Dear Dr. Fox:

I’m having an ongoing argument with my husband about cleaning out the litter box, which he is now doing because I am pregnant.

We have two adopted cats, and they dirty the box quickly. My husband says it’s fine to clean out the box last thing at night, and I say it should be done three times a day.

I think my cats like a relatively clean box, which is uncovered without a dome, as you advise.

M.S., Houston

DF: This is not the first time this issue has come up in my column. You have to train your husband.

Have him flush the toilet you share — use only one if you have more — just once a day and leave the lid up. Try that for a few days. His Paleolithic brain might be tweaked to appreciate using a clean, flushed toilet and thus make a magical, empathic leap into the psyches of your two cats.

The litter box should be cleaned three to four times daily, and fresh litter put in to replace the soiled litter as needed. Surely your husband has noticed how fastidious cats are about their personal hygiene, carefully grooming themselves and each other.

Having to use a litter box with buried feces and clumps of urine is like treading through a veritable minefield for any cat that does not like to get dirty paws that have to be cleaned afterward, sometimes causing the cat to ingest adhering cat litter and feces in the process.

It is wise for all pregnant women to have someone else clean out the cat litter box because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, which studies in Britain have linked to depression, suicide and schizophrenia in adults, in addition to blindness and neurological problems in infants.

Pregnant women should never eat meat that has not been well cooked, because this is a major source of toxoplasmosis, and high heat destroys the parasite. Use gloves in the garden, because soil contaminated with cat waste could carry this parasite, which free-roaming cats can also bring into homes when they kill and eat rodents.

Ear mite infections

Dear Dr. Fox:

Do you have a remedy for eliminating ear mites? Does witch hazel work? Is it safe for dogs?

P.R., Duluth, Minn.

DF: This mite, otodectes cynotis, is passed from animal to animal by direct contact. There can be a cat in a home with no evident symptoms, and a dog in the same home will get the mites in its ears, causing the dog to scratch and shake in obvious distress.

These mites can infest the face and other parts of the body, but they are most often confined to the external ear canals. They cause a dark brown or black tarry secretion.

The best treatment is with an insecticide such as ivermectin drops or pyrethrin. I would not use herbal products, because effectiveness might not be as good as with insecticidal drugs, especially when the infested dog is suffering greatly.

For best results, the ears must be thoroughly cleaned before applying medication. Repeated treatment after seven to 10 days is advisable. Witch hazel is a soothing herb for many skin and ear issues, but it will have no significant effect on the offending mites.

Fat cat needs NEW DIET

Dear Dr. Fox:

I think my question might be a common one. I have a normal, healthy 3-year-old neutered orange tabby cat that is overweight. He is outside about three hours a day.

For the past year, I have been feeding him nothing but dry diet food — different brands — three-fourths cup per day, which is less than the manufacturer recommends. During this time, he has not lost one ounce.

He stays at 20 pounds every time I weigh him. I know he is not eating any birds or mice, and he never leaves the back yard, so I know no one else is feeding him. He is hungry all the time.

Should I be concerned about his weight issue? Is it indicating a potential medical problem, or is he just a big cat?

B.F., Medford, Ore.

DF: I’m glad you’re concerned, because there is a virtual epidemic of obesity in cats and dogs, as well as people, today, with health complications shared by all three species.

These complications include diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart and circulatory problems, arthritis and cognitive impairment. The list goes on.

Please make every effort to gradually switch your cat to a diet free of grains and soy — canned, dry or raw. For details, go to

Many cats on high-fiber, weight-reducing diets suffer from constant hunger and malnutrition. Feed your cat four to six teaspoon-size meals daily.

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