Dear Dr. Fox:

In working with sick animals as they pass on, have you ever gotten a sense of how they feel about humans ending their lives when they are ill?

Although we rationalize it as the most caring and compassionate course of action, do we really have the right to do that to other beings? How do the animals think and feel about it?

R.B., Philadelphia

DF: In my experience euthanizing animals, and in my limited experience with hospice care for people, fear is the biggest issue.

When people or animals know they are going to die, and they are not at peace or feel insecure, they need all the help that caregivers can provide to make the transition as smooth as possible.

I contend that it is our duty to free animals under our care from intractable, incurable suffering.

Animals have ways of letting us know they’re okay, once we get through our own guilt, anger, helplessness, depression and other feelings that can sweep over us when we relive the events leading up to the time when a humane death — euthanasia — is administered.

Musty odor remains

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an 11-year-old spayed mix-breed dog. She has a musty odor that will not go away, even after a bath. I have changed her food to no avail.

E.B., Archdale, N.C.

DF: Older dogs often develop a distinct odor, which can be quite penetrating when one is close to them or sharing the same room.

The smell is usually associated with the kidneys and liver not working as well as they should in ridding the body of waste products and toxins.

A generic approach to this geriatric issue is a regimen of regular exercise, weight management and a weekly “dry bath” (rubbing in and brushing out baby powder to absorb and remove odors).

You might try various natural herbal spray products, such as PetzLife Bath Eaze, which is a bathless shampoo and conditioner, or Odorz Off bedding odor remover.

Launder your dog’s bedding weekly, using detergent with natural fragrances. In many instances, a periodic shampoo with Selsun Blue and daily supplements of brewer’s yeast and flaxseed oil (about one teaspoon of each) in the dog’s food can be of great help.

A change in body odor can also mean a change in activity and the content of the skin’s oil. A full veterinary checkup would be worth the investment, if you trust your nose as a potential diagnostic tool. Some smelly old dogs, for example, have poor thyroid or adrenal gland function, and no amount of shampooing is going to address the cause.

Litter box OPTIONS

Dear Dr. Fox:

Are wood pellets safe for kitty litter? I know pine is not good for cats, but I heard some shelters use the pellets. I use World’s Best, but it’s expensive with five cats.

S.P., Minnetonka, Minn.

DF: Wood pellets (and also cedar chips and shavings) might contain dioxins and other potentially toxic chemicals, especially if made from treated lumber, and their absorbency of cat urine might be poor.

Recycled newspaper pellets, such as Purina’s Yesterday’s News, are more absorbent and might be safer than wood pellets. I have tried various cat litters, including imported coconut fiber, which can be very messy. In spite of the expense, I use the corn-based World’s Best cat litter.

Some cats are allergic to corn in their food. I know of one cat whose cystitis cleared up after she was given a corn-free diet but came back when a corn-based litter was used.

Clay-based litters can be dusty and contain silica and other particulate material. Also, I advise that you not use scented cat litter. Cats can become allergic or develop hypersensitivity to synthetic fragrances, including room air fresheners.

Challenge your cat

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an energetic and bored 5-year-old rescue cat, a part flame, part Siamese named Ziggy. He’s very bright and can open doors and respond to commands.

I’d like to teach him more tricks, but I haven’t found anything of interest. Is there a Web site you might suggest?

B.D., Leland, N.C.

DF: I am glad to learn of your interest in making life more stimulating for Ziggy.

My book “Supercat: How to Raise the Perfect Feline Companion” has a full section on providing environmental enrichment, games and challenging IQ tests for cats.

Don’t forget the best provision for a single cat is a companion. Two cats living together are generally healthier and happier than those that live alone.

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.

2012 United Feature Syndicate