Dear Dr. Fox:
Recently, I had to take Birdie, one of my Havanese dogs, to a vet under emergency conditions. In the 18 hours before taking him, he exhibited signs of intestinal distress, with diarrhea and loss of bowel control.
During the exam, I was asked what brand of food I feed my dogs. I provided the brand of kibble I use, Taste of the Wild, a label that I have been told is considered by veterinarians to be a wise choice. I chose it because of its high protein content and the absence of grains. Grains have no place in a canine’s diet; numerous sources have verified this. Birdie’s vet suggested that Taste of the Wild’s high protein content could cause harm to my 3-year-old Havanese and that a change in feed might be necessary.
After the exam, the vet advised me that Birdie’s anal glands were not a contributing cause for his distress but that his upper G.I. had lots of gas. The vet suggested that it might be caused by his exposure to deer and rabbit waste in our yard. He prescribed several medications.
The vet also sold me a bag of Hill’s “digestive care” kibble and told me to feed it to Birdie for the next four to five days, and then switch him back to the Taste of the Wild kibble. I read the ingredient label before leaving the vet’s office, and remarked to staff members that this Hill’s Prescription Diet contained, in order as printed on the label: brewer’s rice, cornstarch, corn gluten meal, whole-grain wheat, chicken byproduct meal and on and on, including pork flavoring and chicken liver flavoring — but no protein.
The staff’s response was that I should call Hill’s at the number provided on the bag with any questions. I have not called, because I fully expect their representatives to support their employer’s product as complete.
I am at a loss as to what to believe. A protein-based diet for a dog makes a lot of sense to me, because this is what it would eat in the wild, not cornstarch, brewer’s rice, corn gluten meal and so forth.
T.R., the District
DF: I am glad that you read what was in the bag of prescription food for your dog.
You should know that it was “scientifically formulated,” and the attending veterinarian thought that it would be the best remedy for your dog. But where did the animal doctor get the information in the first place, having, at best, a short course in pet nutrition before graduating from veterinary school?
At least you were fortunate that the veterinarian did not insist on costly diagnostic tests, although you made no mention of any fecal tests for parasites and infections, such as giardia and clostridia. Clostridia is a common cause of diarrhea during changes in the season or stress in dogs; giardia could come from deer feces or contaminated water. In general, dogs probably eat a small quantity of wild animal feces as a natural instinct.
It is also possible that this batch of Taste of the Wild was not up to par; one way to avoid that is to feed your dog a variety of good-quality canned and dry dog foods. High-protein content should not be an issue for an otherwise healthy dog. Try my home-prepared diet — posted on my website, drfoxvet.net — and keep me informed as you put your dog onto a wholesome diet of known ingredients.
The best medicine is prevention, and a holistic, integrative approach to pets’ health calls for a revision of vaccination protocols, cessation of feeding highly processed commercial pet foods and reviewing medication practices, especially with so-called preventive medications such as those sold to keep fleas and ticks at bay. For more information, contact a holistic veterinarian in your area. A searchable list is available at holisticvetlist.com. Veterinarians wishing to learn more are encouraged to become members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at ahvma.org.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a 4-year-old fixed female cat with a pleasant personality. She was a stray, so we allow her to go outside, but she always comes in at night. About a year ago, she returned with several puncture wounds in her tail. We took her to a vet, who shaved the center portion of her tail and treated the wounds.
Because of her tail’s appearance or some other unknown reason, our cat would become disturbed and hiss at and chase her tail. This occurred without warning several times each day. The fur has grown back and the wounds have healed, but she continues this behavior, mainly in the morning and evening.
We have tried calming collars, without success. What is the problem?
DF: The problem with bites is that they are deep puncture wounds, which can leave bacterial infection in the tissues and bone after the surface of the wound has healed.
Your veterinarian should X-ray your cat’s tail to see whether there are signs of bone infection. If there are, the tail might have to be amputated. Otherwise, there could be chronic nerve damage, and the veterinarian might wish to try anti-inflammatory medications and possibly acupuncture.
It is regrettable that you could not keep this cat permanently indoors. Such injuries from catfights and tangles with wild animals are all too common in indoor-outdoor cats.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We recently took in our daughter’s 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier. The problem is his constant marking in our house and on our car tires.
My daughter says he has done this for years, and nothing they did stopped it. Is there anything we can do this late in his life to change his behavior? And what will remove the smell from inside our home and on our tires? We are desperate for help; otherwise, we will need to surrender the dog.
B.H., Mayville, N.D.
DF: You mean have the dog killed, rather than “surrender,” because no one would want to adopt a dog that marks its territory all the time.
Did your daughter seek a professional animal behavior consultant and veterinary advice? What did she try to do to inhibit this behavior earlier on in the dog’s life? Now it’s a fixed habit. Use a hose on your car tires and an enzyme cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle indoors.
If he has not been neutered, neutering might help reduce his motivation to mark. Cocking his leg against various objects to urinate on might be related to anxiety, and a trial treatment with a low dose of anti-anxiety medication would be worth a try. Scolding would just make matters worse if there is underlying anxiety.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Recently, you had an inquiry from E.B. about his sadness over losing his cat and his inability to take on another cat because of finances. I am a senior in a program called Senior Cats for Senior Laps in St. Louis. I lived in Phoenix, and I know they had a program there.
In this program, we provide a loving home for a senior cat, and the nonprofit organization that sponsors the program assumes all costs, including food and vet bills. It’s certainly a win-win situation!
Unfortunately, not many of the people at the Humane Society are aware of this program. However, pet stores, including PetSmart and Petco, often sponsor events, so that might be the best resource for seniors to find a program in their area.
B.S., St. Louis
DF: Thank you for contributing this information in response to concerns about the plight of lonely seniors — human and nonhuman — and what resources are available to help.
Certainly we need more as the population of baby boomers ages, and animal shelters, which must have more funding and public support, seek to reduce the kill rate of old and unwanted animals.
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. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.