Dear Dr. Fox:

My condo association arranges for a pest-control company to spray each unit twice a month. I have a cat that walks on the floor where the chemicals are sprayed, and then she licks her paws to clean herself. I worry that the pest-control chemicals might be toxic.

Are there any pest-control chemicals that will not harm household pets?

-- A.A.


Pest-control companies may give every assurance that the chemicals they use are safe when applied properly, but that's what the government said about DDT and other pesticides that are now banned for health reasons.

You live in a subtropical area where bugs can be an annoyance but are relatively harmless compared with the chemicals used to keep them at bay. Your condo association should consult with a company that offers an integrative pest-management program that has zero risk to humans and companion animals.

There are, for example, flea-and-cockroach powders and baits that are safe and can be placed where your cat can't reach. Also, your condo association should pass a resolution against using toxic herbicides and other harmful lawn-and-garden chemicals around the property.

Dear Dr. Fox:

A breeder asked if I would care for an 8-month-old purebred miniature dachshund. He had been in perfect health for four months, until his owner went on vacation. When she returned after two weeks, the dog was depressed, deaf and blind, and would not eat.

All of his blood tests are normal, and the vet suspects a type of brain or neurological disorder. He sleeps most of the day, eats very well and is just beautiful, but very thin, about five pounds. He initially gets very scared when picked up. His back legs seem to be getting weaker, and when he shakes himself off, he often loses his balance.

We don't understand what happened to this wonderful creature. Please give us your thoughts.

-- K.L.G.

Belle Plaine, Minn.

I am glad you sent me a photo of the dog. I wish more readers would include one of their companion animals. Seeing a photo can help me better understand the problem.

The dog's head is clearly domed and disproportionately large. This, along with the progressive loss of brain and neurological functions, indicates that he has a congenital disease called hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Unless an artificial drain is inserted to relieve the pressure, accumulating cerebrospinal fluid will cut off circulation, and the brain will waste away.

One telltale sign of early-onset hydrocephalus is the presence of one or more soft spots on the head, where the skull bones were prevented from fusing by the swelling brain.

My advice is to let him go in peace. He is already far gone. As long as he is kept comfortable and feels secure, he is not likely to experience much fear or pain.

Dear Dr. Fox:

One behavior of our 14-month-old Jack Russell terrier has us baffled.

He sleeps on our bed, and if my husband or I move ever so slightly, he will growl. Sometimes he gets so indignant, he jumps off the bed and stomps off in a huff. He reminds me of the expression "let sleeping dogs lie."

His grouchy behavior seems to be limited to the nighttime. In the morning, he is cheerful and affectionate, and he doesn't growl before naps. We are more curious than concerned about this behavior and would appreciate your insight.

-- C.P.

League City, Tex.

Dogs often become more edgy and alert at night, a behavior that traces back to their ancestors, who feared night-prowling predators. But your pooch is more of a territorial grouch, a bedroom growler. One of my dogs is of a similar disposition, and my wife and I simply ignore him. When he seems especially grumpy and snarls at our other dogs from the bed, we rarely order him off the bed. That's because it shatters his little psyche, and he acts so submissively that he appears traumatized and depressed.

So, yes, let sleeping dogs lie.

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a tomcat who is allergic to his tooth enamel, according to our vet. The cat went through several months of steroid therapy in the hopes of avoiding tooth extractions. About 10 months ago, the vet extracted all but a few jaw and front teeth. The gums are now showing signs of allergic reactions in those remaining sites, and steroids were administered. It hurts him even to eat liquefied canned food.

Our vet says it's possible the remaining teeth will have to be removed. I know if all of the teeth have to be removed, the cat can still eat soft food, and we will have to take over grooming. No problem there, but we want to know of other possibilities before taking such a drastic and permanent move. The continued use of steroids is dangerous for his system, too. Otherwise, he is healthy and content. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

-- R.O.

Pleasant Hope, Mo.

I have never heard of a cat becoming allergic to the enamel on his teeth. Perhaps this is your veterinarian's way of explaining that your cat might have an autoimmune or immune-deficiency disease.

The animal doctor should rule out feline AIDS, kidney disease and diabetes, which can underlie chronic oral disease. Continued use of steroids could worsen these conditions. Herpes and other viral infections in cats can cause chronic and debilitating lesions in the mouth and impair the cat's immune system. The holistic approach includes immune-enhancing medications and supplements such as Vitamins A and C, Vitamin B complex, essential fatty acids as in fish oil, zinc and selenium.

Dear Dr. Fox:

When my 6-month-old Lab/Shar-Pei mix Maggie developed severe allergies, she lost almost half her hair and chewed herself constantly. She also had ear infections. Although she didn't have the ear and anal-gland problems some dogs get, she was miserable.

After months of trying many expensive treatments (not prednisone, which I avoided), I found EQyss Micro-Tek shampoo and spray. This got her skin calmed down. But I could see that she still had hives, which would begin about a half-hour after she ate, so I suspected a food allergy.

I switched to a lamb-and-rice diet free of soy, corn, chicken and wheat. Her allergies stopped immediately, her coat grew back beautifully and her ear infections went away. She is now 8 years old and has not had any more problems.

I've spoken to others who have had animals with similar symptoms as Maggie's, and as soon as they switched to a lamb-and-rice dog food, the allergies went away and never returned.

-- L.A.

Cape Coral, Fla.

Thanks for sharing your success story on getting to the bottom of your poor dog's problem.

Many dogs and cats suffer miserable lives with irritating skin and ear conditions. Too often, these conditions are misdiagnosed as an infection, and the animal is overmedicated with steroids. Costly hypersensitivity tests and desensitization injections make this widespread problem in cats and dogs a profitable business.

The first step when this kind of skin problem develops is to see whether a hypoallergenic diet or a food with ingredients such as rice and lamb will do the trick. The best preventive is to have control over what your dog or cat eats by making home-prepared meals of known whole-food ingredients -- ideally, organically certified.

Michael Fox, author of 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.

Copyright 2007, United Feature Syndicate Inc.