February 11, 2009 11 a.m.

Advice for Pet Owners

Michael W. Fox
Veterinarian and Syndicated Columnist
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; 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, February 11, at 11 a.m. ET to answer questions.

Please join us again Wednesday, Feb. 18, for another discussion on pet care with Ali McLennan from the Animal Planet show "Underdog to Wonderdog". And check out washingtonpost.com's Pets section anytime!


www.washingtonpost.com: Dr. Fox will be on shortly.


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good morning to all -- delayed start due to 'security' problems with this computer!



Reston, Va.: Dr Fox, my husband and I have a 7-year-old wire haired Dachshund who rules our house. We knew when we got her that Dachshunds are stubborn. We gave in at an early age and let her sleep in our bed with us. Most nights it isn't bad, but since she's a burrower, she likes to be under the covers and sleeps right up against me. Lately, she gets up several times in the middle of the night to drink water. I think because she gets too warm under the covers. She also jumps on my husband's head early on the weekends. I'm not sure if she thinks she needs to wake him since his alarm hasn't gone off or if she's just so excited to see him still at home. How do we retrain her to sleep on her own bed (we've bought several and they almost never get used)?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Too late!

Your dog is now so set in her ways that it would be very traumatic to make her never sleep with you again!

Try some kind of approximation, like placing a dog bed with a cover/towel you put over her, right beside your bed, even at the same level.

Her drinking more could be a sign of kidney problems, so be on the alert.


Takoma Park, Md.: How do I get my 9-month-old kitty to stop knocking over his water fountain? I've taped it to the floor but now that he is getting older he is getting stronger!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Cats need all kinds of toys, so be creative! Swinging cat-mobiles, cat-condos, spinners, fishing lines -- he is bored and is need of palyful stimulation


Huntington Beach, Calif.: My 3-year-old female cat has been constipated the past three weeks. This has resulted in several trips to the vet and a couple of overnight stays. The vet took x-rays, performed a couple enemas and changed her diet to a low-residue diet. Explanations as to the cause and prevention of constipation have been very vague from the vet. What is a "low-residue" diet and do you have any suggestions to prevent this from becoming a chronic lifelong problem for my cat? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: This is very serious and very common in cats due in large part to junk processed cat foods -- check my Web site for list of cat foods that are OK -- or make up your own. Transitioning your cat onto a raw food diet may be the best solution.


Upper Marlboro, Md.: My Pom-Chi has had a bad cough for about a week. He normally has a reactive cough when he goes outside, but this is now throughout the night. I have dog that I'm fostering that had the cough when I first got him and now it is gone. One of the foster experts told me that these things usually run their course and don't always need antibiotics. Is that true? At what point should I take him to the vet? It does seem to be improving, but very slowly. At first, he coughed so hard he'd vomit, but he is not doing that any more. It's mainly at night if he wakes up and first thing in the a.m.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Any severe cough in a dog or cat that lasts more than 24 hours calls for veterinary attention.

Could be 'kennel cough' that, with stress, could get worse.


Alexandria, Va.: So my mini schnauz is developing 'schnauzer bumps'. He just turned 4. Is there a dietary change that could remedy this? A supplement? What about shampoos? I'm stopping at the Petco today to refill his food order. If there is a brand of shampoo you suggest, let me know. Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Goes with the breed -- not serious.

I would give up to a teaspoon daily each of Brewer's yeast (not Baker's yeast) of good quality fish oil like Nordic Naturals, in the food, and bathe once a month and no more than that with a mild, baby shampoo.


Downtown DC: Dr. Fox, thanks for your always helpful advice. My cat (8-year-old domestic short hair) has a strange eating habit. At times, though not frequently, she will eat very quickly and overeat a large quantity of her food. A few minutes later she will throw up all this food; the food itself still undigested. Why does she do this? Is there an underlying problem that explains this behavior or is it simply that she is eating more than her small stomach can fit, so then it comes back up?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Cats eat voraciously when their thyroids are hyperactive -- and for other reasons -- so this is a possibility. Feed five to eight small meals a day and change ingredients -- could be food allergy. Must also rule out fur balls.


www.washingtonpost.com: Dr. Fox had to sign off early, but he'll back in two weeks. Thanks for the great questions.


Chantilly, Va.: Dr. Fox: On the occasion of the Westminster Kennel Club show -- and what a great thing for an old guy like Stump to win -- can you comment on the PETA nonsense regarding purebreds? Personally, the whole "mutts are healthier than purebreds" stuff strikes me as such garbage. Mutts are just combinations of various breeds, so they could just as easily inherit bad genes from multiple breeds as inherit just good genes. P.S. We are a PBGV household!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Mutts are healthier because of hybrid vigor as it is called. 'Designer' dogs that are crosses between two pure breeds can have genetic problems inherited from both lineages.

Big problem with various breeds is extremism in terms of physical traits that can cause health problems, like large heads, sloping hips, plus in-breeding, and of course ear cropping and tail docking that should be prohibited if just for show!


re: fish oil: I switched from fish oil to flax seed oil. Could I do the same for the schnauzer? He once got a dollop of fish oil and smelled like low tide for a week.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: To avoid fishy smell in dogs try hemp, borage or flax seed oil -- 1 teaspoon per 30 lb body weight, but cats do need the fish oil


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Yes, I am back online after a maddeing glitch and will stay on over the hour.


Leesburg, Va.: Hi, Dr. Fox. I have a neutered 1.5-year-old flemish giant rabbit and recently took in two young cats. The rabbit used to be pretty much litter trained, but since the cats (both male and neutered) came, he is constantly pooping and urinating around their litter box, and never uses his old litter box. My morning routine now includes cleaning up his waste from next to the cat litter box. Is there anyway to get him to use his own again? It is a studio apartment, so I can't really section off parts of the apartment for each. They get along well otherwise, and he does not eat the cat litter, so that is not a problem. Thanks!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: You do have a problem -- try plastic sheeting, and understand that even though the prey and predator species get along fine, your bunny is probably marking his domain with his excrement, and that may stop once he really feels secure.


Somerset, Mass.: Hi. I have a fair haired red nose pit and I worry about her exposure to sun. Her hair is very fine and her pink skin and nose are very exposed. Is there any safe sunscreen I can use and can I use human baby sunscreen? Thank you.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: My concern is that he may lick off the sun screen in no time, but the nose and muzzle should be protected. Dogs do get sun burn and can develop photo-sensitivity and skin cancer. Chronic, so called 'Collie nose' where the nose and top of the muzzle is red and sore, can be treated with essential oils like lavender and frankinsense, diluted in almond oil -- and once healed, can be tatooed to pigment-protect the skin.


Erie, Pa.: Hello, Dr. Fox. My dog has a tendency to lick at spots on his legs until they become raw. He only does this in the winter, and mostly when I'm not home. The sprays and creams intended to stop the licking have not been effective. Do you have any suggestions for how to prevent the licking or at least heal the spots once they occur? He is not very food-driven, so Kongs and the like do not keep him occupied for very long. Thank you for your advice.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Dogs develop lick-granulomas: chronic, thickened sores, from constant licking, that can be very difficult to heal. Boredom and separation anxiety may be at the root of this, so you should leave a radio or TV on, and give the dog a safe rubber chew-toy that is hollow and inside put some peanut butter or other not too messy treat to help occupy his time while you are away. A short course of treatment with Clomicalm, coupled with chew toys and a raw marrow bone may significantly improve things.

Bandaging and treating the lick-areas with steriod cream or essential oils under veterinary supervision may also help.


Indiana: My 11-year-old Shar Pei has lung cancer and is not doing especially well. She has lost at least 25 percent of her body weight and is no longer eating very well. We feed her homemade rice and poultry, prescription diet and scrambled eggs. Do you have any other suggestions to keep her as happy and stable as possible?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Her body is wasting away, so give high protein like egg, cottage cheese, and lean meats, lightly cooked. If her kidneys are functioning well, she can deal with more protein in her diet.

Ask the vet for some nutrient supplements like glutamine, plus lipoic acid, carnitine, and a good quality multimineral (high in zinc and selenium) and multimineral supplement will also help.


Portland, Ore.: We adopted two kittens a couple of months ago and we have two dogs without experience around cats. We keep the kittens in their own room with litter box, food, plenty of toys, etc. We are introducing the dogs and cats slowly each day giving the dogs lots of treats and attention and making the dogs stay put while the kittens wander. The other day my smaller lab mix dog snapped at the kitten when she got close. She did not hurt her but scared us to death -- obviously this can't happen if they are going to live together. I would truly appreciate any tips you have about creating a safe relationship between the dogs and cats.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Snapping, like growling, is a dog's way to give warning, and the intent may be not to harm, but out of fear/apprehension, means 'keep away'.

So the dogs need some leash-restraint if they will not stay in 'sit-stay' when the kittens are free, and I find the best way is to cradle a kitten and let the dog sniff and habituate at close proximity. Kittens are adaptable and habituate quickly, but I agree, cautious supervision is needed, and patience.


Phoenix: My 3-year-old male cat endlessly "tortures" my 7-year-old female. He is a very aggressive player, and while sometimes she play-fights with him, most of the time she growls and hisses and he doesn't back down unless I intercede. She was adopted after him, she is smaller than him, and she is declawed (by her previous owner)...all of these things work against her, I'm afraid. How can I get him to back off? Their relationship has improved in the last year, but it's still chaos daily.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Having no claws is a tough one! But claws or not, some cats do get into frequent tussles, one being too rough during play, especially with a younger cat never giving an old cat a break. So periods of 'time out' in separate rooms to give the 'victim' a break are in order, plus you should intervene and motivate the rough cat to play with you, chasing a feather wand or lure on a cat-toy fishing pole, or hide-and go-seek especially early in the evening when cats like to go wild.


Seattle, Wash.: Hi, Dr. Fox. Thank you for staying on. I have a 2-5 year-old female cat who I've had for about eight months. She was a street kitty by way of the shelter and had the shelter cough when I first got her and even went through a whole week of not eating in there early on (the vet finally had to force feed her). Because she was so skinny, I let her feed on dry food as much as she wanted and gave her wet food once a day. Now she's fat. I think about 15 pounds. I want her to live to be 20 so I know she's got to take some off. I've been giving her a 1/4 can of wet food in the morning and evening and 1/2 cup of dry food for her to eat during the day while I'm gone. We've been doing this for about a month. Does that sound right? When should I see results? I can't interest her in playing. She just wants to cuddle.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The dry cat food, high in calories from corn and other cereals and probably soy, is just not good for cats who are carnivores. Transition your cat onto an all moist cat food, and Evo dry cat food from Natura.

There is an automatic moist cat food dispenser for interval feeding you may want to invest in -- check out Animate Pet Products Cat Mate automatic feeder online.


Central Mass.: I recently (a week ago) switched from plastic dishes to ceramic for my two cats, thinking that this would be better for them. Now they don't seem to be eating as much food. Did I do the right thing? I thought I had heard that the plastic dishes could give off harmful compounds.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good for you! I have had some startling letters from cat and dog owners on this topic. Plastic food and water containers can leach out endocrine-disrupting chemicals -- phthalates, Bisphenol A. One dog developed signs of Cushing's (adrenal) disease that baffled the vet -- dog got better when the owner got rid of plastic dog bowls!!!!

As for eating less, maybe some association with toxicity. If your cats are not losing weight and condition, I would not worry.


Constipated Kitty: For Huntington -- you might also want to try Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet (blue and yellow can) wet food. I have a cat with IBD and it's worked great for him. I get it at Petco or online.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Thansk for the tip -- dry cat foods are a real problem with constipation. Mashed lima beans, organic butter, olive oil, raw yoghurt, also help. One massage therapist helps his old megacolon cat with a gentle tummy-kneading every evening! Far too many cats need to go in for enemas. One helpful vet product is called Laxatone.


Southwestern Central, Pa.: Dr. Fox: What cat litter do you recommend?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The World's Best Cat Litter---tel 1-877-367-9225 made form non-GM corn, biodegradable, no dust.

Caution with cats acutely allergic to corn products.


Chantilly, Va.: My wife and I are fostering an older dog for a local rescue. This one has an strange habit we haven't seen before. She's an even-tempered and well-behaved dog, but when we pet her she whines and moans. She doesn't act as if she's in pain or discomfort, and she always asks for more of the same type of attention. She stops whining when we stop petting. Can this be normal behavior, or is this something we should bring to the rescue's attention?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: She is 'talking', her way of soliciting attention. She may well have been abused earler, or affection-deprived. Try her on my Healing Touch massage book!

My dog Batman tries to get attention by growling at guests and by looking very threatening -- not the best signal!


Lovettsville, Va: I have 4-year-old neutered male Westie. I've noticed on occasion in the past his lower jaw will quiver. However, this past weekend, it became more frequent. Other than that he seems fine. He is on Atopica for skin allergies, but otherwise seems healthy. His appetite is good and he seems his normal happy self.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: This may be a genetically related neuromuscular condition that could lead eventually to some muscle atrophy. A vet exam is called for.

Keeping him off all wheat and other gluten products in dog food -- corn, soy may help, and do not let him have chew toys if he really chomps hard and long.


Takoma Park, Md.: Dear Dr. Fox: We have a lovable labradoodle who just turned 8 months. She is still teething and has ruined the linoleum floor in the kitchen, several wooden knobs on my dresser drawers, and of course, shoes. We have bought all kinds of teething toys, but she's always looking for the things she shouldn't have. Now, she is taking her bones outside, so that leaves even fewer chew toys in the house. Any suggestions for our woodchuck? Thank you.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Teething, boredom, curiosity, and oral-obsessive behavior combine to make some dogs, like yours, into destructive homewreckers. Most dogs tend to mature out of this, so patience -- and confinement in a safe area when left alone for any extended period.

The safest chew toys are made form latex rubber -- check out Kong, Ruffwer Gourdo, Canine Genius toys, and Planet Dog. Buy US made! And the safest bones are 3-inch-long raw beef marrow soup bones.


McLean, Va.: Hi, Dr. Fox. We are adopting a puppy from a co-worker. The puppy will be ready to leave her mom in about two weeks, but she agreed to keep the puppy until April when we move. (We thought it would be best for everyone for the puppy to not go through a move so soon after moving in!) My question is about vet services. Do you think we should wait and get all the vet procedures done in a visit in about six weeks (puppy will be 13 weeks), or should we start the vet visits sooner for deworming, etc.? Which would be healthier (physically and mentally)? Will the puppy negatively associate me with the vet? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Puppy socilaization/bonding is between six to 10 weeks, so I would not wait too long before taking your pup into your home to bond closely with you. This is a critical period during development.

Vet shots and worming can begin around 8 weeks. A series of puppy shots at intervals as per the vaccination protocol on my Web site should be followed to provide optimal protection.


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Time to sign off -- apologies for the delayed start -- untl next time!

Just a note for cat owners: research indicates that the purring of a cat is at the same frequency that helps bones heal -- so a purring cat cuddling on a broken arm may be good therapy.

Michael W. Fox


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