage is made available to him. Dogs live only for the moment and do not have the cognitive skills for spiteful behavior. The reason the dog looks guilty is because every time you come home from work and see the trash spread around, you scold him. The dog soon comes to anticipate this. On the weekends you are home, and there is more activity in the house. The dog doesn't have the opportunity to take advantage of the trash toy. Lock up the trash before you leave the house, and put out busy toys for him to play with, such as a Kong toy stuffed with low-calorie treats.

Q: I have been reading that cats do much better on a canned diet than a dry food diet. Why did the cats that I kept 40 years ago on dry cat food seem in much better shape than the cats I keep now?

-- Hans Klaasen, Babylon

A: Actually the pet foods of today, both dry and canned, are of a superior quality than those of our youth. Thirty years ago, our cats were outside all day doing what comes naturally to cats. One of these natural behaviors was to kill and eat small native songbirds and rodents. In catching these creatures, the cats got a great deal of exercise, and being outside in the sunlight helped their health. So, even though we left dry food out for them to eat, they were still able to supplement the processed food diet with the meat from prey animals. Today, cats cannot be left outside all day to wander, as the world is a more dangerous place. Keeping this in mind, feed your cat a premium grain-free canned food twice a day, and it should show an improvement in its health and condition.

When you first take the cat off the dry food, it is going to act ravenous and will be begging to eat all the time. It's best to feed it as much canned food as it wants. As time goes on and your cat's metabolism adjusts to this natural way of eating, you will find that the amount of food needed to satisfy its hunger will decrease. As an added bonus, you will find you may not need to clean the litter box as often, because cats on a canned-food diet have smaller stools.

Q: The salesperson in the pet store I frequent told me I should feed my freshwater fish every other day, but the can of fish food I have says I should feed them two or three times a day. Which is correct?

-- Jessie Enfante, Oceanside

A: Actually both. In a perfect world, fish like to eat little meals all through the day, and that is why the fish food can says to feed them this way.

Most people, however, tend to put too much food in their tanks; thus, the uneaten food will decompose and foul the water. The tank environment must be kept as pristine as possible. This is why the fish keeper told you to feed them every other day,

It is a rare occurrence for a fish to starve to death. If you can, it is always better to watch the fish feeding, and if any food is able to drift down to the bottom of the tank, then you put too much in.

Q: My two small children want a small, furry rodent-type pet. I am confused as to what would be a better choice, two hamsters or two gerbils?

-- Beth Ferront, Huntington

A: It all depends on if you want to give each child a cage. If this is the case, then two hamsters in their own cages would be better. Hamsters are solitary animals and prefer to live alone. However, if you want to keep both pets in the same cage, then two gerbils would be better. They are social animals that need to be kept with others of their own kind.

Q: We have a very active dog who likes to chase squirrels every time he sees them in our backyard. My children want us to adopt their class guinea pig. How can we convince our dog that the guinea pig is not in the same classification as the squirrels in our backyard?

-- Winsome Williams,

Jamaica, Queens

A: When introducing your dog to the new guinea pig, the key is not to let the dog have the opportunity to chase the guinea pig at all. If the dog does not get the chance to do this, then it will never think it is an option. The guinea pig cage must be kept up and out of the dog's reach at first. When you first introduce them to each other, you must be holding the guinea pig securely, or have it in its cage, and somebody else must be holding the dog. Allow the dog to look at and smell the guinea pig from a distance so it can get the answers about the guinea pig that only the dog's nose can tell. If every encounter the dog has with the guinea pig is like this for the first few weeks, the dog could dismiss the new pet as not worth wasting its time.

But, no matter how cute they may look together, never let a prey animal interact with a predatory animal without supervision. Accidents can and do happen. Keep the guinea pig in its cage when you are not with it.


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