Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a 16-year-old rat terrier we got as a puppy. He is almost deaf and partially blind, and he has arthritis in his back legs and one front leg.

Nine months ago, he started urinating and defecating in the house. He just stopped telling us when he wanted to go outside — he squats wherever he is at the moment. I have several wraps with extra pads, and they help to an extent with the urinating, but not at all with his defecating.

I took him to the vet in February; she said it was just part of the aging process. She said other than the accidents, my dog is healthy.

The vet said to have cleanup stations positioned around the house and to leave him outside to try to help keep the mess outdoors. I’ve been doing what she said, but it’s just getting worse each day.

He used to sleep until we got up in the morning, but now he gets up at 6 a.m. for his breakfast. If I don’t get downstairs in time, I am met with quite a mess on the floor.

He has gotten angrier in his old age. When I pick him up to put him outside, he growls and tries to bite me. He does that with my husband, too. I’ve noticed that when I pick him up to bring him inside, he doesn’t get upset at all.

While he’s outside, he walks back and forth in a line waiting to come back in the house. He stopped walking with us a few months ago; he seems to have no interest in it anymore.

I never could have imagined the last nine months being like this.

J.M.P., Centreville

DF: Your letter is very important to dog (and cat) owners whose beloved pets are relatively healthy in terms of heart, kidney and liver functions but are now incontinent, becoming blind or deaf, and are more fearful and aggressive because of painful arthritis, sensory and cognitive impairment, and other age-related issues.

My wife and I went through the same situation for months with our 17-year-old dog, Lizzie. Like you, we were exhausted and devoted caregivers. We called in a second opinion from a veterinarian specializing in hospice care. Soon after, she administered in-home euthanasia.

I think this is the path for you to take with your dog, considering the quality of life of all involved. Check my Web site,, for my article on hospice care for pets. And look for a veterinarian who does house calls and can help you along this final path.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 5-year-old tabby gets rodent ulcers on her upper lip. This occurs every six weeks to three months. She has had them since she was 2.

The vet has been giving her laser treatments for the past year. She gets a Depo-Medrol shot. This time she had to take ClindaCure twice a day.

I feed her from stainless steel and ceramic bowls that I disinfect with baking soda and vinegar. She eats 9Lives and Fancy Feast dry food; Whiskas, Friskies and Fancy Feast wet food; and Friskies treats.

I was told to put aloe vera on her lips. But should it be from the live plant — I thought it was poisonous to cats — or the gel from a tube?

R.A.S., Maysville, W.Va.

DF: Rodent ulcers are disfiguring skin lesions afflicting the upper lip region of cats.

They might be triggered by a contact allergy to certain food ingredients, drinking water contaminants or leached chemicals from plastic food and water bowls. The cat’s raspy tongue aggravates the problem with constant licking, which removes medications applied to help heal the ulcer.

Give your cat pure, filtered water and switch to a single protein or hypoallergenic cat food such as Wellness or Organix. Alternatively, try my home-prepared cat food recipe. After two weeks or so, switch from chicken to turkey, then to lamb and see how your cat responds. If she licks more, you might have identified which protein is triggering the allergy.

Some cat experts think aloe vera is toxic to cats. Organic olive oil has amazing healing properties and is safe to consume. Apply it four to six times daily, cuddling your cat to stop any licking for as long as you can.

dirt in moderation

Dear Dr. Fox:

My dog likes to eat dirt! I try to stop him, but when he is free in our yard, he will go to one corner, dig in the soil and gobble some before I can stop him.

He never seems to eat much, and he never throws up. Should I let him continue or put a muzzle on him?

K.L.P., St. Louis

DF: Dogs and many wild animal species regularly eat dirt, often selecting a particular kind.

Clay contains gut-soothing compounds similar to kaolin and beneficial minerals such as iron and magnesium. Dark, humus-containing soil rich in beneficial bacteria helps improve digestive processes and, acting as a probiotic, boosts immune system functions.

I say all things in moderation, even for dirt eating. A 30-pound dog can eat a tablespoon once in a while. If your dog is obsessive about it and is constantly seeking out dirt to eat, he might have an underlying medical problem such as anemia.

Living in relatively sterile indoor environments and being fed heat-sterilized, processed pet foods, cats and dogs might suffer from intestinal dysbiosis, a deficiency in the variety and number of beneficial bacteria in their digestive systems.

This can be aggravated by the inclusion of genetically engineered corn and soy in their diets. This is why some pet food manufacturers are adding probiotics to their dry dog and cat foods. And it is the reason I advise the routine inclusion of quality probiotics, present in organic sources such as plain cultured yogurt and kefir, in pets’ diets.

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