Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 6-year-old Yorkshire terrier weighs about three pounds. Periodically, her abdomen gets bloated, and we take her to the vet to drain the fluid. She is then put on prednisone and furosemide.

One vet thought she had a kidney problem; another thinks it is an immune-deficiency disorder. What could be causing this? Is this problem peculiar to this breed?

R.E., New York

DF: There are many reasons animals and humans become afflicted with ascites, a fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity.

One can rule out alcoholism in pets, but not liver disease and heart problems, which are common causes of this condition in dogs. Depending on what the withdrawn fluid contains (blood, serum, bacteria), test for cancer and chronic peritonitis.

Focus on the dog’s heart first and combine the diuretic (furosemide) treatment with a low-salt diet and various supplements, notably CoQ10, L-carnitine, selenium, vitamin E, zinc and potassium. Discuss these supplements with your veterinarian.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 5-year-old tabby is neutered and declawed. I have moved recently and could not take him with me, so I left him with my mother in her home. She loves cats.

She has two spayed cats — one is temperamental, and the other is a bit shy. My tabby gets along fine with the shy one, and he sort of stays away from the other one.

Now the tabby has started to spray on the wall next to the floor in different areas of the house.

The vet thinks he is just marking his area. I think that because he is neutered and never did this before, he might have a urinary-tract problem.

D.B., Springfield, Mo.

DF: Spraying walls or other vertical objects is a territorial-marking behavior, especially in male cats and occasionally in females.

Non-neutered males do this most often, and such behavior usually subsides, along with the pungent, musky, tomcat-pheromone stink in the urine.

I doubt your cat has a bladder problem, but to rule out that stress-related possibility, get a checkup. More usually, cats with cystitis strain painfully while they urinate in a squatting posture.

Your mother should try the Feliway pheromone room diffuser to help your cat settle down, his spraying being a likely sign of anxiety. Give him catnip to help alleviate his anxiety.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My sister bought a yellow Lab pup in September. He has just been diagnosed with valley fever. What kind of life we can expect for this dog? He is on medication.

G.B., North Wilkesboro, N.C.

DF: Valley fever (coccidiomycosis) is a fungal infection that initially settles in the lungs and then spreads to the lymphatics, bones and other organs (including eyes and brain).

It is derived from spores in the soil that are spread by dust storms and dirt-digging construction by land developers, especially in desert areas. After rain, the fungus migrates to the soil surface, turning into spores that are carried by the wind.

Valley fever can occur in most mammals (including humans) and in some reptiles. It is more common in dogs than in cats. Infected animals do not pass the disease onto others. In some cases, the infection begins in the skin.

Ketoconazole (itraconazole) is the preferred medication. Treatment should be continued for at least two months after symptoms clear up but might be needed for several more months. Periodic checking of the dog’s liver function and blood tests to determine response to treatment are advisable.

Progress is generally poor for animals with disseminated disease but good if localized in the lungs only.

barking dogs

Dear Dr. Fox:

We live on a narrow, one-block street with four dogs.

At times, the barking continues for almost an hour and, of course, the dogs echo one another. Our neighbors do not walk their dogs and don’t seem to interact with them, at least not when the animals are outside. The dogs bark at anything and everything.

Do you approve of bark collars?

E.C.S., Monmouth Beach, N.J.

DF: I approve of bark collars that give a buzzing vibration rather than an actual electrical shock whenever a dog barks. I also approve of the citronella spray that is triggered on the collar when the dog barks.

Those devices generally work well when the dogs are outdoors and tend to bark and disturb neighbors. Indoors, anti-bark sensors that emit a high-frequency sound can also be effective. But with most of these devices, loud sounds other than the dog’s bark can trigger them, which can be stressful to the poor dog.

There is no substitute for appropriate human attention and training dogs not to bark on command. Most municipalities have ordinances that limit dogs’ barking outdoors; inquire about this in your community.

The owners should be informed; otherwise, they’ll continue to think there isn’t a problem.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My cat has been through seven months of medical issues.

It started with an infected tooth extraction during whole-mouth dental cleaning and a thyroidectomy. They also removed her parathyroid during surgery because it looked “suspicious.” After three months of supplements to regulate her calcium levels, which were severely affected by the surgery, they diagnosed a urinary-tract infection that had gone to her kidneys.

After three ultrasounds and three rounds of six-week-long antibiotics, the kidneys were reported to be free of infection. During the last ultrasound, it was determined that her heart was not working properly so she is now on a transdermal heart medication. It is suggested that she have an echogram in six months to check the heart.

This has been an extremely expensive (about $4,000) and stressful time. Should I do the echogram in six months, which will be $400? My cat is about 9.

S.H., Lagrangeville, N.Y.

DF: I have serious questions about the diagnoses and treatments provided and urge you to seek a second opinion with a feline specialist.

If no questions were asked about what you have been feeding your cat, I would certainly get a second opinion. Kidney, heart and other health problems call for special diets and beneficial supplements.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011 United Feature Syndicate