Is it safe to bring a newborn into a house with lots of different kinds of pets?

June 4, 2014

Dear Dr. Fox:

I’d like your opinions on two things.

Situation 1: bringing a newborn baby into a household composed of two adults, a 7-year-old boy, one Siberian husky (a new acquisition), one medium-size mutt, three shorthair cats and one mouse. Is this environment safe for the newborn?

Situation 2: the burgeoning increase in deer in suburban neighborhoods. My concern is Lyme disease. Is this something that can also be picked up from the chipmunks and squirrels that patrol our yard?

I’m a faithful reader of your column, even though I’m allergic to dogs and cats.

N.L., Annapolis

DF: My answer to Situation 1: No problem, if the animals are all healthy.

In fact, a diversity of in-home animals (including dogs that get outdoors) can be highly beneficial for children. Such exposure helps infants acquire a diverse population of beneficial bacteria. This has been shown to improve their immune systems, reduce the frequency and severity of some common childhood infections and lead to a reduced incidence of allergies.

Situation 2: Various species of mice are the main source of Lyme disease. Foxes, owls and other raptors help control these. Deer also harbor this tick-borne disease.

My yard has many squirrels and chipmunks, and I inspect them closely; I have never seen evidence of tick infestation. Nor have I ever picked up a tick after working around my property in Minnesota, where Lyme disease is becoming a significant public- health issue, along with tick-borne ehrlichiosis and babesiosis.

I advise property owners not to spray insecticides but to clear away brush and, if possible, keep a few Guinea fowl, because they are voracious tick eaters.

ENZYME DEFICIENCY

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a 7-year-old male pit bull with a diagnosis of pancreatic insufficiency.

The vet has recommended pancreatic enzyme concentrate, plus fat-soluble vitamins consisting of lipase, protease, amylase and vitamins A, D3 and E. He gets three tablets before each meal, meaning nine tablets daily. His meals consist of chicken breasts, rice and yogurt.

He is still having diarrhea. Can you offer any other alternatives?

F.M.A., Ocean View, Del.

DF: The yogurt in your dog’s diet is a good idea, as long as it is not pasteurized, because of the beneficial bacteria in “live” yogurt and kefir. Alternatively, a daily dose of probiotics might help your dog’s overall condition.

Pancreatic enzyme insufficiency is all too common in dogs, and I attribute this primarily to their diets being too high in starches from corn and other cereals.

Try my home-prepared diet on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.
com
, and cut the rice and grain content by 75 percent. Give your dog three or four pieces of canned pineapple daily. This fruit contains digestive enzymes that will help compensate for your dog’s deficiency.

Use lean meat and poultry and low-fat yogurt, because a high fat intake could possibly trigger an episode of pancreatic inflammation or pancreatitis, which can be extremely painful.

FELINE KIDNEY FAILURE

Dear Dr. Fox:

In response to the letter from J.M., I also had a cat that had kidney failure.

She was 13 years old at the time it was diagnosed, and I was told to use fluids under the skin twice a day. My vet said he had heard from someone who had used Azodyl successfully. We decided to try this with Pepcid AC twice a day, along with the fluids.

She is now 17 years old, and her latest blood work shows everything within normal ranges. She eats like a healthy, happy cat.

Azodyl is a dietary supplement made in the United States by Vetoquinol. It’s worth considering.

J.J.L., Silver Spring

DF: I appreciate your letter attesting to the benefit of Azodyl for helping alleviate your cat’s chronic kidney disease.

This proprietary supplement, which includes probiotics, does indeed seem to be of significant value in helping cats with this condition, and it is being more widely prescribed.

Of course, there is no panacea for this all-too-common feline malady. Judicious application of various interventions is called for, including a special diet; vitamin D, potassium and thiamine supplements; blood pressure monitoring and medication, as needed; and a phosphate binder if blood tests indicate this is needed. Fish oil might help improve kidney function.

A high-quality dietary protein is advisable, because protein deficiency and dramatic loss of weight and muscle mass occur with some forms of kidney disease. An injection of various hydrating and nutritious solutions under the skin is a key in helping cats enjoy some quality of life when their kidneys begin to fail.

SKIN SOLUTIONS

Dear Dr. Fox:

I read recently about the 14-year-old Chihuahua and rat terrier mix’s skin problem and thought it might be useful to let you know how we brought our terrier’s similar skin problem to a comfortable and manageable level.

When our now-14-year-old female was about 8 years old, she had extremely itchy, “alligatored” and crusted skin, mainly on the belly, teats, legs and ears. She was a wreck. I think the vet mentioned Cushing's disease.

There was no mange found after many tests, and I don’t think her thyroid was a problem. We worked through her extreme terror, and with carefully measured exercise and diet, she took about 22 pounds off her now 65-pound frame.

Apparently, she doesn’t have Cushing's, at least not now. I think the vet could have figured that out. We tried many medications for the skin problem that remained, overhauled her diet (she is now on a no-grain Merrick chicken and yam diet) and started giving her supplements.

We really saw a tidal change for the skin when she went to the vet, who administered the following: an allergy shot of dexamethasone and depo-medrol; antibiotics Cefpodoxime and Ampicillin; a small but long-lasting dose of prednisone; and GentaSpray for the very occasional flare-ups.

Even though she might never be totally cured of the propensity toward this trouble, she is, and has been for quite a while, a very comfortable and happy girl.

C.R., Freehold, N.J.

DF: Chronic skin problems can often be difficult to diagnose, and in many cases, it is of significant cost-savings to first try the double whammy of antibiotics and judiciously prescribed corticosteroids.

Although I have frequently addressed the harmful side effects of this class of hormonal medications, with careful prescribing, small miracles can be accomplished. Such hormonal treatment helps the body reestablish varying degrees of normality, the skin of the dog being a reflection of a number of underlying health issues.

Corticosteroids are an important part of veterinary and human medicine, especially because of their potent anti-inflammatory properties.

NEUTERING RABBITS

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have four rescued rabbits that live in my house and get vet care, which brings me to my question: Does spaying a rabbit shorten her life?

I took my 5-year-old, Dutch, and got her spayed after reading about uterine cancer in rabbits. Lots of people say not to spay.

S.Y., Purcell, Okla.

DF: Neutering a rabbit, male or female, should not be life-shortening, so long as the animal does not become overweight, which can be one of the consequences of changes in metabolism that often occur with the hormonal deficiencies that neutering causes.

There is some debate about neutering dogs and increased risk of certain cancers and other health problems in particular breeds. But these risks need to be balanced against the animals’ quality of life, environmental and social conditions and the benefits of population control and behavioral change.

For excellent information about rabbits, go to www.rabbit.org.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2014 United Feature Syndicate

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