Advice for Pet Owners: Purebred vs. Mixed Breeds, Shared Custody for Divorced Owners and More

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

Visit's Pets section to post your favorite pet photo, find dog parks and read about pets in the news.


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good morning to all from freezing Minnesota!

This will be my last chat/interactive for a while, so here goes -- but first a word for wolves. I am devastated, having studied and lived with them, that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has taken them off the protected list across much of their range. There's only a little more than 5,000 in the entire US. But preserving wilderness and the wolf, icon of the wild, is enlightened self interest if we want to stop climate change and have clean air and pure water. Shame on Salazar et al.


Somewhere: This may be a stupid question but I am hoping you can help me. My wife and I separated recently and I moved out of the house. We have a dog that is living in the house with my wife, and I want to do what's best for the dog. Do you think it is better for him to see me sporadically or to not see me at all? I feel bad when I see him for 10-15 minutes and then I have to leave. I know in the past he really seemed sad when my wife or I went away on trips. Would it better for him if I just didn't see him and he could just forget about me? Is this even relevant? Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: This is not a stupid question. A shepherd dog was recently reunited with his owners after being lost for nine years -- he had a microchip ID. As soon as he was re-comnnected, he went wild, remembering them. So my feeling is short visits are better than nothing, just as with kids of divorce -- quality time is better than no time.


Rescue pets: Dr. Fox: My husband wants us to get a dog (preferably an Australian shepherd) and he wants to get the dog from a breeder, not the shelter. He says he reads your column avidly and so many of the pets with ongoing problems seem to be rescue pets. Do you think rescue animals have more problems than ones from a breeder or even from a friend whose dog had puppies?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: There are no guarantees anywhere when it comes to purebreeds being free of genetic health problems. Best bet is a mutt, adopted from local shelter. If you really want a particular breed, do not go to a pet store -- most likely puppy mill pups -- find a local breeder and see both parents and see how cool they are and demand a guarantee of no problems of hereditary origin.


Tucson, Ariz.: Youngest daughter (28), boyfriend and her daughter (8) just got evicted from apt. and have a 4/5-month-old Boxer/Sharpei mix puppy. Moving to new place but can't take dog so her solution is to keep the dog in my side yard. She said they would visit him each day. He's never slept outside and my daughter thinks it's okay. I think it's animal cruelty to leave a puppy outside like that. Our nights get chilly (40/50) and days can be very warm (80/90). I was against them getting the dog because their life has never been stable -- I worry enough about my granddaughter. I don't have animals right now because I have a pretty active life. This may seem a simple concern but I'm worried. I think the dog is cute as can be but I never signed up for a dog. I don't think he deserves to be alone or suffer in any way. They are not smart enough to give him up for adoption. Thanks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: With evictions and foreclosures on the rise, animal shelters are filling up -- really tragic for countless numbers of pets, not to mention the emotional trauma on those who love them.

If you cannot take the dog in yourself, then put up for adoption. Really tragic.


Arlington, Va.: What could be the reason for bald patches that come and go on the back of my cat's hind paws and the lower part of her belly? The skin in these areas looks healthy and unbroken, but the hair never regrows fully. I think she's licking it off as I'm not finding big clumps of hair anywhere, but I can't be sure.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Most likely reason in middle-age and older cats is hyperactive thyroid so a vet check-up is called for. Most common triggers are environmental, endocrine disrupting chemicals in carpets and fabrics (flame-retardants), and in seafoods, and plastic food and water containers.


Warrenton, Va.: There seems to be a big argument between proponents of all meat dog diets vs. meat with veggies. Which is better for a dog, and does it differ between small vs. large dogs?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: All meat diet will kill. Low in minerals and could damage kidneys in older dogs. Dogs need a healthy mix of animal body parts and vegetables (and a few whole grains are OK for most dogs), as per my basic recipe on my web site.


DC: We have an 11-year-old Akita mix who was just diagnosed with diabetes. We are controlling with insulin but would like to use smaller doses and control with diet. Any suggestions for diets?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Try my basic recipe minus all grains, and give the dog up to a teaspoon of cinnamon daily in the food. Diets too high in starches, as with humans, can bring on diabetes Type 2, but this is more a problem for cats, since diabetes Type 1 is more prevalent in dogs -- so inform the breeder since it may be a genetic problem primarily.


choosing a cat: We basically want a cat that's like a dog -- affectionate, follows us around, etc. After some research, we think we've settled on the RagDoll breed.What is your opinion?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: A cat that is like a dog? From my experience it's the Siamese. Check out my chapter on my beloved Igor my Seal-point Siamese in my book "Cat Body, Cat Mind" (Lyon's Press). Sam would retrieve like a dog, play ambush, and go for walks in the Main woods with me. I bet the local shelter has one waiting for you right now.


SW Pa.: Hello. I have my cat on dried cat food that does a great job in preventing hairballs. However, I'm not so happy that he's eating the commercially prepared stuff. What kind of food is best to prevent hairballs?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Many cats throw up NOT because they have fur balls but because they are allergic to one or more ingredients that come from the human food and beverage industry byproduct recycling market.

Dry cat foods can cause more shedding and swallowing of fur from self-grooming. So a no-grain, whole food diet like Natura's Evo dry and canned cat foods, or other good quality cat foods listed on my new website is the way to go. And groom your cat daily!


Washington, DC: My elderly cat was diagnosed with lung cancer recently. I was too shocked to ask about her prognosis. There seems to be very little on the web about this. Can you tell me anything? She is not a candidate for surgery.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Check my new website for my review article on Beneficial Supplements that could help make your cat feel more comfortable and cope better with this terminal disease. I have serious misgivings about treating cancers in animals aggressively since the quality of the animal's life can be put at risk. Comfort is the first priority, then helping boost the immune system with appropriate supplements.


Washington, DC: BVsc? Did you train in England?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I attended the Royal Veternary College London, England, and did post doc research in the US and obtained additional doctorates in Medicine and Ethology/Animal Behavior from London University.


if you cannot take the dog in yourself, then put up for adoption.: What Dr. Fox means is, if you aren't willing to bring him into your home (leaving the dog in the yard day and night is not really acceptable), place him up for adoption. Look for a no-kill shelter or an all-breed animal rescue who won't euthanize the pup.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Absolutely! I would treat that dog as I would my own grandchild. A life is a life.


cat-dog: Yes! The shelters near you will have one. I scored two for two from the same shelter for cat-dogs. One I took on walks and harnessed and took on drives. He would climb into his carrier as soon as I took it out. The other follows us around, grooms us, plays with the dogs a bit, and is in general the most loving little beast. Go to the shelter!

Dr. Michael W. Fox: If you treat a cat as you would a dog -- i.e. be interactive, train the animal, get him/her used to a harness and leash, and not treat as though all cats are aloof and independent -- you are likely to have a much more extraverted and social companion!


Sleepless in DC: Dr. Fox, can you give me any tips to keep my active cat from terrorizing me at night and in the early morning? I have tried feeding him later at night and tiring him out before I go to bed, but nothing seems to help. At 5 am every morning, he cannot be stopped.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: There is a wet-food dispenser that is time-operated, a panel opening at intervals so cats can be fed canned food whenever -- check it out. Animate Pet Products -- Cat Mate C50 Automatic Feeder. Tel 503-866-3296


Falls Church, Va.: Dr. Fox, what is your opinion on secondhand cigarette smoke and how it affects small dogs? I am talking about smoking inside your home, not outside on walks.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Can be very bad, for cats too. Definite link with some forms of cancer and allergic reactions.


Washington, DC: Hi. We heard that MSM is a good supplement to give our dog for joint problems. I can only find the human version to give it to him from Trader Joes. Is that okay, and what dosage would you recommend for an 80-pound dog?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Combine with glucosamine and chondriotin. Turmeric is also good for joints, as is fish oil (anti-inflammatory).

Give doses of human supplements proportionately -- half a human dose for a 75 lb dog, twice a day with food. Reduce if digestive upset evident.

Supplements vary widley in quality and quantity -- look for better brands that have some certification as per my listing on my new website

The same holds true for human supplements, many coming from China.

The 'bottom line' is to buy organic food -- more naural nutrients than conventionally produced animal and vegetable produce because of the serious depletion of soil nutrients by industrial farming methods using chemical fertilizers.


Dogs & Divorce: To the guy who loves his dog -- you can make arrangements with your ex to share the dog. Share custody, essentially. If your new place allows dogs, see about having the dog live with you at least part of the time. This allows you both to be an active part of the dog's life, and allows the dog to have two homes in which he is comfortable. A real boon when one of you is traveling. Thanks for being the kind of person who wants to do the right thing for his dog.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good suggestion!

Many divorcing couples work out pet-visitation schedules, and I would expect no less from people who really love their animal companions and can get over personal animosities, guilt, pain, etc.


Washington, DC: I am reading Temple Grandin's new book "Animals Make Us Human" which is interesting. I was shocked, however, to read in her chapter on cats her statement that if you release cats back into the outdoors, their predatory instincts will come back and they will be fine. Maybe she meant the wild, not the city, but either way, I think dumping a house cat outdoors is just a death sentence, sooner or later (probably sooner). What do you think?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Temple is a good friend and a strong voice for animal rights. What she is implying is that domestication has not eliminated most cats' ability to hunt and live free and wild, but of course persian cats and highly inbred pure breeds would not fare well. She is not advocating letting cats roam free.

My position is harness and leash-walk your cat or have a safe back yard or cat enclosure. No cats should roam free for wildlife's sake, and for their own health too.


Pets and Day Light Savings: Our dog has not 'produced' for us in the past three mornings, same walking routine locations, etc. Do you think he is off schedule? That going out an hour earlier has thrown him off?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: A time-shift in daily routine can affect daily functions, and if your dog has had no bowel movement for three days I would not feed anything but a little raw or very lightly cooked chopped liver and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. If nothing comes out in 24 hours, and especially if the dog seems listless, get to the vet pronto.


New Smyrns Beach, Fla.: Our older cat has what we and the vet thought was fleas. She has scab like things on her skin, and she scratches a lot. We have treated her continuously with Advantage, but they are still there. We have another cat that shows no signs of fleas. You would think if one had them, the other would. I'm thinking she has an allergy, and have changed food to no avail. Should we just ask the vet for something to calm the itching?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Stop the Advantage at once and have the vet, or another vet, consider miliary dermatitis/food allergy, and try a change of diet -- NO GRAINS -- plus a teaspoon of fish oil dialy in the cat's food.


Alexandria, Va.: Telling the person who wants an Australian Shephard to ask for a "guarantee" of no hereditary diseases is asking the impossible. Instead, the person should become familiar with what diseases are common to the breed and what testing is done. Ask the breeder for proof of those tests. That doesn't guarantee that something else might not come up, but it is proof of the breeder's knowledge and conscientious breeding. Getting a dog from a rescue or animal shelter is totally pot-luck and you have no idea of what is in the background. Going to a good breeder gives you a much better idea of what the adult dog is likely to be.

I have two dogs, both miniature poodles, one from rescue and one from an excellent breeder. I love them both, but there's no question the well-bred dog is healthier, smarter, more athletic, and has by far the better conformation in bone structure, teeth, etc. Depends on what risk you are willing to take with the unknown background of a rescue dog versus one from a quality breeder.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Good point! For all who are looking for a review of the most common genetic disorders in purebred dogs, do check the listing on my new website

The British Govt. and associated organizations are looking at this serious issue and I would with for the same in the US -- breed standards need to be revised when they can cause health problems, and so called 'progeny testing' by breeders is another major preventive to eliminate diseases of hereditary origin.


Dr. Michael W. Fox: Time to sign off on my last Washington Post interactive. It has been my pleasure to help those I can, and I appreciate having had this opportunity to do so thanks to the Washington Post!

Wags and Purrs,

Michael W. Fox


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