June 11, 2008 11:00 AM

Advice for Pet Owners

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Dr. Michael W. Fox
Veterinarian and Syndicated Columnist
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; 11:00 AM

Do you have a problem pooch or crazy cat? Are you trying to pick the best pet for your family? Are you alarmed by news reports about tainted pet food and looking for better options?

Dr. Michael W. Fox can offer advice on these quandaries, and other issues related to the care and feeding of our furry friends (as well as those with feathers or scales). He is a veterinarian and the author of the syndicated column "Animal Doctor." He has written over 40 books, most recently "Dog Body, Dog Mind" and "Cat Body, Cat Mind," which take a holistic approach to pet care and communications. His book "Not Fit for a Dog! The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food" will be out soon. He was online Wednesday, June 11, at 11 AM ET to answer questions on pet care and animal health.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the live discussion.

Please join us again Wednesday, June 18 at noon ET for another discussion on pet care with Victoria Schade of Good Dog! Obedience Training. And check out washingtonpost.com's new pets section anytime!

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Dr. Michael W. Fox: Welcome all pet owners, animal lovers, and good morning to you all. This is Dr. Fox linking with you from Minneapolis, MN where a big storm is brewing. I will endeavor to answer as many of your questions as I can over the next hour -- and forgive my typos -- I am a hunt and peck dyslexic, one-eyed chicken when it comes to this task.

For the animals---Michael W. Fox

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Washington, D.C.: Death of a pet. To you and all the posters: what words comforted you the most when dealing with the death of a pet. My sister has decided to euthanize her beloved dog of 10 years (kidney failure, which became acute suddenly) tomorrow and I am at a loss of what to say. Our mother died suddenly of the same illness five months ago. Thank you.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Simply express your sorrow and get the grieving owner to talk about the good times with the dog, pull out old photos, not feel guilty about making the right decision with the vet. to euthanize, or be surprised about feeling more pain of loss than with losing a human relative.

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Washington, D.C.: Help! I recently took in my parents' 10-year-old cat. She seems to be adjusting slowly to the transition. That being said, she has urinated on my couch five times, mostly when left alone for longer than usual. It is so odd -- she has never done anything like this before -- and I don't know what to do to ensure it does not happen again. For the moment, I have cleaned the couch with pet stain and odor remover (although my poor couch will never really be the same) and covered the pillows with aluminum foil when I am not there to discourage her from jumping on the couch. Should I get one of those motion sensor alarms to discourage her from getting on the couch? Bitter apple? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Hopefully just a temporary insecurity but if repeated, have vet check for cystitis often brought on by stress in cats. Repeat spray with enzyme cleaner and cover with plastic sheet then cotton sheet. Valium from the vet for five-seven days may help cat settle.

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Columbia, Md.: Dr. Fox, thanks for answering questions. I find your column so helpful as a fairly new pet owner. Last spring, I adopted a small (22 pounds) mixed breed dog who was 15 or 16. He had pretty well made the transition from his former free-roaming existence to life in my townhouse with morning, afternoon and evening walks -- but he gets so upset every time I leave the house that I feel guilty. He barks so frantically that he falls over. Since telecommuting isn't an option for my job, do you have any suggestions for making this separation less painful for him? I had thought about getting another dog but he has been an only dog so far, and I'm not sure he would adjust well to sharing my time and attention. Thanks

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Separation anxiety is a tough one to deal with. My book Dog Body, Dog Mind (The Lyons Press) has helpful insights: leave radio or TV on, have a care-giver come by while you are away at work and give the old dog a marrow bone or rubber Kong stuffed with peanut butter as a chewy distraction. Good for you for adopting such an old one!

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Chantilly, Va.: We have three cats and only one of them has a very bad tarter problem. She had lost a number of teeth with an initial cleaning and with the second cleaning the following year her eating habits still haven't improved. She is able to swallow whole the dry food we feed all three and occasionally we can get her to eat canned food (maybe three days a week). Her weight has seemed to stay consistent in the last year so my question is, instead of getting her teeth cleaned again, would going ahead and having them all removed be a better option? She is about 7 or 8 years of age and doesn't have any other health issues. Thanks

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Such a common problem in cats, linked with feeding dry foods that do NOT help keep cats' teeth clean. Give cats the raw, scaled (to kill off bacteria) chicken wing tips and strips of raw beef shank or beef heart to chew on to help keep teeth clean. Have your cat checked for diabetes, and give up to 1 teaspoon daily cod liver oil in food to help heal gums -- fish oil is anti-inflammatory.

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Cats and chocolate?: Any reason to keep chocolate away from my cat? She seems to love it, but I've just heard that chocolate is bad for dogs. She's always glad to lick the bowl if someone has ice cream, and we put the bowl on the floor for her -- but if we're having chocolate ice cream she actually begs for it! She also figured out how to get into a candy bar wrapper to get some chocolate for herself. (She eats about a dime size piece, not the whole thing.) Please tell me it's okay for her to have the occasional indulgence. She doesn't beg for anything else.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Unusual for cats to like chocolate! Keep it away since the theobromide and theophyllene could cause neurological problems -- seizures in dogs, and possibly in cats too who, unlike dogs, rarely have a sweet tooth!

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Columbia, Md.: Thanks for sharing your expertise. I have two questions. I have two cats, one of them hates going to the vet so I had a vet home visit. She still struggled mightily during the entire exam. How can this be minimized? Second, both cats are house cats but I feel bad about them never getting to enjoy the outdoors, especially since they are both over 10 years old. I'd like to take them outside but would should I do to prep for it? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Some cats hate going to the vets and need to be towel-wrapped for the exam. Some such cats do better when the vet can make a house-call, and are less spooked on home-base.

All cats should be indoor animals and never be allowed to roam free. There are various cat-fence setups that you can find online to make your backyard cat safe. Alternatively, fit your cats with harnesses and take for short walks on the leash -- but wear protective clothing in case one cat spooks and tries to run up you for protection!

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Richmond: To keep my puppy occupied and from chewing other things, I give her a rawhide bone. Any risk to her teeth? Recommendations on how often to let her chew it?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I am opposed to rawhide chews for health and safety reasons. A 3-inch long piece of raw beef shank/marrow/soup bone is the only safe bone for dogs. Allow to chew for 10-15 min 3-4 times a day while teething, or a safe rubber Kong chew toy.

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Frederick, Md.: Dr. Fox, Do you have any information on pet insurance. We just got an English Lab pup after putting down our 13-year-old English Lab eight months ago and I'd love some real down and honest information regarding health insurance for dogs. Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I have not found one that I would recommed. Most do not cover hereditary/genetic problems, and tend to push too many vaccinations in the health-care package.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: What possible ailments could cause a dog to have very frequent and long urinations?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Diabetes insipidus, chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus -- so a vet check is called for.

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re: fish oil: How should one choose an appropriate bottle of fish oil at the store? If it is formulated for people, can it still be used on our pets?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Get people-quality, like Atlantic/Norwegian cod liver oil. Oil from farmed salmon -- the cheapest for humans -- may well be loaded with dioxins and PCBs -- not safe! Organic flax seed oil is good too for dogs and humans, but of less nutritive value to cats who do better on fish oil.

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Alex, Va: I am sure this is a common problem, but what is the solution? I have two adult cats -- 15-pound male and 9-pound female. Both could stand to lose a pound or two. I feed them dry food twice a day and let it run out in between. They split a can of wet food once a week. If I cut down their food servings, the big one will eat it all and the little one will get nothing. Any suggestions?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Get off all dry food, and check out my book CAT BODY, CAT MIND, and Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkin's book YOUR CAT. Canned, raw, and home-made foods are better for cats -- too much carbs in most dry cat foods that can lead to obesity, diabetes etc.

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Ellicott, City, Md.: Doctor Fox,

PLEASE HELP! Do you know where I can have some pet food tested? I need proof because I had to put my beloved cat Tyler to sleep last June. He was eating a brand that I saw on the list of poisoned food. He was eating it for five years when he got his first bladder stone. Two years after that came bladder stone number two. The vet changed his food to a prescription formula but by then, I feel it was too late (like putting a band aid on a bleeding cut). Last June he was put to sleep due to renal failure. And if one kidney wasn't as small as a raisin and the other as big as a basketball, he also had a third bladder stone. These were all symptoms associated with the tainted food. I love my vet, trust him, but I just need to know what really happened to Tyler. Thank you for your help. And I really enjoy reading your column (and look for it) in the Sunday paper.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Your cat probably had congenital polycystic kidney disease that was compounded by manufactured cat food causing bladder stones -- sorry for your loss. The poisoned pet foods with wheat gluten from China was probably not the main reason why your cat went into kidney failure. Bad genetic start in life.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Can you give any tips for flying with cats? Can they be sedated?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: A very light doses of Valerian or Valium from the vet coild help. Get cat used to napping and snacking in the carrier long before the flight.

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Richmond, Va.: We are getting a new puppy soon and I am curious to what extent they need to be "quarantined." Until 16 weeks of age? My understanding is that they should be kept indoors and away from most other dogs until they have received all of their vaccines (typically done at 16 weeks). We have an older dog already who we frequently take to the dog park and to friends house for dog play dates. Should we refrain from taking our older dog to these places for the period of time that the puppy is quarantined to prevent her from bringing any diseases home to him?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: A quarantine period is advisable, but no need to keep the old dog from going out and contacting other dogs for play dates, but avoid the park.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Fox, my dog has a nerve sheath tumor on her leg. We're currently doing radiation treatments on it to shrink it and hopefully we can have surgery just to remove the tumor, rather than having to remove the whole leg. Are there any recommendations you would have to help her with the side-effects of the radiation, or other things that can help with the cancer itself? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Diet and nutraceutical supplements are very important -- check products like Probios (probiotics) and Platinum Performance.

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Doggie Sweet Tooth: My dog has a sweet tooth (much like me). Is it okay to feed him some of whatever I am eating? Definitely not chocolate but what about cupcakes and ice cream if they are all vanilla?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: All things in moderation. Food/treat/snack sharing with your dog is a canine ritual bonding. Avoid processed junk food sweets with xylitol sweetner that can kill dogs even at low doses. And no raisins. Brazil nuts are good -- high in selenium.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hello! I cannot have plants (but would like to) in my house because my cat loves to chew on them. What types of plants are safe for them to ingest? Thanks!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Sprout wheat grass and alfalfa sprouts for your cat. Decorative prickly cacti are safe and keep cats at bay! All lily family plants and cut flowers of that plant group are attractive to cats and are poisonous.

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Anonymous: Love your articles and now your chats!! Tick season seems to be particularly bad this year. In the past we haven't found any ticks on our dog but this year, despite using K9 Advantax, we have been finding one or two a week! We remove them as soon as we find them but should I be worried about health problems? And do you have any other suggestions for keeping them away from our pooch? Thanks!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Tick transmit several disease -- to humans too -- and the anti-flea and tick meds do not keep these parasites from feeding on the pet since they only work when the insects have actually had a blood meal off the pet. So the best preventives are daily flea comb checking, and visual inspection espec between toes and around ears. Pull ticks off with tweezers secured as close to dog's skin as possible. Do not twist! Clear brush and cover in your yard -- open sunny areas ticks hate!

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Freising, Germany: When considering pets and attitudes towards animals such as cats and dogs, how do you perceive a healthy relationship between man and dog or man and cat? I was reminded of this debate by a book review in the Washington Post where a dogs are endowed with "judgment, even whimsy and, above all, a kind of intelligent presence and individuality" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/05/AR2008060504378.html). Do you think that dogs and cats possess such attributes?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Yes, some more than others. Some cats are more attentive and aware than others, just as some dogs -- and people -- are more empathic and posess more emotional intelligence. For more details, visit my website www.doctormwfox.org, and see Marc Bekoff's book THE EMOTIONAL LIVES OF ANIMALS.

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Kirkland, Wash.: I've read that the canine vaccination protocol in popular use today results in over-use of vaccines. What is an appropriate schedule of boosters for the usual set of threats for an adult dog? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Generally every three years. Not every year for 'boosters'. See my Web site for latest protocols.

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Re: Death of a pet: For the person whose sister is putting her cat down, a nice thing to do is make a donation to the shelter or humane society where she adopted the cat, in her memory. If the cat was privately adopted, you could just make a small donation to the humane society or ASPCA. It's a nice way to remember the cat, and your donation helps other cats.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Nice gesture.

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Arlington, Va -- Treats/food made in China?: It seems like even at the natural food store that we shop at that all of the dog treats, chicken strips, things like that are all made in China. Given their issues before this really concerns me. Should it?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Yes -- home prepared pet foods and snacks are being taken up by many people who cannot trust the manufacturers, but there ARE some good products out there. Read the labels, and go for organically certified. Check my Web site for recipes.

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Rockville, Md.: My question is about heat safety. My dog, a rowdy little Jack Russell mix who turns one this month, loves long walks and trips to the park (and really needs the exercise to drain that JRT energy). However, as it gets hotter, I am afraid to do too much with him outside. How much outdoor activity can a dog handle safely? What signs should I be looking for to know when it's time to go in? Any heat safety advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Just as with childern you must supervise -- genetics of your dog could mean he overdoes things in hot weather that could lead to heat stroke and crippling muscle cramps. So monitor well.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Fox, I read your column in the Post Metro every week... please help. I have a mini Schnauzer (mid-age) who within the past year has had numerous occasions of diarhea and vomiting. Each incident has resulted in vet care and medicine. About a month ago, it got severe enough (blood instead of stool) that we ended up at the emergency vet. (told it was gastritis, he was on I/D, got better, went off it and three weeks later loose stools again). Is it possible that he has a food allergy? Or is there a common disease that might be causing his sickness? He was on a restricted diet of organic dry food and an occasional holistic cookie, but now his future meals consist of no treats and I/D canned food. Any advice to help with his stool/ digestive track?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Yes, most coomon is food allergy so try my home-recipe! Rule out giardia and other internal parasites. Avoid special 'prescription diets' for your dog's problem. Probiotics and liquid aloe gel -- up to three tablespoons a day, may help.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Thanks for taking questions. I'm never sure whether I should be giving my dog (11 year old pug) vitamins. Same uncertainty regarding pet food. Is one particular variety better for my pup than another?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Top quality human supplements are fine. I like Platinum Performance for dogs and cats too --- the product line seems sound, and nothing evidently coming from China!

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Dog Urine & Grass: Is this a myth regarding dog urine killing grass? I have two dogs and a yard full of lush green grass. They eat a fairly high quality diet. I avoid dog food/treats with fillers. Could it be that because they eat a good diet it doesn't damage my grass?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Dog urine is normally acid, and will kill grass if concentrated, but if they drink plenty and the urine is dilute, it could well fertilize the grass instead!

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Jacksonville, Fla.: Hi Dr. Fox,

This is my first time visiting your chat, so I apologize if this question has been covered a zillion times before. My 5-month-old lab mix puppy has a very bad habit of jumping on people, myself included. What is the best way to break it? We've tried bribing her with treats, forcing her to sit, ignoring her, scolding her... She's small now, but it's going to be a real problem once she's bigger and I'm worried! Thank you!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Obedience school is the best route so you learn the ways to best communicate with your dog -- or call in a pet behavior therapist.
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My eyes are straining, and I wish I could go on for ever, but it is time for me to sign off -- unitl next time --

Hot summer so joggers do not over-stress your dogs if you run with them, drivers park in the shade and do not leave your dogs unatteneded in the car for more than 10 min max.

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