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Advice for Pet Owners

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Michael W. Fox
Veterinarian and Syndicated Columnist
Wednesday, June 25, 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?

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 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 25, at 11 AM ET to answer questions on pet care and animal health.

Please join us again Wednesday, July 2 for another discussion on pet care. And check out washingtonpost.com's new pets section anytime!

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Washington, D.C.: Good morning. The stray cats I adopted just love to chew. The vet thinks they may have some Siamese or Bengal blood. Maybe both. They're a little unusual anyway as far as playing fetch and splashing in water, so I've tried all kinds of dog toys with them. They generally hate the rubber ones, but have fallen in love with the inedible Nylabones. Is that safe? I also give them straws and cat grass to chew and they aren't destructive in the home, but I'm always looking for new things to keep them stimulated besides the usual rotation of toys and empty boxes and such. Do you have any ideas? Thank you!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: As best as I am able to determine -- from no reports of adverse effects, Nylabone products may be relatively safe. But I have my doubts because they use petrochemically derived plastics, and many have been found to be unsafe with chronic exposure, lick frequent licking and chewing. Bisphenols may be in some -- we need full manufacturers' assurances. Try fresh beef bone slices, and balls of string the cat can't swallow.

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Colombo, Sri Lanka: My 7-year-old Dalmatian has suddenly developed an all-over itch, and I can see that the skin under her hair is red and inflamed. We haven't changed food, dog shampoo, house cleaning products, etc. Any idea what could be causing this sudden onset allergic reaction? The vet has been treating her with anti-histamines for the past two weeks, but as soon as they stop the itch comes back with a vengeance. Can dogs develop new allergies in adulthood? If so, how do we go about isolating the source of the problems?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Sensitization over the years can lead to older animals developing allergies. Cases like yours call for much detective work. Keep up with the Benadryl, avoid steroids and try giving 1 teaspoon local bee pollen and 1 tablespoon local honey daily, and a weekly shampoo with baby shampoo or oat meal soothing.

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Capitol Heights: Hello Dr. Fox: I have a mix Rott-Lab dog. When I spray her with Hartz's flea and tick spray, (and rub it in) she can't wait to get away from me so that she can roll and push herself in the grass. Is this a sign that it's burning her or something?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: You probably rub this stuff in with your bare hands too! Take your dog's advice and use something else like Avon's Skin So Soft, or a liquid citrus or lavender hand soap that you rub on your hands to wipe dry all over your dog.

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Dr. Michael W. Fox: I have many seasonal allergy type questions, and do advise people to keep pets off sprayed lawns and sidewalks, and NOT use any pesticides in their homes and gardens.

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South Dakota: My girlfriend and I will be parting ways in August as I go to school and she stays behind. Our two dogs, who currently live together, will be split up too. I am worried about the emotional toll that separation will have on them. Are there any potential health problems (like depression) that I should be concerned with, and how can the transition be done with the least disruption as possible?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I am surprised that you are splitting since you clearly are a caring person. Give it a trial, and if the dog with you does not adjust, then perhaps your ex will take your dog so the two dogs can be together -- be sure to retain visiting rights, unless that would be too much heartbreak!

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Arlington, Va.: My Westie "Pink" was recently diagnosed with Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodrystrophy (SLO), an autoimmune disease that effects the claws. Do you have any info as to treatments? Also, can the good nails be trimmed by a groomer or would you recommend sticking with the vet?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: These kinds of immune system disorders seem to be on the rise -- in humans too -- there are many chemicals in our food and water that are endocrine disruptors and immune system derailers. For more insights see my book DOG BODY, DOG MIND, published by The Lyons Press Guilford CT. It gives ways to boost the immune system and help dogs like yours.

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Myersville, Md.: Good Morning Dr. Fox. We have a 5-year-old Lab/Hound mix (female) that has been with us for about four years. We are now planning to adopt a kitten and will bring her home sometime after the first week in July when she is just over 8 weeks old. What is the best way to introduce them to each other? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Have your dog leashed and in the 'sit' position, then hold the kitten in your lap so the dog can sniff it while a person holds the dog's leash for safety. Cup your hands protectively around the kitten. Then allow onto the floor, and let kitten explore, and the dog observe with reassuring petting of the dog. No chasing!

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Florida: Hi. Our 95-pound Boxer still winds up with the occasional tick even though I put Revolution on him every month, year-round. Any other ideas? Thanks

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The only way to keep ticks and fleas off pets is with a daily flea-combing. Drugs do not work and can make pets sick.

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How do they know?: Hello Dr. Fox: My cats are very affectionate and follow me everywhere, wait in the window for me to get home, wait by the door before I come into the house, you get the picture. I'm never out of their sight. When it's time to go to the vet (thankfully rarely) the one cat just KNOWS I'm going to put her in the crate. The crate is no where in sight, I'm acting as normal as can be, but I literally just turn to look at her and BAM -- she is under the bed (the only time she avoids me, ever ever). How do they know?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: There is strong vidence, anecdotal that is, of cats being able to read our minds -- some cats do it better than others! This will be in a future Animal Doctor column, so do look out for it. I find this area of animal consciousness fascinating, and have documented some of the amazing 'psychic' abilities of cats and other animals in my new book CAT BODY, CAT MIND, published by The Lyon's Press, that also includes new insights on holistic care.

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Washington, D.C.: I have two wonderful dogs. My Golden Retriever mix has been experiencing recurrent gastroenteritis over the past six months. While I'm working with my vet to keep it under control and figure out what's going on, I'm wondering what kind of treats are safe to give her. My girls typically enjoy an occasional dry treat and also like to chew on pressed rawhide, but I worry that they might be contributing to the problem. In addition, I like to use small treats like hot dogs to use for behavior training. Any thoughts?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I would not give a hot dog to a dog, knowing what goes in to them! Try slowly baking thin strips of beef to make dry beef treats for training purposes. My Web site www.doctormwfox.org has a basic recipe for making your own healthful dog and cat treats. Try my regular dog food recipe too, since your dog's digestive problems could be due to allergy to some manufactured pet food ingredient.

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Burke, Va.: Are the non-prescription flea and tick spots as effective as the more expensive Frontline, Advantix etc.? Biospot Plus, Hartz and similar products are available at the grocery and big box stores are tempting due to the lower price. What products do you recommend?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: None. Check my books and Web site for ways to keep fleas at bay. When all preventative methods fail, I would only use Frontline that we found most effective in India at my wife's animal refuge. Cheaper products are generally less effective and can make pets very ill.

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Washington, D.C.: I am moving with my 1-year-old cat, so I am flying with her as a carry-on. She doesn't like cars, so I'm worried about the three-hour flight. The dimensions of the carrier required by the airline are so small! Anything I can do to calm her during the flight?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Precondition by putting her in the open crate to eat, sleep, etc. at leat two weeks before the flight. If she refuses to stay in the open crate for any length of time, ask the vet for a mild sedative like valium for the flight.

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Silver Spring: Hello -- thanks for doing these chats! My otherwise healthy/happy Border Collie/Springer Spaniel mix (about 8 or 9 years old) has recently developed two or three very small bumps on his back...almost like acne. I make all his food from scratch and bath him regularly and he has no other skin problems. Any ideas on what this is?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Comes with age -- nothing to worry about, but keep an eye on and have the vet look at next annual check-up. Most likely dermoid cysts or sarcoids.

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Spaying a cat: I have adopted a 4-year-old female who has not been spayed. Aside from population issues, what are reasons to spay her? She is strictly indoors, so I'm wondering if spaying is necessary.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Constantly coming in to heat, crying, agitated, wanting out, possibly developing ovarian cysts, cancer, infected uterus -- pyometra -- false pregnancies, increased likelihood of breast cancer. Spaying is a good idea.

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Rockville, Md.: My Rottie mix loves to eat grass and particularly the roots, any opportunity she gets. Is she doing this because she is missing something in her diet? If so, is there a supplement I could give her? I'm worried about her ingesting pesticides with the grass.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Eating grass and soil in unsprayed areas is fine -- all things in moderation. I believe that dogs are following their own nutritional wisdom when they are otherwise healthy -- no anemia or internal parasites.

I advise giving dogs and cats nutrient supplements like multivitamins and trace minerals. A good line of products available through veterinarians is Platinum Performance for Cats and for Dogs. For more info Tel 1-800-553-2400, or ask your vet.

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Washington, D.C.: What are your thoughts about giving glucosamine/chondroitin supplements (chey pill or biscuits) to older dogs? I having been giving them to my 9.5-year-old Sheltie for a while and he seems to be more "bouncy" as a result. If it's okay, is there a minimum or more importantly maximum dose? Any side effects to watch for?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Excellent! Give always with food. Turmeric is also excellent for joints, as is fish and flax seed oil.

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Ocean City, Md.: We feed our cat wet food, which (combined with more exercise) has helped her to get down to 13 pounds (starting from over 16 pounds a few years ago). We also give her the occasional treat, but she seems to generally swallow them whole (including the cat greenies.) Is a lack of chewing or crunching a problem for her teeth? Any suggestions for larger cat treats that would force her to chew? Is it okay to occasionally give her a piece of a dog treat? She has no problems with chocking, or coughing up anything.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Glad to hear you are getting your cat off dry food. I am concerned that she is swallowing treats whole. Check my Web site www.doctormwfox.org for recipe for cat treats.

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Germantown, Md.: About two weeks ago I stepped on something, which looks suspiciously like one of my cat's teeth. He's about 12 years old -- do they normally lose their teeth? Should I be worried?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: There are dental diseases in cats, often associated with diabetes, that can lead to loss of teeth and loss of jaw bone substance. So a visit to the vet is called for. Many cats suffer from bad teeth that go unnoticed for years. Hence the need for an annual routine vet check. But that does NOT mean annual all-round booster vaccinations!

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Icky Anal Glands: How can I bulk up my dog's diet to hopefully have him express his anal sacs regularly? I have to squeeze them about every two weeks. Otherwise, they express themselves on my lap. Its not pleasant.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Same at this end --- I mean with my two old dogs. More exercise helps, plus some bulk in the food to increase size of stools that helps the anal galnds empty out, like flax seed bran or psyllium husks. Many dogs do better and have fewer anal gland and chronic ear and other health problems when given supplements mentioned earlier, and are put on a whole food, home-made diet as per my Web site recipe.

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New York, N.Y.: I have two cats (7 and 8 years old). They were overweight, but I put them on a diet and they've lost weight -- other than that, no medical issues. Do they still need an annual checkup? They haven't been to the vet in a few years, but they are indoor cats and show no signs of illness at all. Thanks!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: If you can do the necessary and thoroughly check your cats' teeth, and your cats are strickly indoor cats on a good diet, then have a home-visit vet come by to check them out so as to avoid the stress of going to a vet hospital. Some may refuse to see your cats if they have not been vaccinated recently. For new vaccination protocols for cats (and dogs) check my Web site.

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New York, N.Y.: Our cat is a very picky eater, and will only eat a small portion of the food in his dish. Then, he will sit by his food dish and meow until someone comes over to add more "fresh" food to the dish from the bag or can. Is there anything that can be done to get him to just finish what is in the dish? Thanks!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Your clever cat is training you!

Cats like to snack up to 20 times a day, so I advise several very small meals, say 5-10, depending on your schedule! Give a teaspoon per serving, and ignore!

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Baltimore, Md.: I would never do something to my animals that I wouldn't have done to myself. We all know that spaying cats and dogs is a good idea -- it reduces or even eliminates the risk of many different diseases and makes the animals generally happier and healthier. Why, then, do most doctors refuse to "spay" humans who do not wish to have babies, and in fact insist that it has adverse health effects? If it's good for the animals, why is it bad for humans? I've always wondered this. Thoughts?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good question. We live longer, and have therefore more potential risks from hormone-related deficiency diseases, so closely linked to lifestyles: lack of physical activity and poor nutrition, too much animal fat and protein, including dairy products that can aggravate osteoporosis and arthritis etc. Uterine problems and breats cancer would be less in the human population by spaying -- and certainly human overpopulation is an issue nobody seems too concerned about, including philanthropist Bill Gates, and the right to life fundamentalists who need to realize that we have become an infestation on the planet!

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Salt water: My dog is a Lab mix and pretty much loves any body of water that isn't a bathtub. I am likely to take him to the beach a few times this summer -- is there anything that I should do for brackish or salt water? I have already bought him a float coat and a long line that floats for safety.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: There are some nasty diseases like blastomycosis that dogs can get from brackish water, plus fungal and other skin infections, and internal diseases like giardia. So only allow your dog into clean water where you would bathe yourself!

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Budgie boycott of healthy food: Not an unusual situation, but do you have any creative thoughts? My Budgie is devoted to seed. I've tried him on fruit and veg and I'm trying him on Harrison's (per my great vet's recommendation). He -really- fights it. Cold turkey didn't work at all -- he lost weight. I've tried a mix of seed and Harrison's, slowly reducing the seed over months. Net result is that I've got one angry budgie who's in a mood all the time and who literally kicks over his food. He seems willing to starve himself rather than eat the Harrision's. I haven't been so assiduous with the fruit and veg. Should I spend more time with that, and if so, which would you recommend? Any thoughts?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Harrison's seed is good --- organically certified. Call the company -- he is a vet bird specialist -- and give your bird time out of the cage to flit around in a safe space.

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Alexandria, Va.: I don't understand why cats need to get vaccinations every year. No other animal I have owned, or person that I know of for that matter, need them every year. It seems like a racket to me. Every time I ask my vet she says they are thinking of changing it but never do. Also, they promote products that are only available through the vet's office. $$$$$ Thank you for your response.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Annual rabies vaccinations are needed. Annual boosters of other vaccines are not. Check my Web site www.doctormwfox.org for the latest vaccination protocols for dogs and cats.

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Schnauzer: My Schnauz seems to be gnawing on his toe nails. He likes to lick his paws, but now I can hear a grinding sound when he is licking. The nails are a bit overgrown and curling just a little. Is this a sign that we should get them clipped? Could it just be an additional thing to keep him occupied while he licks his pads? And on a side note, what are your thoughts on 'angel eyes'? Thanks

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Take your poor dog to the vet. Could be fungal infection, food allegy, autoimmune disease.

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washingtonpost.com: Dr. Fox had to sign off. He apologizes for not responding to everyone and looks forward to chatting next time.

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