Dear Dr. Fox:

My question concerns your relatively recent advice on cleaning cats’ teeth, a process requiring anesthesia. If you recommend this for a healthy animal, how often should a cat be subjected to it?

In my childhood, we had many pets over the years, and they all lived long lives — 18 to 20 years old — and their teeth were never cleaned.

M.C., the District

DF: Some will argue that cats in years past did not receive adequate veterinary preventive care. But in years past, many cats were allowed to roam free, killing small prey that naturally helped keep their teeth clean.Nor were they fed high-fiber, processed ingredients, such as the microparticulate, glutinous materials in many canned and dry cat foods.

Regrettably, periodontal and other gum and tooth diseases are all too common in cats and dogs, especially toy and brachiocephalic (pushed-in face) breeds with crammed and misaligned teeth. Neglected, these oral diseases cause animals pain, misery and secondary infections spreading to the heart, liver and kidneys.

Daily brushing (with equal parts salt and baking soda), safe chew toys and periodic treatments with specific oral care products — such as those from PetzLife — will help reduce the need for annual dental cleaning under a general anesthetic. This is a high-risk procedure for many animals and could be avoided if owners took better care of their pets’ mouths.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 24-year-old grandson got his first adopted dog, a 1-year-old black Labrador mix. He takes really good care of her.

She had a hot spot, which she licked until it bled. He took her to the vet, who shaved the spot and put some kind of cream on it. The vet said he had to anesthetize the dog because he was afraid she would bite him.

Why would he do that? It’s a very small spot, and he charged more than $350. I am upset that he took advantage of my grandson and that the dog was anesthetized unnecessarily.

N.W., St. Louis

DF: I am receiving too many letters like yours that disturb me deeply.

Your grandson owes it to his dog and to all other animals who might be seen by this veterinarian to file a complaint with the Board of Veterinary Examiners. This veterinarian is putting animals at risk and overcharging clients for an unnecessary procedure: He used anesthetization rather than simply muzzling or giving a sedative injection and then restraining the dog as needed.

I also question the treatment. The dog would lick off any ointment put on the hot spot without some protective covering or neck restrainer. If no possible cause of the hot spot was considered (such as flea bite hypersensitivity) and no steps taken to stop the dog from reaching and licking the lesion, I think a full inquiry is called for.

Shoulder deformity

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 6-year-old male seal point Himalayan cat, Jojo, started limping about six months ago. We took him to a vet after the limp seemed to get worse.

The physical exam was unable to provoke any pain response, and no swelling was noted. X-rays of the right and left shoulders showed a growth on both approximate to the humerus/shoulder. The growth is considerably larger on the right, and his limp appears to involve the right front side.

Unfortunately, I do not have a specific name for this condition and cannot research the diagnosis to obtain alternative care other than a humeral head osteotomy, which has been mentioned by a consulting surgeon as a future possibility but is not recommended at this time because of a questionable outcome.

Jojo has one capsule of Dasuquin per day. For pain, he can receive a small amount of aspirin every 72 hours. I have not started the aspirin because of potential liver and kidney issues.

We bought Jojo and his brother, Mokie (who died of fibrocystic kidney disease at 3), from a private breeder. We are not aware of any injury or trauma.

P.V., Kansas City, Mo.

DF: I suspect that your poor cat has a congenital deformity in both shoulder joints, the instability caused by dysplasia of the joints leading to the abnormal bone and connective tissue proliferation.

This is how the cat’s body is reacting in an attempt to stabilize the joints. The inflammatory reaction might be temporarily alleviated by short-term treatment with steroids.

Long-term benefit might come from anti-inflammatory turmeric and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, as provided in fish oils. Discuss sources and dosage with your veterinarian.

Organically certified free-range poultry and other meats and dairy products contain more omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally corn-fed and factory farm animals.

Be sure your cat is on a corn- and grain-free diet. I would advise against invasive surgery. My massage therapy book, “The Healing Touch for Cats,” might help you make life more comfortable for Jojo with a daily massage.

Any discomfort in one part of the body will throw the rest of the body out of balance and possibly lead to secondary injuries. Inform the breeder of Jojo’s condition and Mokie’s demise.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 11-year-old male cat will eat only dry Kitten Chow. He will sometimes eat cantaloupe when we have it in the summer.

He is a house cat that scratches up furniture and is timid. He has never been ill until lately, and he now has a sore left eye. Forget about changing food — he tries to bury anything besides Kitten Chow. Is it okay if he continues eating this? I have plenty of fresh water around.

What can I do for the eye? The last cat I took to the vet was so afraid, he died of a heart attack.

V.T., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

DF: Considering your cat’s age and evident addiction to dry food, try gradually switching him over to a dry food that has no corn or soy ingredients.

There are several improved brands on the market — just read the labels. My Web site,, has brands that I recommend.

His eye condition does concern me. He might have an infection or a turned-in eyelash, which could lead to ulceration of the cornea or blindness.

There are veterinarians who make house calls, so check your Yellow Pages to find one who will go to your home to examine your cat and provide appropriate treatment. Going to the veterinary hospital can be extremely stressful for some cats, and I sympathize with the loss of your other cat.

Putting cats into a boarding facility can also be stressful and result in post-traumatic stress disorder. This is why I advise either an early-in-life boarding experience or in-home care for people going away on vacation without their cats.

Prescription diets

Dear Dr. Fox:

We are concerned about our 2-year-old female Maltese’s diet. In January, she started to vomit and have bloody diarrhea every day.

Our vet put her on Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d Allergen Free dog food, and the problem stopped. I am a believer in holistic, healthy food for my Maltese and would like to get her off the Hill’s, but every time I try to change her diet, she has the same problem. After about 10 days, she starts the vomiting.

We adopted a Shih Tzu when she was 11 / 2. She will be 3 in December, and she cannot digest grains. We think that is why people had to give her up. I have her on the same food.

J.S., Bonita Springs, Fla.

DF: There are several dog food manufacturers, such as Wellness, Merrick and Organix, marketing grain-free dog foods, and you can try variations of the home-prepared diet on my Web site.

I agree with you that many prescription diets are far removed from organic, whole-food dietary formulations, but some are better than others and have a place in holistic veterinary medicine. For special veterinary-formulated recipes for a variety of dog and cat health problems that you can prepare at home from known ingredients, go to

Remember, when trying any dietary transition with your dog, take about 10 days, removing 10 percent of his regular food and replacing it with the same amount of the new food. Increase in 10 percent increments until it’s all the new food. Give him digestive enzymes and probiotics with the food.

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