Dear Dr. Fox:

My new poodle, a rescue, is sweet, shy and adjusting to her surroundings. Her only problem is that she chews newspapers. She had been neglected in her previous home. What can I do to stop this, and is she trying to tell me there’s something wrong?

C.B., Bethesda

DF: The set response to your common complaint is to keep newspapers away from your dog, but one should always wonder why dogs sometimes do odd things, such as chewing newspapers.

Is she playing, and does she need more suitable and safe chew toys? Perhaps she developed this behavior out of boredom or having been confined in a crate or cage with newspapers on the bottom.

I would have a veterinary checkup done soon, because an abnormal appetite (called pica) can be associated with inflammation in the mouth, such as tonsillitis or gingivitis.

Chewing and swallowing things might help relieve discomfort in the mouth or a stomach ache caused by worms. If your dog is a toy rather than standard poodle, her teeth and gums might need immediate veterinary attention.

Upstairs, downstairs

Dear Dr. Fox:

I recently wrote in about our two cats. The first one had a bowel problem, and you asked us to write back about the type of food we switched to that fixed it.

We were feeding him Friskies, but after reading your book on why cats have trouble processing many dry cat foods, we switched him to Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance. We used the green pea and chicken variety. The bowel issues have not recurred with either the canned or dry food.

Our other cat developed a habit of urinating in our basement. We lived in this house for four years before the problem started. The concrete floor was painted when we first moved in.

We took him to a veterinarian to have him checked for urinary tract issues. We cleaned the entire floor with a safe, homemade cleaning solution that we read about in your book. We used a black light to try to detect and clean up after the urinating, but none of this helped. We also used a pheromone room diffuser, which made the problem worse. We tried a pheromone spray, added extra litter boxes, tuck-pointed the walls (we were afraid that the slight crumbling of mortar was confusing and might be seen as cat litter) and repainted the floor.

We would welcome any suggestions you might have to stop this behavior.

C.P., St. Louis

DF: I always appreciate feedback from readers who have found my advice helpful (or not) in dealing with health or behavioral problems involving their dogs and cats.

You have really done all that you can to solve your cat’s unwanted behavior, and I commend you for your endurance!

Many cats develop a habitual place-fixation of evacuating outside their litter boxes on the basement floor. I interpret this behavior as being triggered by the earthy and sometimes moldy scent of the cement floor. Most cats will stop soiling the floor when it is sealed with a few coats of epoxy resin-type paint. Temporarily, after cleaning or treating the floor with a sealant, I would cover it with thick plastic sheeting. You can drag this outside, hose it down and let it dry as needed.

Relocating the litter box and whatever else is in the basement for the cats to one of the upper floors is another option.

Rabies shot reaction

Dear Dr. Fox:

In October, we had our two beagles get their rabies shots from a veterinary house-call service. Two weeks later, neither could stand, and they dragged their rear ends on the floor. The vet said they probably had arthritis.

Is this just a coincidence, or could the shots have been tainted? The dogs are 12 years old. They have a hard time walking and both limp. A back leg seems to be the problem for both dogs.

M.K., Clinton

DF: The answer that the veterinarian gave you is unacceptable.

Both of your dogs becoming suddenly lame at the same time in one back leg can mean one of two things: The vaccine was improperly injected and caused damage to the sciatic nerve, or the vaccine resulted in a gradual-onset inflammatory reaction, causing your dogs pain.

Heat packs and massage applied to the afflicted limbs might help speed your dogs’ recovery.

You should contact your state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners if the veterinary house-call service does not make a free house call to check out your dogs and their conditions.

Adverse reactions to vaccinations are not uncommon in dogs and humans alike, and I am appalled by the cavalier attitude of many health-care professionals on this issue of vaccinosis (vaccine-induced disease). I am an advocate for safe, effective, justified and closely monitored vaccinations. For details on this important subject, check out my article at

Itchy and scratchy

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have two female mixed-breed dogs. Both have been spayed. Sadie is almost 13 years old, and Pudge is almost 11.

I have washed them in flea shampoo, and both wear flea collars, but they scratch and lick their hindquarters incessantly. Sadie’s back legs are now bare; Pudge’s hair is thinning.

The licking and hair loss alarm me. They will often lick until a small puddle forms on the floor. They have had all their shots.

B.M., Hays, N.C.

DF: Your poor dogs must be suffering. Please understand that many — probably millions — of people think that when a dog scratches a lot, it must have fleas. So they treat the dog with costly and hazardous chemicals in collars, dips, drops and pills.

If there is only one flea, some dogs will scratch like mad because they are allergic to flea bites. Others are less bothered by fleas. But there are other reasons why dogs scratch.

You should have a veterinarian examine your dogs to rule out fleas and consider other causes. At the top of my list would be an allergy or hypersensitivity to an ingredient in their food.

You should also consider something they might contact frequently, such as a chemically treated deck or lawn, new or recently cleaned carpet or floor, or possible inhalation of air freshener.

You must become a detective. And buy a flea comb!

Ottoman is HIS empire

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have had a cat for almost seven years now, and he is not declawed. When Jasper was a kitten, I went to the store and brought home an inexpensive ottoman for the living room. Jasper started to claw it immediately. I figured that if he was going to scratch at that and nothing else in the house, it was okay by me.

To this day, he still runs to that ottoman and nothing else.

J.F., Kensington

DF: I wish that more cat owners (and pet owners in general) had your philosophical attitude of “live and let live.”

Too many cat owners declaw their cats rather than giving them scratching posts, boards or selected furniture. Many pet owners do not accommodate their animals’ behavioral needs sufficiently to optimize their pets’ well-being. The end result can be frustration, stress, distress and the genesis of abnormal behaviors.

It is everyone’s duty to learn about, appreciate and provide for their animals’ basic needs. This is the right of all creatures, great and small.

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