Q: We live in an apartment but have always wanted a pet. I’d love a small dog or a cat. What’s your advice?
Dr Max Spicer says: Toy breed dogs adapt very well to this situation and represent a group of dogs that have a long, robust longevity and a consistently fun loving personality! Cats of all breeds take to the indoor environment well, particularly if introduced from an early age. It is important to provide entertainment, especially if the pet is left alone whilst you are at work. Indoor formula foods should be used, especially if neutered, to reduce the risk of obesity. There are notable benefits to the indoor situation, no territorial fights, reduced risk of escape and theft and significant limitation to parasite exposure.
Q: I’ve heard rabbits can be low maintenance and inexpensive pets for children. What things should I consider before deciding to go for it – and can they live outside in the summer?
Dr Walter Tarello says: Rabbits are a lot of fun, captivating children’s curiosity, the attention of household pets and promptly relaxing anxious parents and untreatable workaholics! The domestic rabbit comes in 62 recognised breeds and over 500 varieties, all descending from the wild European rabbit. Their life expectancy is 10 years, but some individual rabbits live up to 12 years. They are very sensitive to heat, though, so it’s not advisable to let them outside during the summer months.
Q: Our dog suffers from chronic skin problems and the different creams and pills we’ve been given just don’t seem to be fixing it.
Dr Hilke Meyer-Reumann says: Dogs in this country are susceptible to skin problems. It’s hot and humid which doesn’t help, and lots of households use strong cleaning products on the tiled floors which can irritate the paws and belly. Dogs aren’t walked here as much as they are in Europe, so will often develop obsessive licking habits out of boredom that can make them sore. In some cases, pet shops also supply pups that have been taken away from their mothers too soon, and so their immune systems are not as strong as they could be. Because there can be so many underlying reasons for a skin problem, we’d have to carry out an holistic assessment of the dog. We’d try boosting the immune system by using homeopathic remedies. Acupuncture and herbal creams are often effective on the actual sore areas, and we’d look at eliminating environmental factors.
Q: My child wants a budgie, but I personally hate the thought of keeping a bird in a cage. From a vet’s perspective, is it really cruel?
Dr Vikram Sharma says: This is a very controversial question as different people will have different points of view and we should respect them. When the bird is in a cage and is well fed, given enough attention, has company, and all the necessary veterinary issues are taken care of, it is safer than it would be in the wild. If you really want a caged bird, make sure that cage you provide is big enough so that they can expand their wings completely. You should also take them out of their cage in a secure location within the home on a regular basis, so that they are able to fly around.
Q: I’d love to get my kids a pet, but my youngest son has asthma and I don’t want to get an animal that might aggravate it. Any suggestions?
Dr Max Spicer says: Consider the Sphinx breed of cats. They are genetically hairless and have a very amicable personality. Poodles shed minimally too. Follow your doctor’s advice on your specific situation.
Q: Our elderly pooch is getting a bit stiff in his joints. What alternative treatments could you suggest for him?
Dr Hilke Meyer-Reumann: For stiffness, arthritis, hip dysplasia and recuperation following surgery, we often suggest hydrotherapy. We actually have the only purpose built canine hydrotherapy pool in the Middle East. It looks quite similar to the hydrotherapy pools used for horses. For an older dog, one hour-long session a week would be a good way to maintain fitness levels and muscle tone. For a dog recuperating from surgery, a six- week course (one session a week) would probably be enough to get things back to normal.
Q: My dog has terrible breath. I’ve heard home-cooked dog food, rather than the dried variety can ease the problem. What’s your take on that?
Dr Walter Tarello says; Halitosis, also called bad breath, is not caused by food texture, origin or nature. Instead, the overgrowth of bacteria that live in the mouth is responsible for the awful smell, the inflammation of the gums and the yellow tartar deposit on teeth. Using a toothpaste and brush will probably be a waste of your time if gum disease is the issue. Your vet will tell you which antibiotic works best.
Q: My husband thinks keeping an animal in the house is unhygienic, and that the children might catch something from it. How true is this?
Dr Max Spicer says: There are some diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, but thankfully they are limited. The commonest is ringworm, a skin fungal infection which is easily diagnosed and treated. Clinical signs in the pet would usually alert the owner. Having your pet regularly checked by your vet and following regular parasite control will minimise risks. Routine hygiene should further reduce risks and allow an enjoyable, educational and fulfilling animal-human bond to develop between your pet and family.
Q: Our dog is seriously smelly. How often should we be bathing him? Is once a week too often?
Dr Walter Tarello says: Dogs should be washed once a month or every three weeks at the most. If you really have to wash him more often, please choose a medicated shampoo that contains an anti-fungal active ingredient, as dogs are prone to get skin diseases, particularly from yeast, because of too frequent bathing.
Q: Friends of ours will be leaving Dubai soon, and have asked us if we’ll take over their two chinchillas, but I know nothing about them. What’s your advice?
Dr Vikram Sharma says: You need to have a good sized and well-ventilated cage for a pair of chinchillas. Wired cages are better for ventilation as these little creatures are very sensitive to the heat and their environmental temperature has to be maintained below 24˚C. Avoid plastic and rope toys and provide pine wood shavings as bedding for them to nest in. Chinchillas eat pellet food and hay (alfalfa and timothy). Give them a dust bath twice a week. They will also need exercise daily out of their cage and you should give them filtered water to avoid any infections.
Q: We’d love to get a dog, but it would be alone at home for most of the day. Should we should opt for a different type of pet?
Dr Max Spicer says: Dogs thrive on company and left alone can develop anxiety or stress-related behavioral problems. If regular contact is not possible then please consider a different pet.
Q: We have a very bitey young cat that keeps scratching us and the furniture. Can we can train him not to be so destructive?
Dr Hilke Meyer-Reumann says: Younger cats can be more bitey – it’s often something they grow out of. This also seems to be a personality trait shown by the local cats here – more so than your average domesticated moggy or pedigree Persian. From a practical point of view, to avoid scratches on kids and furniture, we can recommend Soft Paws – these are silicone tips that can be applied to your cat’s claws, thus making them soft and less destructive. This can be done as part of a grooming session, and the tips would need to be replaced every three to four weeks. I would only recommend them for inside cats though, as outdoor animals need their claws to defend themselves.
Q: We’d love to get a dog or a cat – but I’m worried about the long term implications if we move away. I’ve heard fostering a pet can be an option. What’s your take on that?
Dr Walter Tarello says: Fostering an abandoned or stray animal is a laudable decision that will not affect your unsettled permanence in Dubai. Why not give it a try? You have nothing to lose. I say go for it.
Q: We’re due to leave Dubai after 12 years this summer, and we have a 10-year-old blind Labrador that we love to bits. Would it be kinder to re-home her here, or attempt to take her back to Australia with us?
Dr Max Spicer says: Bless her! Being blind, she may feel disorientated with the transport to Australia. Depending on her individual character, this may or may not be distressing. Having fulfilled certain export criteria, the current import regulations of Australia would demand that she spends a minimum mandatory 30 days in quarantine. Labradors, as a breed, are generally very relaxed and tolerant of change, so the prospect of these export requirements may not be so daunting. Also, the care in quarantine is exemplary and visiting is allowed. At the age of 10 years, one would hope to see her live at least to 14 or 15 years. The other concern is knowing if her adoptive home would remain stable. Personally, if she was mine, I would take her.
Q: I’m looking for an easy-to-care-for small animal for my daughter, aged eight, that must be cute and furry. What do you suggest?
Dr Vikram Sharma says: There are few small animals which make great pets for children. Hamsters and gerbils are nocturnal and too small to handle for very young kids. Rabbits need more attention and care. Rats can be good pet as they are very sociable – but not everyone is keen on that idea. Guinea pigs are also a good bet for the small kids as they rarely bite and bond well with their young owners.
Q: My 11-year-old daughter has her heart set on her own pony, but I’m concerned if we have to leave in a couple of years. What’s your advice?
Dr Max Spicer says; Relocating a pony overseas is costly! Maintenance and veterinary care are also very expensive. Re-selling and finding a reliable owner can also pose problems. It’s best to hire a pony for your daughter instead.
The expert panel
Dr Max Spicer, The Veterinary Hospital, Jumeirah (04 338 7726)
Dr Walter Tarello, Pet Connection (behind Mall of the Emirates) (04 447 5307)
Dr Hilke Meyer-Reumann, vet and holistic animal therapist, Clinic of Alternative Medicine for Animals, Jumeirah (04 344 7812)
Dr Vikram Sharma, NMCT Veterinary Division (04 224 8655)