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Dr. Michael Fox, Published August 29 2013

Dr. Fox: Old dog digging in veggie garden

Q: I wonder why our 10-year-old hound-mix has begun to dig holes in our vegetable garden. In colder weather, this is not a problem; when spring arrives and seedlings are planted, I must admonish her while refilling the 6- to 10-inch craters she creates. She loves to be outside on sunny days, and that seems to be her time to dig.

Her health is good, with the exception of some plaque on her molars. I brush her teeth daily, but the plaque is always more than I can treat. Her diet includes fresh fruit (apples, pears, bananas), raw vegetables (carrots, cabbage, sweet peppers) and fresh kibble. She is still very active.

Do you have any suggestions concerning this behavior? – J.B., Alexandria, Va.

A: Old dogs do develop new behaviors, and your dog deciding to dig holes in the vegetable patch may well be her way of finding stimulation and enjoyment now that she is becoming less physically active. She may need to be checked for arthritis and may benefit from appropriate supplements.

Allowing her to chew on a 6- to 10-inch length of raw beef marrowbone for about 10 minutes every few days will help keep her teeth clean and provide enjoyable stimulation. I advise short bouts of chewing because some dogs may get so involved that they damage their teeth. For some, a Nylabone may be safer. A daily application of PetzLife oral care gel or spray will help control tartar and keep the gums healthy.

A staked roll of chicken wire around your vegetable garden may be your horticultural solution. You could also set aside an area in the garden where your dog is free to dig.

Q: I just want to let you know of my experience with and without knee surgery.

In 2004, at age 7, our dog Hanna tore her right knee ligament. We decided to do the surgery, at a cost of $1,500. Jump forward to age 12, when Hanna tore her left knee ligament. This time, the cost basically doubled. Taking into account the cost and her age, we decided not to do the surgery. Her knee healed nicely on its own, and she is now 15½ years old and going strong. Both legs are working great.

Hanna is a midsize mixed-breed pup. She’s not overweight, weighing around 55 pounds.

I read about the study showing that many dogs heal well without costly surgery for torn cruciate ligaments, especially if given proper rest and physical therapy, and I thought you might like to hear about Hanna’s experience. – R.A.R., Kernersville, N.C.

A: I have been waving the flag of caution over torn cruciate ligament surgery now for several years. It is good that more clinical evidence is being published to support my conservative approach to this all-too-common condition. It may be best prevented by keeping dogs lean and well-exercised, neutering closer to full physical maturity and avoidance of overvaccination, especially for canine distemper.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.