Dear Dr. Fox:

How do I know whether my cat has fleas if I do not see one crawling on her?

R.S., Houston

DF: The best test is to check for flea droppings on your cat, using a fine flea comb. The droppings look like tiny flecks of shiny, black-brown coal dust in the fur of infested cats. The flecks turn brownish-red if you brush or flea-comb them onto white paper and add a drop of water. It’s dried, flea-digested cat blood.

The simplest controls are to flea-comb your cat every day, especially if the cat gets outdoors. (One reason to make cats enjoy life indoors and never want or need to go outside is so they won’t keep picking up fleas, and worse, outdoors.) If you trap a flea in the comb, dunk it in a bowl of sudsy water.

Vacuum all floor surfaces and furniture where the cat sits and lies every three to five days to gather up flea larvae and hatchling fleas. Sprinkle these areas with Fleabusters borate powder. Put clean sheets on the furniture for the cats to lie on.

Trap fleas with a low-wattage light suspended over a pan of sudsy water placed on the floor where there is the most cat traffic. Fleas are attracted to the warmth. This flea trap is very good when people are away on vacation or getting ready to move into a new home.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I would like to buy PetzLife gel but I am not sure how to use it. Do you apply it with your fingers to coat the dog’s teeth? Do you put it on a piece of food?

We have a German shepherd mix, and he is not used to fingers in his mouth. I am almost certain that he would not let me apply the product this way.

M.F., Minneapolis

DF: This is an excellent product to keep dogs’ teeth and gums healthy. I got my dogs used to the taste by first putting a little on my finger and letting them lick, then I massaged their gums. They like the taste.

It is important to get to the back teeth (the big molars) where tartar or scale builds up. If the tartar is very thick, apply the gel for a few days. If it does not loosen — try using a fingernail — have the teeth professionally cleaned and then maintain them with daily treatments of PetzLife Oral Care Gel. My dogs also got used to the spray.

There is no use in putting the gel on food that will simply be swallowed. Putting it on a chew toy is okay, but it will not get to all the teeth unless you apply it.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My husband and I bought a replacement recliner chair for our living room. It’s a light color and a different material from the old one. Ever since it was delivered more than a week ago, our 2-year-old Sheltie has been traumatized and has lost his bright and fun-loving ways.

He runs through the room to get outside to the deck or to the backyard. He refuses to stay in the room with us, instead going to the bathroom where he sleeps. Even his playtime outside is down about 80 percent. He simply does not have any desire to be in the house or with us.

We have tried leashing him and having him sit with us while we are in the chair. We also sat him in our laps in the chair. He just shakes and bides his time to get down and get back outside.

Before this, he was a very engaging little guy, not happy to have strangers around, but happy otherwise. What can we do to get him over this?

C.W., Sequim, Wash.

DF: Shelties can be very sensitive, and you need to determine which of his senses are being disturbed by the new recliner. Does it emit a high-frequency sound when you move it or move on it? Perhaps it needs lubricant or a cover to muffle squeaky sounds that the dog could misinterpret as a small animal’s distress calls.

Does it have a strange odor — tanned leather — or possibly toxic stuffing from China? Some readers have told me that they got a bad rash from new recliners and that their dogs scratched like mad after lying on them, and on new dog beds filled with heaven-knows-what.

Flame-retardant chemicals in furniture foam are highly toxic and are linked to thyroid disease in dogs, cats and people.

Cover the recliner with a well-used bed sheets imbued with your body odor. This might help your dog accept this new thing in his environment. But return the recliner to the store if you are in doubt about what it is filled with. Like the canary in the mine, your dog might be alerting you to something that you do not want in your home.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I’ve been making your dog food recipe for almost three years. Solid Gold has quit making the bone meal, and I can’t find it anywhere else.

I know you have mentioned other options, but which do you prefer? I keep finding calcium tablets plus D, and that D concerns me. I’m not sure whether it’s good for the pups.

Also, our 2-year-old mixed-breed pup has a terrible anal gland problem. I don’t know whether to consider surgery. His glands release sm awful smell at least once a day. It’s clear that he doesn’t like it, either.

V.V., Brunswick, Md.

DF: The cheapest — but not the best — source of calcium is from oyster shells, available in tablet form in most drugstores without vitamin D. On my Web site, I list various calcium supplements, one of the best being calcium citrate. It is available from GNC with or without vitamin D, small amounts of which will not harm dogs.

Giving about 250 milligrams daily per 30 to 40 pounds of body weight in the home-prepared diet should provide an optimal amount of calcium for a healthy dog.

Growing pups, especially of the giant breeds, need ample dietary calcium, but excessive levels can interfere with the uptake of other essential minerals. A balanced multimineral and multivitamin supplement is advisable.

Some sources of calcium, such as bone meal and oyster shells, can be high in toxic chemicals such as fluoride and lead. These are best avoided.

Anal gland problems often require irrigation under general anesthesia and packing with antibiotics and steroids, coupled with a test hypoallergenic or all-natural, single-protein (lamb, venison) diet. Chronic inflammation and infection of the anal gland and/or ears can indicate food allergies in dogs.

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, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011 United Feature Syndicate