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October 11, 2012

Dog toy acts as surrogate offspring

NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: I have a behavioral question concerning my 8 1/2-year-old male West Highland white terrier. We love him dearly, and he is our only pet. He has never been neutered, but he is confined to our house and property.

We have him on Royal Canin dog food. We treat him every so often to real meat — leftover steak, hamburger, turkey, chicken, etc. — that he loves. However, after eating the meat, he will find one of his stuffed animal toys and pick it up very gently in his mouth. He then walks around slowly and whines or whimpers and will not put the toy down. He seems reluctant to let go of it and treats it as if it were his puppy. This ritual never fails — it occurs every time he eats meat (and only meat).

Is this normal? What is happening here? We are very curious.

— G. & M.M., Jessup, Md.

Dear G & M.M.: In my opinion, your Westie is exhibiting a unique behavioral ritual, the interpretation of which calls for some contemplation and conjecture.

He seems to feel such contentment after having a treat of meat, rather than highly processed manufactured food, that his paternal instincts are aroused. Some male dogs, like their wolf ancestors, will regurgitate food for their pups. His toy that he gently carries around is a partial acting out of this ritualistic food-sharing behavior.

As a test, see how he responds when given a raw, meaty beef shank bone to chew on. You might consider including more whole food ingredients in your dog’s daily diet, such as corn- and soy-free manufactured dog foods and my home-prepared recipe, posted on my website, DrFoxVet.com.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a beloved 14-year-old dog who will be 15 in December. I feed him your brown rice diet, and he does very well on it. He has some hearing loss due to his age, but overall is doing well health-wise.

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