Dear Dr. Fox:

Two years ago, I adopted a calico Persian cat from the Persian Rescue Organization. Recently, I took her to my veterinarian for a checkup and her rabies and distemper shots. He recommended that I bring her in sometime in the near future and have her teeth cleaned. I am somewhat reluctant to do this, as she would have to be under anesthesia for the procedure.

Do you recommend that cats have their teeth cleaned?

I've been trying to get her used to me cleaning her teeth. I use a piece of gauze and rub her teeth. She doesn't like this much, but I'm hoping she'll get accustomed to it in time.

I.M., Moorhead, Minn.

One of the most common and serious health problems in cats is neglected dental disease -- buildup of scale or calculi with associated gum infection, hyperplasia and secondary tooth-root infection and abscess formation. A painful, bacteria-ridden mouth can make it difficult for cats (and dogs) to eat and enjoy life, and they can develop halitosis (which must be disturbing to them) and worse -- the bacteria proliferating in their infected and inflamed gums can get into the bloodstream and infect internal organs, especially the heart and kidneys.

So, waste no time in getting your cat's teeth cleaned. Once her teeth are cleaned, keep on top of rubbing or brushing her teeth with kitty toothpaste or a mixture of salt and baking soda.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a shih tzu who is 10 months old. He scrapes and chews my wood furniture around the bottom, even on surfaces that are vertical. I've tried spanking him and giving him a bone, but he persists and is ruining everything, even wood paneling. He's chewing and tearing holes in throw rugs, and now I've found he has torn my carpet. I feed him only dry dog food. Is there something lacking in his diet?

Also, lately his ears have a terrible odor coming from them. I had another shih tzu for 13 years and never had any trouble like this. I would appreciate any advice you might have.

M.M., Lenmore, Calif.

Young dogs like yours not only go through a teething period where they like to chew things, but they also chew out of curiosity, boredom and sheer pleasure. Some also chew things when they are left alone for extended periods, possibly as a self-comforting activity to alleviate separation anxiety. This can turn into obsessive-compulsive behavior.

So give your dog extra attention, lots of physical activity outdoors and games indoors (such as catch-and-retrieve and tugs-of-war with a knotted rope) and various chew toys. Marrowbones (or a rubber Kong toy) stuffed with peanut butter will also occupy your dog and satisfy his oral impulses. Use a shake-can full of pebbles or nuts and bolts to discipline him when he's caught chewing things he shouldn't, and re-motivate him by playing with him.

No dog should be fed only regular dry dog food, and I urge you to go to the library and read up on pet nutrition. You may want to get a copy of Ann Martin's book "Food Pets Die For" (NewSage Press, 2003).

Anytime a dog's ears smell bad, cause the animal to scratch and shake its head, or have any kind of discharge, a veterinary examination is called for. Many dogs with chronic ear conditions have been cured by being taken off highly processed pet foods and put on a balanced, whole-food diet.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My cat, Woody, is a spry, 14-year-old neutered male. He is strictly an indoor cat and has enjoyed excellent health over the years.

For various reasons, Woody has not seen a veterinarian in about eight years. I've noticed, recently, that he occasionally has bad breath -- usually this is evident when he's been grooming himself. I'm thinking that perhaps teeth-cleaning is in order.

I'm concerned that any veterinarian I take Woody to, after this length of time, will insist on a full regimen of shots before they will treat him, and that these may do him more harm than good considering his age and general good health. What would you advise?

C.R., Sterling Heights, Mich.

Cats should be checked by a veterinarian once a year, and twice annually when they are old, like yours. Neglected dental problems cause many cats much misery and can shorten their lives considerably.

Your cat should not be vaccinated shortly before dental work is done since the combination of surgery, anesthetic and vaccines could seriously impair his immune system.

Since your old cat is an indoor cat, the only vaccination your vet should insist upon (if it is mandated by law) is an anti-rabies vaccination. If this must be done, the appointment for dental work should be at least three weeks after the vaccine is given.

(c) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.