This is an awkward question, but I do feel a need to ask. My new puppy’s poop is light-colored. Is that normal?

Good for you for caring enough about your pet to ask. The simple fact is, the excrement does tell us a lot about the animal’s health. For instance, how much and what sort of food she is eating, and whether she might have a problem. Color may or may not be important. The smart move is to have your vet examine your dog and read the “clues”.

Should I be concerned that my dog isn’t eating as much as he used to?

The first step is to rule out any underlying cause or illness that is curbing your dog’s appetite. Check with your veterinarian to make sure that your pet is all right. If your dog’s eating habits have changed, you may need to investigate. On the other hand, the situation may be quite normal. Dogs change their eating habits as they age. Puppies need to eat more frequently than adult pets do. Older pets tend to need less, and want to eat less often. Some dogs can eat only small amounts at a time: they are just slow eaters. If possible, leave the food out for them until they finish, and let them take their time. But take care that you are giving quality food to your pet, such as Royal Canine or Science Diet, and that your pet is ingesting a healthy amount of food each day. If you have doubts, talk to your veterinarian.

How much should I feed my a dog at a normal feeding time?

If your dog is in good health (without any special conditions), start by reading the manufacturer’s recommendations on the food package. Most high-quality dog foods come with recommended serving sizes. You may want to tailor your portions depending on various “normal” conditions including breed, size, body type, life stage, activity level and environmental conditions. Learn more about these variable factors by talking with your veterinarian and reading our feeding tips.

My new puppy, seventeen weeks old, weighs in at 9.2 pounds. How much exercise should she be getting daily or weekly?

As you didn’t mention the breed, I will assume that your pup has reached around the proper weight for her age. All dogs need exercise, regardless of age. In general, most dogs need at least two half-hour walks per day, but that’s not enough. They also need playtime in between to exert them physically. Puppies need to exercise to build stamina. According to the U.K. Kennel Club, a puppy needs five minutes of exercise per month of age, twice a day. In other words, a three-month-old puppy should get fifteen minutes of exercise each time, while a six-month pup needs half an hour. Young dogs also need time to rest, so if your puppy is tired and doesn’t want to walk or play, don’t force her. Adult dogs can exercise for much longer. Your fully grown dog can exercise for up to two hours at a time – but do make sure your dog is fully grown before pushing her that long. You have reached that point when your dog has achieved her full adult weight. Older dogs have slower metabolisms – which makes exercise more, rather than less, important. Exercise helps your aging dog with blood flow and stimulates her tissue. An older dog may not be able to go as long as the dog in her prime, but with shorter walks (ten to fifteen minutes) she can work up to a pace of walking for up to an hour, three times a week. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

I certainly understand the importance of diet to a dog with diabetes. How about joint disease: are there any real benefits to pet food that claims to help with this problem?

The short answer is yes: there are diets that can help dogs with joint disease, giving them healthier and happier lives as a result. In some cases, diet alone can make the difference. The particular benefit of the diet treatment depends on factors such as how severe the disease is, and what specific diet is used. If your pet suffers from joint disease, your local veterinarian can help you with a treatment plan.

I know that dogs can contract diabetes. Has anyone invented a diet to help these poor creatures?

Yes. Unfortunately, this disease, which has become so rampant among Americans, also can strike our pets. The good news is that there are special diets for dogs with diabetes. These diets are generally low in fat and high in fiber. They are formulated to help to decrease the amount of insulin that a diabetic dog may need. If your dog has diabetes, I recommend talking to your local veterinarian about how a special diet may help. For more information, you can read our article on diabetes mellitus. You also can visit our pet nutrition center, where you will find additional resources for pet nutrition, diet selection, and practical feeding tips.

My pet has been acting a bit strangely lately, scratching her ears a lot. I’m sure she doesn’t have fleas. What might be going on here? (She is a mixed breed of border collie and sheep dog.)

I’m glad you mentioned her breeding, because that does make a difference. Ear infections are fairly common in bassett hounds, Labrador retrievers, and poodles, for example. Your pet’s lineage is less susceptible. However, any breed of dog can get an ear infection – from environmental allergies, food allergies, or some other cause -- even having too much hair in the ear canals. Dogs also are more prone to infections if they swim a lot, or have large ears. A lot depends on your dog’s unique circumstances. If she is doing a lot of ear-scratching (or showing some other tell-tale sign, such as shaking her head a lot, or showing discomfort when touched around the ears), she may have an ear problem. If your dog’s ears are red and inflamed, please take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

My “new” cat (actually, an adult male, which I just adopted) eats all day long. Is that normal, and how do you tell if he is fat?

Kudos to you for adopting an adult male cat! Although not always the first ones picked, they make purr-fectly great pets. Since you don’t know your cat’s history, you can’t know what his eating habits have been all his life. Cats fall into a wide range of weights that are considered normal: even fifteen pounds for a large male. Talk to your vet to establish proper food portions (based, for instance, on what your cat’s “ideal” weight should be), and then you can measure out the right amounts to keep your pet healthy. Perhaps this is not the cat that should have the bottomless feed bowl.

I often have to take my dog along with me when I’m running errands, but he gets really nervous in the car, and often throws up. What can I do to keep this from happening?

There are several things you can do. For starters, your dog’s problem may not be anxiety, but car sickness. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a remedy for that common malady. If your dog’s issue actually is anxiety, try training him to feel more at ease in the car. Start small: put him in the car with you, but don’t turn the car on. When he is comfortable with that, turn the engine on but don’t move the car. Then gradually start to take short rides. Give him a little reward when he handles the ride well. Better yet, train him to associate car rides with something fun: like taking a walk right afterwards. Not least, put some old blankets over the car seats. They offer protection to your car, and your dog may get to like sleeping on them.

I already have a cat, but I would like to get a second one. The problem is that Cat Number One does not get along well with other cats. How can I help the two of them get along?

There are no guarantees here: some cats do not respond well to another cat on their “turf.” But with care and common sense, you can keep peace in the family. The key word is “gradual.” Introduce the cats to each other slowly. Start by having them in different rooms with the door closed. This way they can hear and smell each other through the door, and start getting used to each other without feeling directly threatened. Take it slow as you go. When you introduce them face-to-face, allow them to be around each other only for a short time at first. Then separate them to adjoining rooms. Little by little, increase the amount of time that they are in the same space. When they are, try to give them equal amounts of petting and attention so that neither feels slighted. Cats are very adaptable, and there is a good chance that even Cat Number One will soon start feeling that having another cat around is “normal.” Always, when in doubt, consult your vet, who probably has had lots of experience with cat behavior.

I recently adopted a dog from a shelter. Her vaccination history is unknown, and I’ve read that if you start with such a dog, it can take up to six months for you to know if it has rabies. How do shelters know whether a dog is infected?

First, you deserve a warm round of applause for giving your new dog another chance at a great home. Second, lots of animals win up in shelters without vaccine histories attached, so your situation is very common. Unfortunately there is no specific test for rabies in a live animal, so pre-screening pets with unknown vaccine status is not an option. However, you may be sure that if the shelter had any concerns about the health of your new dog, especially with regards to rabies, the good folks there would not have put her up for adoption. The most common way that rabies spread is through infection by wild animals such as foxes, skunks, and raccoons. (Other ways are possible, but rare.) Your veterinarian probably knows whether there have been any concerns for rabies in your specific geographic area. You also can check your state’s website for notices or warnings about rabies in your region. And, yes, you should go ahead and keep your appointment with your veterinarian to have your dog vaccinated.

Speaking of carrots – are they okay for dogs?

Let’s face it: dogs and carrots were not designed to go together. Some dogs can be allergic to carrots, and get symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or itching. On the other hand, most dogs can handle carrots in small amounts, and a carrot is going to be lower in calories than most commercial dog treats. You don’t need to rush to the vet over this matter, but the next time you’re there, your veterinarian probably can tell you whether it’s okay to give Rover the occasional carrot instead of a biscuit.

I just got a six-week-old small-breed puppy, and I’m very concerned about his eating. He barely nibbled at the softened dry puppy food and has not touched the puppy milk either (I tried using both a small bowl and a bottle). What do you think?

Your situation makes me wonder whether your puppy was properly weaned. A small-breed puppy, for example, should stay with his mother until at least eight weeks; ten weeks is even better. Young small-breed puppies are prone to low blood sugar if they aren't eating properly, so you do want to know if your pup is weaned, and see that he is eating well on his own. At this age, a puppy should be eating every four hours or so during the day. Contact the person who gave you the dog and ask specifically whether your pup was weaned. The answer may be bottle feeding for a time, but that is somewhat risky because the dog could get milk into his lungs and develop pneumonia. Ask your vet for help.

What are some tips for training a dog on a leash?

First of all, choose a leash you will use regularly and let the dog get used to it. Start the training process slowly. For instance, while you’re at home, put the leash on your dog and let her walk around the house with it, getting used to its being there. Once outside, you can train your dog to walk calmly beside you. When you start walking your pet, keep the leash short at first, so the dog gets used to walking close to you. If she starts to tug at the leash, give the leash a pull – gently. When the dog stops tugging, release the pressure as a “reward” for her not tugging. Easy does it, and your dog will get used to the rhythm of your walk, and the amount of pressure on the leash.

I love my new six-week-old puppy, but I’m afraid of her getting fleas. What should I do?

There are two important steps to take. First, practice prevention. Wash your puppy’s bedding frequently, and vacuum often around the area. That will help to remove any flea eggs and larva from the vicinity. Second, treat your dog to a visit to the vet. This is especially important for puppies, because a flea problem can give them anemia, and a puppy may not be able to withstand the toxic content in over-the-counter anti-flea products. Your veterinarian can examine your pet, give you safe recommendations for anti-flea products, and make sure that there are no complications from any flea infestation that does occur.

My dog is a barker! It isn’t just when someone’s coming to the door. Is there some way I can train Prince to pipe it down? (I’ve tried a firm “no.”) How about a water squirter, or a high-pitched noise?

Your dog may be trying to tell you something – he’s anxious, lonesome, or maybe he senses another dog in the area. Maybe it’s something simple and direct, like his needing more food or water, or a good walk outside. It’s best to check with your veterinarian to rule out anything serious. Your vet also can help you come up with a behavior-based plan to lower your dog’s “vocalizations.” You’ve heard the expression, “carrot or stick.” Carrots aren’t exactly a dog’s favorite treat, but you know what I mean: the best means of behavior modification is positive reinforcement. For instance, when your dog starts barking, try distracting him with a treat or praise. You might try clicker training, which is a small noisemaker used to reinforce a desired behavior. A negative approach, such as a bark collar, may cause the dog to become fearful and start acting out in other ways.

I have a related question. My dog seems to be having back-door problems. I did a little web-surfing and found out that dogs can have trouble with their anal glands. What kind of trouble might this be?

Let’s start with some general information. Dogs and cats have two glands just inside the rectal opening, called “anal glands” or “anal sacs.” Sometimes, these glands become irritated or infected. In some cases they can even abscess into a wound near the rectal opening. See your vet. The solution may be surgery, to remove the glands completely. If the glands are actively inflamed or infected, the first step would be to clear up those issues before proceeding to surgery. It’s also possible that your vet can treat your dog without resorting to surgery.

We are moving to a new home in a different neighborhood. Even though it’s a beautiful house on a quieter street, we’re worried about our cats adjusting. We have four of them, ranging in age from seven years to one. What can we do to ease their transitio

Four cats, of widely different ages! Cheers to you for knowing how to make your cats get along! With all your experience, you must know that cats are creatures of habit. You can’t help their being nervous when you actually move them, but you can help your cats get through the change by staying calm and keeping the noise level down. Start them in the new house by planting their carriers in one room. Let them get used to that room first, and get to know the whole place gradually, or at their own pace. Give each cat a gentle tour of the way to the litter box. Most of all, get them back into the familiar and the routine as soon as possible. Feed them at their normal times, and make sure they have access to their favorite toys and beds. Being around their favorite people and favorite things will reassure them and get them used to the new home in no time.