The Norman Transcript

October 11, 2012

Dog toy acts as surrogate offspring

The Norman Transcript

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,

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.

I have one concern, however: He licks the carpet a lot. I wonder if he might need something else in his diet, or if it might be an emotional issue. How do I correct it? Thank you for any advice you may have and for your columns, which I read regularly.

— L.S., Cresaptown, Md.

Dear L.S.: You are correct that your old dog’s obsessive licking behavior could have an emotional basis or another cause. Physical discomfort (for various reasons ranging from cancer and arthritis to dental or chronic digestive problems) can lead to comfort seeking and stress-relieving licking and chewing — sometimes a paw, other times the edging of carpet.

I would advise a full veterinary examination and take it from there. Digestive enzymes, probiotics, safe chew toys or a piece of raw beef shank bone may be beneficial, depending upon the outcome of the examination and what conditions are suspected of causing his obsessive behavior.

Don’t rule out boredom and the need for more activity and stimulation, which may be facilitated by seeing to his comfort. He may be less active because of arthritis pain or from being overweight, conditions which could be at the root of his discomfort.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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