Dear Dr. Fox:

For the past two weeks, I have been dog-sitting my son’s 10-year-old boxer, Rocco.

For about a year, Rocco has had a swallowing problem, and it kept getting worse. He has been to his regular vet and two specialists. I was told it has to do with his esophagus: As he eats, he chokes and regurgitates bile. It’s not pleasant to clean up, but it must be terrifying for our beloved Rocco.

I have been cooking him ground turkey, vegetables and brown rice. He gobbles it down with no difficulty. He wasn’t drinking much water before his new diet, but now you can’t keep his water bowl full. His bowel movements are healthy, and his energy level is on the rebound.

We are all so happy to see his health coming around, and we would like your input on this new diet.

W.R.G., Estero, Fla.

DF: I congratulate you on confirming that the kind of food you prepared for this poor dog essentially cured him of his esophageal dysphagia.

This condition is fairly common in older dogs, and many would be helped by your dog food — moist, palatable and not “gluey” or too dry. It’s simply easier to swallow, especially for dogs with neurodegenerative disease of the pharynx and swallowing mechanism.

Dry mouth, brachycephaly (short muzzles) and acid reflux damaging the esophagus are contributory factors.

Feeding dysphagic dogs your kind of food from elevated food and water bowls, so they do not have to swallow with their heads low to the ground, can give much relief.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My brother Larry is a musician, and he frequently practices with a four-piece band and for his solo act.

Whenever he plays a CD with steel guitar music on it, his cat closes her eyes, sits there and seems to be smiling. She appears to be listening to and enjoying the music, especially Buddy Emmons’s instrumental version of “Nightlife.” She does not do this when other music is being played.

Is it possible that this 10-year-old cat is actually listening to and enjoying that particular music? Could she think that the music might be some kind of cat choir? Or is she simply off her rocker?

I thought that you and your readers might get a kick out of this.

T.W., Yadkinville, N.C.

DF: Many animal species enjoy various kinds of music. Our two feral cats both sat in front of loudspeakers when they heard Gregorian chants for the first time. One of my research wolves (featured in my book “The Soul Of The Wolf”) would howl in perfect harmony with my shakuhachi flute playing.

Animals’ evident enjoyment of various kinds of music, and their enjoinment vocally and in movements, affirm their capacity for aesthetic experience. Many deny this capacity, as well as animals’ empathetic sensibility and rights.

The world would probably be a better place without such denial. Those who believe in a higher power will appreciate philosopher Meister Eckhart’s contention, “every creature is a word of God.”


Dear Dr. Fox:

I am 92 years old, and I have had dogs and cats for many years as my kids grew up. This raises a question that might sound silly to you, but I just have to ask.

As you have noticed, I’m sure, dogs and cats won’t eat unless they’re hungry. You just can’t force them.

Watching TV commercials for pet foods, I have long wondered how they get these dogs and cats to gobble up the advertised pet food. My conclusion: They must not feed the animals for a day or two to get them so hungry, especially cats. And I’ll bet they have a bunch of dogs and cats because they can’t be sure just one will act right.

Have you or people at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ever investigated the making of these commercials?

B.B., Manchester, Mo.

DF: I wonder whether people half your age are as perceptive as you!

I agree with you absolutely that the dogs and cats used in TV commercials promoting manufactured pet foods shown ravenously gobbling up the food must have been deprived of food for some time to have such an appetite. Or else they have some compulsive eating disorder.

Of course, the ads’ intent is to imply that the food is irresistibly delicious, but only fools are so deceived.

Animals are exploited in many ways, and their suffering (severe in some instances, as in ritual slaughter and the millions confined in factory farms and puppy mills) must be opposed by all and outlawed.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an 11-year-old Scottie that I adopted from a local shelter three years ago. I think he might have a problem. He paws at both sides of his mouth, and he seems to enjoy it, making an “mmm” sound.

When at rest, he constantly licks the tops of his front paws, but not to the point of losing hair. He also seems to be chewing his toenails. When I take him to the groomer, his toenails are always trimmed.

This is something he has done ever since I’ve had him. I’ve taken him to the local vet a few times, and they have found nothing wrong with him. He’s in good health. They gave him meds to see whether they would solve the problem, but they did not.

Do you know what’s going on?

L.D., Scranton, Pa.

DF: This might be perfectly normal self-grooming behavior. Our Indian pariah dogs often licked their paws and then wiped their faces with the moistened paws, like a cat. But the beard on a Scottie’s muzzle, constantly getting wet from drinking and contaminated with food, is a prime environment for bacterial and fungal organisms to flourish.

Take him in for a whole-body shampoo, and have his beard trimmed and thinned. Make it an evening ritual to use disposable wipes infused with aloe and lavender or tea tree oil and a drying towel on his muzzle. Work the wipes in well with your fingers around his face, nose and especially around his lips and chin.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I am writing to you about our dog Tubbs. He is a black pug who will soon be 11 years old. He is very active, but in the past year, he has developed a phobia.

Our back porch stairs were cement, and he went up and down them with no problem. But the stairs were crumbling, and we replaced them with a white wooden structure. Tubbs wants nothing to do with going up and down these stairs.

Our kitchen floor is all wood, with some throw rugs. We think he slid on the bare portions and is now reluctant to use the wooden porch stairs.

Is this his eyesight failing him or playing tricks on him? Have you ever heard of this before? He is a great guy and very healthy otherwise.

L.J., Danbury, Conn.

DF: Many dogs develop a stair phobia for various reasons. Young dogs can develop it because of fear, unfamiliarity or being forced up and down rather than gently assisted. Older dogs are often scared because of a slip or fall caused by failing eyesight, being overweight or painful arthritis.

Your dog associated pain with the stairs and developed a conditioned fear-and-pain reaction. Some dogs do better on stairs that have some slip-preventing carpeting and where there is no see-through gap between each step.

Tacking down a runner of outdoor carpeting to make open stairs look closed, with no evident gaps between them, might help your dog regain his confidence.

A veterinary examination to rule out any underlying physical issue would be advisable. Never force your dog to go up or down the stairs. Carry him and sit on the stairs together as often as you can so he becomes desensitized.

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 or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

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