Dear Dr. Fox:

I wonder why our 10-year-old hound mix has begun to dig holes in our vegetable garden. In colder weather, this is not a problem, but when spring arrives and seedlings are planted, I must admonish her while refilling the six- to 10-inch craters she creates. She loves to be outside on sunny days, and that seems to be her time to dig.

Her health is good, with the exception of some plaque on her molars. I brush her teeth daily, but the plaque is always more than I can treat.

Her diet includes fresh fruit (apples, pears, bananas), raw vegetables (carrots, cabbage, sweet peppers) and fresh kibble. She is still very active.

Do you have any suggestions concerning this behavior?

J.B., Alexandria

DF: Old dogs do develop new behaviors, and your dog deciding to dig holes in the vegetable patch might well be her way of finding stimulation and enjoyment now that she is becoming less physically active.

She might need to be checked for arthritis, and she might benefit from appropriate supplements.

Allowing her to chew on a six- to 10-inch length of raw beef marrowbone for about 10 minutes every few days will help keep her teeth clean and provide enjoyable stimulation.

I advise short bouts of chewing, because some dogs get so involved that they can damage their teeth. For some dogs, a Nylabone might be safer. A daily application of PetzLife oral care gel or spray will help control tartar and keep the gums healthy.

A staked roll of chicken wire around your vegetable garden might be your horticultural solution. You could also set aside an area in the garden where your dog is free to dig.

limp explanation

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 6-year-old male cat has been limping on his left front leg. Not all the time, but enough that it is a concern.

He has a good diet — no grains and enough fish oil — and he’s healthy and frisky.

The vet took X-rays and told us that our cat had nothing wrong with his bones and showed no signs of arthritis. Thinking there might be some muscle strain or soreness, the vet suggested applying a heating pad, but that hasn’t made a difference.

Should we get a second opinion from another vet?

B.B., the District

DF: Because there is no evidence of arthritis or other joint abnormality, and presuming that there is no infection in one or more of the claw-beds, I would adopt a wait-and-see approach.

A small heating pad or wrap applied while he’s on your lap or lying beside you, and very gentle, exploratory massages (as described in my book “The Healing Touch for Cats”) might be of benefit. I would discourage your cat from using a vertical scratching post. Place it on the floor horizontally or keep it out of reach for a while.

Avoid any vigorous interactive games. A pinch of powdered turmeric, increasing up to one-half teaspoon daily, might prove beneficial. If he shows no signs of improvement after six to eight weeks, seek a second opinion and have his neck vertebrae examined.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I am writing to get some advice and help dealing with my cat, Timothy.

Ever since my daughter left for college, Timothy has become very aggressive during mealtime. If I put food in his bowl and then try to touch his bowl, he growls and attacks my hand. While he eats, he growls until his food is gone.

He is a good-tempered animal and aggressive only at mealtime. I have tried to make him feel more comfortable by sitting with him in the kitchen while he is eating. I have also tried to feed him by hand, but he just becomes more aggressive.

After my daughter left for college, Timothy became depressed and had a urinary tract infection. He also had constipation problems.

When my daughter comes home on her breaks, Timothy is fine. He does not growl or have problems with bowel movements. I do have children come over once a month to visit, and I worry about him becoming aggressive toward them.

L.P., Clinton

DF: As the caregiver of your daughter’s cat, you deserve better.

My first question to you is: Have you considered the possibility of your daughter finding suitable accommodations where she is going to school so she can keep the cat with her? Clearly, the cat has a strong bond with her. I know of several cats who have become depressed, disinterested in food or more anxious when their human caregivers have left home for college or a job.

In the interim, give poor Timothy space and solitude while he eats, and put him in a separate room when children come.

Have your daughter mail you a T-shirt (in a plastic bag) that she has slept in for a week or so, and give it to Timothy to snuggle into.

Proceed with caution

Dear Dr. Fox:

I just want to let you know of my experience with and without knee surgery.

In 2004, at age 7, our dog Hanna tore her right knee ligament. We decided to do the surgery, at a cost of $1,500. Jump forward to age 12, when Hanna tore her left knee ligament. This time, the cost basically doubled. Taking into account the cost and her age, we decided not to do the surgery. Her knee healed nicely on its own, and she is now 151 / 2 years old and going strong. Both legs are working great.

Hanna is a midsize mixed-breed pup. She’s not overweight, weighing around 55 pounds.

I read about the study showing that many dogs heal well without costly surgery for torn cruciate ligaments, especially if given proper rest and physical therapy, and I thought you might like to hear about Hanna’s experience.

R.A.R., Kernersville, N.C.

DF: I have been waving the flag of caution over torn cruciate ligament surgery now for several years. It is good that more clinical evidence is being published to support my conservative approach to this all-too-common condition.

It might be best prevented by keeping dogs lean and well exercised, neutering closer to full physical maturity and avoidance of over-vaccination, especially for canine distemper.

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