Dear Dr. Fox:

I recently had to sign my toy Chihuahua’s death warrant, as I refer to it, at the veterinary hospital — to put my best friend down after 131 /2 years of being together as much as possible.

On Friday, he was fine; on Saturday, he started vomiting a little. On Sunday, I took him to the hospital. Tests showed that his kidneys were shutting down. The staff tried everything, including IVs and flushing his kidneys. On Monday, I had to do it.

It happened so fast, and I felt so helpless in not understanding what signs I could have missed. I feel as though I did something wrong, and that it’s my fault.

I guess I’m writing in the hope that you can help me cope.

S.D., Boynton Beach, Fla.

DF: Many people who have never experienced the bond of love with an animal cannot comprehend the depth of grief and frequent feelings of guilt that come with such a loss.

In many communities, often facilitated by local humane societies or by veterinary referral, there are support groups to help grieving people like you.

I am sure that if your dog had shown earlier signs of kidney failure (such as excessive drinking, nausea and disinterest in food), you would have taken your little dog for a veterinary appointment.

Dogs with kidney disease often seem to cope well and appear to be healthy, and then suddenly go into acute renal failure. Do not blame yourself. You and the veterinary hospital staff did your best to save his life. The one blessing is that he passed away quickly, and his suffering was not protracted, as is so often the case with chronic degenerative diseases.

In July, we euthanized our 15-year-old dog, Batman, and I can understand fully what you are going through — especially wondering what you did wrong and what signs you missed. This is only natural. Some people blame the veterinarians instead, all such recrimination being part of the anger, frustration, helplessness and despair associated with this emotionally challenging event. Give the process time and focus on the love shared and special moments in your years together.

EAR SOLUTIONS

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an 8-year-old Lhasa apso with a chronic ear infection. I am using Zymox Otic, but it doesn’t seem to solve her problem. Is there anything else I can use?

J.S., Neptune, N.J.

DF: Chronic ear infections can be difficult to cure, and they often recur when an animal is feeling stress or with a change of season.

Aside from ear mites (often contracted from infected cats), many cases of otitis externa (inflammation of the ear canal) have an underlying food allergy. Bacterial and fungal infections develop subsequently.

Try changing the dog’s diet to a known single protein (turkey, lamb, etc.), or making your own dog food. Go to www.twobitdog.
com/drfox
for details, and to www.dogcathomeprepareddiet.
com
for free recipes from veterinarian D.R. Strombeck.

One excellent, soothing ear cleaner I use is Micellar Solution from Sogeval. Bacterial and fungal infections are often present, and sometimes cultures need to be taken when bacterial resistance to antibiotics is suspected. I have also found MalOtic from Vedco to be very effective for mixed fungal (yeast) and bacterial infections.

BIG FINANCIAL BITE

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 6-year-old cat needed extensive dental work; the bill was $400. This came as a shock, and there is no guarantee that he will not have to go back for more attention.

I was given a brush and pet toothpaste and told to only feed him dry food to help keep his teeth clean. I’m supposed to get him used to having his teeth brushed every evening. Help!

V.W.M., Palm Beach, Fla.

D F: Dental problems in dogs and cats are expensive and often risky, because a general anesthetic is needed, and frequently tooth and gum infection require extractions and protective antibiotics.

Without annual checkups, when dental problems might be diagnosed and nipped in the bud, many cats and dogs suffer and get sick because their oral cavities are diseased.

Halitosis is a common sign of oral health issues. Difficulty eating, heart and kidney disease, and possibly diabetes and pancreatitis might develop when professional veterinary dental care is not sought.

A diet of only dry food, especially those high in cereal starches, might make things worse for your cat instead of better.

For information, go to www.feline-nutrition.org. Giving your cat thin strips of scalded (to sterilize) beef shank meat, beef heart and chicken wing tips to masticate will help keep his teeth clean.

A half-teaspoon of fish oil in his food daily (start with one drop to get him used to it) will help keep his gums healthy, because of its anti-inflammatory properties. PetzLife Oral Care products, such as the company’s dental sprays, might be an easier alternative to brushing your cat’s teeth.

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