Dear Dr. Fox:

I am concerned about how we feed cats. A friend had to have her female cat put down in December. The cat was 12. My friend fed the cat dry food only. The vet said the cause of death was kidney failure. The cat had stopped eating and drinking.

Now my friend has another cat she adopted from the SPCA, Annie. Annie is 6, and she spent two years at the shelter. My friend was told to feed the cat both wet and dry food. She gave Annie both foods for a couple of weeks, but now she gives only dry food.

Is it true that a cat should have wet and dry food? Is it safe to feed a cat only dry food? I have a neighbor with a cat, and he told me the cat’s food should be wet and dry.

I don’t want Annie to end up like my friend’s previous cat. I just want to know what’s best for the cat. My friend doesn’t believe me when I say she needs to feed her cat both kinds of food.

P.E.S., West Long Beach, N.J.

DF: I appreciate your letter, and you have every reason to be concerned about your friend’s cat.

Many cats become addicted to a dry food diet, and it is highly advisable to feed a corn-free, grain-free dry food (you can soak it if the cat does not drink much water). For details, check my Web site,, and visit for excellent information.

Ideally, cats should be fed a cereal- and soy-free diet, canned and dry, or raw-frozen or rehydrated freeze-dried, nutritionally balanced formulations. This will help prevent a host of all-too-common diet-related diseases in middle and old age.

Cats fed standard dry food continue to suffer in spite of the medical evidence of the harm of the poor-quality protein and the high fat content of so many manufactured dry cat foods.

Once bitten . . .

Dear Dr. Fox:

I agree with you 100 percent on using gloves while handling birds.

Years ago, I was trying to catch one of my finches with my bare hands. The bird bit my finger, but I didn’t give it another thought. Within 24 hours, a red streak was going up my arm. After I went to an urgent care facility, it was determined that the finch had bitten me on a paper cut on that finger, and it became infected.

To this day, I wear heavy gloves when handling my birds. They bite really hard and can break the skin.

L.S., St. Louis

DF: Your letter is a welcome addition to the debate raised by one bird expert (J.M. from Naples, Fla.) who castigated me for advising people to wear gloves when handling birds that are not fully socialized or that are fearful or aggressive.

This should be standard practice for those with little expertise in handling birds, reptiles and small mammals. Bites and scratches can result in serious infections, and, as I stress repeatedly, the pain could make the handler drop the animal, with potentially fatal consequences.

Red flags on labels

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am writing in reference to a recent letter in your column about a beagle and basset mix with a persistent itching, scratching and biting problem.

My cocker spaniel had the same problem a number of years ago. She was chewing herself apart. All four of her legs were chewed and were bleeding and filled with ugly sores.

I was at my wit’s end, watching our beloved pet suffer so much. Her vet didn’t know what was causing the problem.

I spent a small fortune on medications and shampoos that did nothing to help. She was unable to sleep. I would sit up with her, bathing her legs in milk to try to give her some relief.

One night, when my husband and I were having dinner, he mentioned that his boss had gone to the doctor because she was not feeling well. She had a rash and was breaking out with lesions. She learned that she was allergic to a food coloring agent called Yellow No. 5.

It occurred to me that our cocker spaniel could have the same problem. I immediately pulled out her food and treats and checked the ingredients listed on the labels. They were loaded with coloring agents: Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Blue No. 1 and Blue No. 2. I threw out all of her food and started her on new foods and treats that were all natural and had no coloring agents.

By that evening, I noticed my dog was not biting and scratching as frequently, and she was able to get some sleep. By the following day, I noticed that she was not biting or scratching at all. Within two weeks, her sores healed, the scales were gone and her fur started to grow back.

I hope you will pass this information on to your readers, and advise them to check labels for coloring agents. Pet owners must be informed and alert as to what we are feeding our animals. It disgusts me to see what the animal food industry has done to our beloved pets. Pets and their owners deserve better. It’s unfortunate that we must learn through word of mouth or trial and error.

C.R., Monroe, Conn.

DF: I give your letter five stars for its importance in identifying a significant health issue for all consumers, animal and human, concerning the use of coloring agents in food products.

The U.S.government, long under the thumb of the chemical, food and beverage industries, has yet to act responsibly with regard to the dyes used in manufactured foods. Some are prohibited in Europe because they are classified as carcinogens. Some might play a role in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and might cause seizures in epilepsy-prone dogs.

I know of a dog that would have a seizure if given even a small piece of yellow or red cheese, the natural dye from the tropical achiote tree, called annatto, being the culprit.

There is a possibility that there was another ingredient in one of the treats or dog foods that caused your dog to develop these distressing allergy or hypersensitivity symptoms, but that would cost a small fortune to identify, and your common-sense solution worked.

American pet owners, parents and consumers: Wake up!

Surgery alternatives

Dear Dr. Fox:

My daughter has a rescued female pit bull mix. She is a wonderful dog that was trained by the prison dog program in Florida.

The dog has developed a rear leg limp suddenly, and it is obviously painful. The veterinary school at the University of Florida made a diagnosis of detached tendons in both legs. The only solution the school offered was surgery, which would cost $7,000. There is no way my daughter can afford that. She is beside herself.

B.W., Naples, Fla.

DF: This is a very prevalent affliction, in part related to the angulation of the hind legs, the weight of the dog, the age at which she was spayed and possibly an adverse reaction to distemper vaccinations. For details, see my review in my book “Healing Animals & the Vision of One Health.”

The surgery fee at the veterinary college is exorbitant. Your daughter should get price quotes from private veterinary practices, some of which might arrange for payment by an installment schedule.

Smaller, lightweight dogs can get by without corrective surgery, but I see little alternative for an active, muscular dog such as your daughter’s, unless her weight and strenuous physical activity are kept under control, and she is given a daily treatment of massage and physical therapy.

Give it a try over a rigorous six- to eight-week period, and provide good joint-supportive supplements such as Cosequin, turmeric and fish oil.

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, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate