Our panel of experts answers your questions on everything from giving children caffeine to ensuring your dog doesn’t chew up the furniture
QWhat is your opinion on the issue of allowing children to drink caffeine? My 11 yearold has been badgering us to let her drink tea and coffee and I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. DR DAN RUTHERFORD WRITES: AYou could, of course, let her have decaffeinated tea and coffee to start with but evidence that caffeine is actually harmful is pretty slim. That’s just as well for all of us, as caffeine is reportedly the most used drug in the world. Many popular fizzy drinks contain caffeine, as does chocolate (plain has twice as much as milk), so a caffeinefree diet needs to look wider than coffee and tea, and is not so easy to achieve. Certainly, caffeine has measurable effects on the body, such as to raise the blood pressure, although these are temporary. Some small-scale studies have shown caffeine-related effects on levels of attention, concentration and anxiety in young people, all of which were increased. How far you can generalise such results is unclear. Recognising the impracticality of avoiding caffeine completely, most public health bodies suggest a daily limit – about 2.5mg of caffeine per kilogram of the child’s weight. For an 11 yearold, that would be about 85mg of caffeine per day. An average cup of tea has 45mg of caffeine – brewed coffee can be three times as much. It’s probably better to negotiate a limit with your daughter by making her aware of your health concerns as constructively as you can. If caffeine is as far as any child’s drug use ever gets, every parent would, of course, be delighted. DIET QCan you recommend some natural ways to improve digestion? I usually get quite bloated and sore when my eating is erratic – it often is, because of the nature of my job – but the festive season seems to have made it worse. SARA STANNER WRITES: AEating too much over the festive period, especially too many rich foods like mince pies, pudding and cake, commonly causes unpleasant symptoms of indigestion and heartburn. But there are things that you can do to help avoid this – for example, sit down when eating and don’t rush food, and stay seated for at least 20 minutes after eating. Chewing food well will also help to avoid indigestion because smaller food particles in the stomach are easier to breakdown and digest, and chewing tends to make your stomach produce less acid which causes less stomach irritation. Try to avoid fizzy drinks as they can increase the amount of gas in your stomach, and avoid eating heavy meals or snacks before you go to bed. Keeping active is very important, as physical activity can help beat bloating and avoid indigestion. Make sure you eat enough fibre from foods such as whole-grain breads, breakfast cereals, brown rice, pasta and pulses. Opt for light meals such as non-creamy soups, baked potatoes with low-fat fillings (such as cottage cheese), pasta with tomatobased sauce or a chicken or tuna salad and healthier, lowerfat snacks such as toast with low-fat spread, breadsticks and hummus, satsumas or other fruits. Also avoid snacks that are high in salt, such as salted nuts, as these can make bloating worse. Peppermint or camomile tea can help to soothe the digestive system and you could also try a probiotic as these contain “good” bacteria, which some people find helpful to soothe gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating (but you must use these daily for them to be effective). FITNESS QDo those interactive fitness programmes (like Wii) really work? I have been given one for Christmas and would like to use it to do aerobics. Are they in any way damaging to the body? TONY GALLAGHER WRITES: AMany people see the rise of interactive fitness programmes as a positive thing and a way to embrace contemporary technology from the comfort of your own home. The argument goes that anything that promotes physical activity is a good thing. Part of the value of Wii Fit, and such programmes, is in their attempts to be honest with the user and help that person achieve a healthier lifestyle. It is probably of most value to view these sort of interactive programmes as just one tool in the fitness box, as it were. Like most forms of exercise programmes, they will work if the correct frequency, intensity, time and type of programme are selected. You will need to warm up beforehand and wear sensible clothing that lends itself to exercising comfortably. This includes wearing proper trainers to avoid injury and keep you safe. Specifically, the aerobics fitness programme of Wii Fit is well thought of. With nine elements, including super hula hoop and rhythm boxing, it has a fun element, and a competitive nature is introduced by giving a score. Take good notice of any instructions given on screen. The American College of Sports Medicine promotes moderate-intensity exercise of between 150 and 250 minutes per week to effectively prevent weight gain. This rises to about five hours per week if you are aiming to lose weight and keep it off. Resistance training of moderate to vigorous training is also recommended, so mix and match your interactive computer fitness programmes. PETS QWe have an eight-monthold rescue bulldog bitch. She has recently started to chew everything, even if left for a few minutes. She has destroyed beds, blankets, the sofa and even the television stand, and we cannot seem to stop her chewing things. Can you offer any advice? We have tried sprays on the furniture to no avail. ROGER MUGFORD WRITES: ADon’t despair! Many young dogs (and almost all Labradors) go through this extraordinary and very expensive oral phase that can be likened to an obsession and an oral stereotype just as in young children that never grow out of the dummysucking phase. First the good news: most such dogs selfresolve with no need for intervention or systematic therapy. However, the bad news is that some don’t get better: they continue to be at risk and make expensive companions. This is my advice: No matter what the provocation, do not punish her when you return after the damage has been done (for example, if the chewing was not witnessed). Switch all feeding to a hard-to-get-at slow dispense system via Kongs or a similar device (you will need at least an XL size in both the standard red Kong and a giant dental Kong). These can be filled with your dog’s standard rations, which if a dry kibble should be wetted and frozen. This will give her a chewing challenge to maintain normal food intake. She may need to have up to 10 such double Kong chew episodes – 10 meals per day will be hard work! Teach her that items made from wood, fabric, etcetera, are strictly out of bounds, to be removed by you with a scold, possibly with overt or, better, covert punishment. An example of the former might be to shake or throw a rattle can when she picks up the “forbidden” item, or covertly, the hiss of a Pet Corrector spray. Most important of all is that this young bitch has an interesting and exhausting life: lots of walks, games and training, having positive interactions with you, the owner. Then there is the possibility of crate training, or environmental restriction. If you didn’t start off with crate training when she was a young puppy, she will probably find it stressful now. However, there may be a room or space that is clear of temptation, which, with chewable toys like Kong, can still make a pleasant environment for the dog. Finally, it may be that your dog is simply missing human company and she is distressed by being alone in the house. There are well triedand-tested ways of reducing these over-attachments. Visit my website for advice on treating separation disorders in dogs: www.companyofanimals. co.uk.