Advice for Pet Owners

Michael W. Fox
Veterinarian and Syndicated Columnist
Wednesday, December 10, 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," which appears in the Post's community news Extras each Thursday. He has written over 40 books, most recently "Not Fit for a Dog! The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food" and "Dog Body, Dog Mind," which takes a holistic approach to pet care and communication. Get information on his other publications, pet food recipes, animal rights and more at his Web site. He was online Wednesday, December 10, at 11 a.m. ET to answer questions.

Please join us again next Wednesday for another discussion on pet care. And check out's Pets section anytime!


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good morning to everyone -- it is the holiday season coming up, and I wish you and your animal companions all the very best.

If you have turkey or other meats, do not give too many treats to your dog or cat since this could bring on an acute episode of panreatitis or kidney failure, especially in older pets. With young pets, keep away from potentially dangerous toys and decorations, and festive flowers, especially of the lily variety, keep well away from cats.


Las Vegas, Nev.: What is the best way to eliminate static electricity on my Persian cat? Must I add humidifiers in the house? Thanks for your advice.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: A humidifier helps, and a water-bottle spritzer and a damp sponge.

We should all rip up fitted carpets that build up static -- replace with cotton, wool, and hemp that don't develop a static charge to the same degree as nylon. Nylon carpets are impregnated with flame retardant chemicals that can make people sick and contribute to cats developing thyroid disease!


Gaithersburg, Md.: Is it necessary for my cat, who has never been and never is going to go outdoors, to have fecal floation test?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: It may be wise because cats can get tape worms from fleas that could get into your house, and may be carrying a load of roundworms contracted during kittenhood. A flotation test is better than simply giving worming meds that might not be needed.


Kansas City, Mo.: Hi Dr. Fox! My 4-year-old fox terrier cut his back leg badly two days ago. We went to the animal hospital and got him stitched up. He seems good, more worried about the 'lamp shade collar' than his leg. I have two questions: 1) Other than the antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds the doc gave me, what other vitamins or food would speed his recovery? I feed him Natural Balance. 2) The doc also gave me pain pills to keep him mellow. How do I know when to STOP giving him those? Should I just finish out the bottle following directions like the other two drugs?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Check with your vet -- the pain pills are probably not needed after about three days following surgery. A healthy dog should not need supplements to heal from a clean wound, but to be on the safe side, ask your vet to suggest a good doggy daily supplement.

After the antibiotic treatment, oral I presume, it would be good to put your dog on Probiotics for a few days.


Fairfax, Va.: Any suggestions on how to get my cat to the vet? He won't let me pick him up and he is too wise to accept my bribes of treats to get into the carrier on his own. I've used Feliway spray to try to calm him, but it hasn't helped. Thank you so much -- I'm at my wits end!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Side-loading cages and cat carriers are useless for cats like yours. You need a carrier that opens from the top so you can bundle your cat in a towel and drop him in!


Summit, NJ: My Shih Tzu has elevated liver levels probably associated with the Rimadyl he was given for the beginnings of disc disease. I've been giving him Denosyl and will be switching to Denamarin this week. Is there any anti-inflammatory I can give him when he has flare ups of his disc disease that won't effect his liver? Or is there a supplement I should be giving him to prevent the flare ups in the first place?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The Denosyl is good. Additional liver protectorants are milk thistle -- silymarin, and vitamin B complex, choline, and carnitine.

Turmeric is good for the liver and for the joints because it is anti-inflammatory, ditto good quality fish oil like Nordic Naturals or Old Grizzly Wild Salmon oil.

Massage therapy that you can learn to give your dog would also benefit.

Drugs like you have been giving your dog can have harmful side effects, especially on the liver.


Delaware: Good morning! Two weeks ago, I had asked you about the recommendation of my vet to feed my chubby kittens diet dry food and you advised to try Evo. Well, I did and my kittens have been nonstop, bouncing off the walls ever since! I love how much energy they both have now. Thank you so much! :)

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Thanks for the affirmation that quality pet foods make a difference!!

I could go on forever, and in my latest book Not Fit for a Dog you will find out why pets are overfed yet malnorished when given highly processed, what I call fake-foods.

The same nutritional debacle has hit the human population, depression, obesity, diabetes, painful joints -- all really absurd, and all coming from 'fast', junk, convenience foods.

Whole foods, ideally organic, and wellness in body and mind go hand in hand!


Silver Spring, Md.: I have a medium size Cocker Spaniel who has a very very bad ear infection. I can only wash it out when she lets me. We have been to a vet, but the medication does not seem to work. Her diet was changed to steam vegetables. Now she doesn't want to eat them any more. I have tried to doctor them with chicken broth. No luck. She has scratched her ear to the point it was bleeding. Help. I have no money or insurance. I work everyday, but my salary does not allow much left over. I am 72 years old.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Very sad -- Cockers only too often develop ear problems in part because their ears are so heavy and pendulous that their ear canals become moist breeding-grounds for bacteria and fungal infections.

Tie up the ears with a ribbon, and wash out with equal parts cider vinegar and warm water, dry well, and then then let air-out.

Ask the vet to give a vitamin A supplement, try Otomax ointment, give up to a table spoon of fish oil every day, and please put your dog on a balanced diet, ideally home-made, as per my recipe on my Web site. Check and switch animal protein ingredients if the itching/ear-allergy gets worse. The majority of ear problems in dogs are linked to food allergy. But other problems can play a role, notably hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease in older dogs.


Wilmington, Del.: My dog slips on my wood floors. Is there anything to do about it? I have seen some paw protector creams that claim to stop slipping but I am concerned that they are harmful if he licks it off (which he is almost certain to do). Sometimes he seems to enjoy sliding as he runs and then slides right up to people but other times, he is truly slipping and loses traction. Thanks! And I love these chats and have found your advice very helpful!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: There is no easy solution except to get some throw rugs strategically placed, with non-slip or adhesive backing. This way the dog will have some traction for at least one foot or two to prevent slipping, sliding, and potentially injurious splaying that could cause hip and knee injury.

This is especially important on stairs and at the foot of the stairs for older dogs.

Training your dog to 'stay' and lower his excitement when there is someone at the door will also help.


Washington, DC: What's the best homeopathic/natural treatment for hot spot? My 7-year-old lab has a case on the side of her face and I am hesitant to take her to the vet because he puts her on prednisone, which she doesn't react well to. I've shaved the area and have been using witch hazel/Burrow's solution which is helping but wondering if there is a better treatment to speed healing.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: You should look for a a holistic veterinarian in your area. A searchable list can be found at Veterinarians wishing to learn more are encouraged to become members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at

Hot-spots have many causes, and while prednisone can help in acute cases, it only makes the symptoms go away with no guarantee of a repeat episode due to histamine release in the skin. This can come from flea-bite or food-linked allegic reactions.


Houghton, Mich.: I read somewhere to add sweetened soda, like 7Up, to Christmas tree water. The sugars are supposed to help it stay green, or something. But our two male cats like to drink from this water source, even with (sorry to say) Mountain Dew in there. The sugar, the caffeine. Am I making the cats ill?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I think that all such sodas, either loaded with corn syrup or artificial sweetener, are not good for man nor beast. Some sweeteners like xylitol can kill pets, and aspartame in diet sodas is a neural toxin!

I would just put in plain water or make the area under the tree totally cat proof if you decide to stick to canned sweet poison!


Vienna, Va.: Hi, Dr. Fox. I just adopted a cattle dog/black lab/German shepherd mix. When I brought her home, I gave her a thorough bath because she smelled soooooo bad. Well, she still smells bad (the vet ruled out ear problems), and her coat is very oily, with a TON of flakes all over her poor body. She doesn't seem to be itchy. What should I do? Thanks for all that you do for all of us.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Malnurtition prior to you getting this dog, and whatever you are feeding her now, all play a role in the bad smell and oily coat -- signs of poor nutrition.

Dry dog foods are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, the best sources for your dog being in fish oil and flax seed oil. Give about a tablespoon daily in her food for a start, then look around for a quality pet food like Natura's, PetGuard, Organix (Castor & Pollux) The Honest Kitchen, or Monzies. For raw foods, check Darwin's and Restoration Raw -- all online.


Heart Worms: We adopted a boxer that was positive for heart worms two months. We adopted her after her initial treatment and absolutely no exercise phase was over, but we took her on only medium-length slow walks. After a month she still tested positive for heart worms and we were told to put her on Heartguard and bring her back to the vet after three months. We think she is going a little insane without any real exercise besides walking. Is it still dangerous to let her run around? The vet was a little wishy-washy on this issue. Thanks!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Part of optimal holistic care of a patient, human or non-human, is to see to the patient's spirit, enjoyment and enthusiasm for life being important aspects of well-being and recovery. So in moderation I would advocate some freedom of movement and not too vigorous games outdoors.


Maryland: This is more behavior than health, but do you have any advice on handling a visiting toddler who is terrified of dogs? We have an 18-month-old, 75-pound GSD who thinks she is still a puppy. My best hope is they avoid each other, but I foresee a bouncing puppy and a toddler who screams.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Supervise both constantly! Keep the dog on a leash if need be and let him sniff and greet the infant, but control for jumping up and knocking over. By the same token, control the infant, who, at that age, may grab and hold, or poke and hurt or scare the dog.

Children must be taught from an early age, usually around 2 years or so, to remain quiet around animals that do not know them , and to stroke them only if it is OK and an adult is present.

I see older childern being allowed by parents to run up to strange dogs on the leash and try to pet them without asking the owner if it is OK. Not good.


Herndon, Va.: We're thinking about getting a play mate for our 7-month-old kitten. She's lonely during the day and at night wants to play with my wife and I while we need our sleep. Typically, if we're home at night, she'll sleep on us but then it's playtime when we go to bed. We want to get her a mate to play with but we're not sure the best way to do it. Should we take her with us to the adoption center to see if she gets along with the other cat? She's fixed, so does it matter male or female? We want the two to get along. She's a sweetie we rescued from a home with dozens of other cats so we know she's social. We think he is biting us is because she's bored.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: She will probably spook at the shelter, if they even allow you in with your cat.

Chose a healthy kitten around the same age or younger and set the newcomer down in a carrier in the living room so the two can become accustomed. Expect hissing and growling until they habituate. Let the new cat stay in a separate room with litter box, food and water, for a few days so they can get used to each other under the door, sniffing, vocalizing, and so forth.

The product Feliway may help them settle quickly---this product, a feline calming pheromone, has an approx. 50 percent success rate!


Tysons, Va.: We have three cats, and one of our cats has one paw that has become dry, chapped, and cracked, we think because of the winter dryness in the house. I feel so badly for him. :( We try to put vaseline on it and he seems to like that but it seems to have only moderate paliative results. Is there anything else we should do? (All three are indoor-only cats and eat all-wet food, to which we even add some water, and they have a cat water fountain at their disposal.) Thank you.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: This could be a burn injury from a hot stove. A vet check-up might be wise.

Cats will lick off ointments from their paws, so I would use sometning safe like a little almond oil and a squeezed capsule each of vitamin A & E, appled sparingly. A teaspoon of fish oil -- good for so many ailments -- may prove beneficial in your cat's case, mixed in his food every day. It is a potent anti-inflammatory, and also has anti-depressant effects as well!


Arlington, Va.: We just moved into a new home and have found a few cockroaches. We also have an indoor cat. Are there any pest treatments we absolutely should not do? What can we try? We already have started vaccuuming the basement corners, clean all food and sealed dry goods in the pantry, don't leave dishes/cat food out overnight, etc.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Ah, yes, the ancient cockroach!

Permaguard Diatomaceous earth, Tel 505-243-1460, and Flea Busters static borate, Tel 1-800-666-3532 should do the trick. Pet safe -- but follow instructions on repeat treatments to kill freshly hatched bugs that the first powdering around the house may have missed after vacuuming thoroughly after a few days.

These products also get fleas and bed bugs, the effect being to smother/dessicate.


Washington, D.C.: Do you have any tips for traveling with your dog on an airplane for the first time? Our dog is flying with us in-cabin, but it will be a long flight across the country. Thank you!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Precondition, with treats, sitting , resting and sleeping in the carrier weeks prior to the flight.


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Time to sign off until next time. Thanks for your good questions that will help other pet owners with their animal companions.

Happy holiday season to all.

During this Season, please call your local animal shelter and ask what donated supplies they are in need of -- or give them a cash donation in the name of your pet/s.

Michael W. Fox


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