Dear Dr. Fox:
Our dog was attacked by a pit bull last year and, although we were fortunate that the doctors were able to reconstruct her hind leg, she had a reaction to the antibiotics that left her with several bald spots on her back.
Being an Alaskan breed, she has always suffered from the summer heat. We are especially worried now about direct sun on the exposed patches of skin on her back. Is there some way that we should be protecting her, such as with sunscreens or lotions?
M.G., Frederick, Md.
Use full sunblock on your dog's bald spots when she is out for any length of time in the sun. Dogs do get sunburn, and solar dermatitis could develop into skin cancer.
It is possible that the bald spots on your dog were not caused by an adverse reaction to antibiotics, but by a psychosomatic stress reaction to the attack by the pit bull. There are rare cases of alopecia (hair loss) in animals (and people, too) following physical and psychological trauma. There can also be a sudden loss of hair pigmentation, turning it gray or white overnight!
Dear Dr. Fox:
Lately, my 13-year-old cat has been yowling whenever I cook with spaghetti (pasta) sauce. I let her have a little off my finger and now she's constantly yowling whenever I begin to cook with it. I wonder if tomato sauce is okay for her. Does this indicate some deficiency in her diet, or does she just like the taste?
B.P., Odenton, Md.
Cats and dogs often develop a taste for tomato sauce. In fact, no dog of mine has ever turned away from my tomato-based sauce. But if your sauce contains garlic and onions it could cause a blood disease in your cat.
So keep your recipe very basic. A little sauce is a good acidifier and, along with a pinch of oregano, may be advantageous in helping to keep your cat's urinary tract healthy. But give her no more than a tablespoonful of sauce per serving -- all things in moderation.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a delicate situation with my 16-year-old male tabby cat. Although he was neutered at six months of age, for the past 15 years he has had sexual relations with any type of stuffed animal, blanket, pillow or knitted sweater. He has even gone to the extreme of dragging stuffed toys into the living room for a little midnight action. He seems to have some idea that this behavior is inappropriate since it occurs predominantly late at night when the house is quiet. This has been very embarrassing, since he howls loudly, thereby waking up everyone in the house, not to mention the difficulty of inviting guests to spend the night.
I have tried to stop this behavior by putting all stuffed items on high shelves (which he still manages to knock down) or squirting him with water. Nothing seems to deter him from his amorous affairs with anything plush. Must I resign myself? I would greatly appreciate any suggestions you may have.
Since your cat has found a way to satisfy his sexual urges for 15 years, I think it would be cruel and unnecessary punishment to deprive him in his declining years of what is clearly an enjoyable and harmless activity. Many cats behave like yours, and some will also knead, suck and nurse on plush, fluffy objects as well.
Try re-motivating him earlier in the evening with an old sock stuffed with a little fresh catnip. Put it in a plastic bag and keep it refrigerated to ensure that the herb -- which many cats enjoy -- stays fresh longer. And let cats be cats, coping as best as they can in an environment in which they have no contact with beings of their own kind.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Fleas seem to be a problem for many animals. Years ago, I had an outdoor cat who never got fleas, but my neighbor's cat did get them. My solution was safe and economical. Each day I gave our cat two brewer's yeast tablets. He came running when he heard the bottle rattling and happily chewed them up. My theory is that there is an odor to the yeast that is repugnant to fleas. What do you think?
D.K., Columbus, N.C.
Most cats and dogs love brewer's yeast tablets or nutritional yeast (not baking or bread-making yeast) sprinkled on their food. This potent source of B complex vitamins does indeed help keep fleas away, and (according to many outdoors enthusiasts) helps repel mosquitoes and other biting insects as well. Your "control" cat living next door (who got fleas while yours didn't) proves the point.
Giving a yeast supplement is just part of the battle against fleas. Combined with regular vacuuming of the house, checking animals with a flea comb (and disposing of any fleas in a bowl of soapy water), and, ideally, not letting animals roam outdoors, yeast tablets make costly and potentially harmful anti-flea drugs redundant.
A daily clove of chopped garlic for a 30-pound dog may also help, but it should be given with food. Garlic can cause blood problems in cats, but this rarely occurs in dogs and only when administered in larger doses.
Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
(c) 2004, United Feature Syndicate Inc.