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Ask Your Animal Doctor
Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Dr. Michael Fox Dr. Michael W. Fox answered questions from readers about pet behavior and care.

Dr. Fox, born in England, obtained his veterinary degree from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, and moved to the U.S. in 1962, subsequently earning his Ph.D. and Doctor of Science. He serves as a consulting veterinarian, animal behaviorist and international lecturer. He has authored over 40 books on animal behavior and care, has the syndicated newspaper column "Ask Your Animal Doctor" and is a frequent guest on national TV and radio network shows. Dr. Fox is also the chief consultant and contributing editor to PetCity.com.


Moderator: Welcome to Viewpoint with our guest, Dr. Michael W. Fox. Dr. Fox, thank you for joining us, and let's get started.

Washington, D.C.: My dog constantly licks her feet. Is there anything I can do to make her stop? Her nails are cut and feet are clean, even my vet can't explain this. Can you help?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Dogs lick their feet when they are suffering from a contact dermatitis or a food allergy. These should be checked for by your veterinarian. Another reason is boredom. So I would recommend plenty of physical exercises and games with your dog.

Great Falls, VA: Can a cat who is not affectionate but very active and inquisitive, be made to be more affectionate? The age of the cat is approximately 2 years.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Some cats, as I emphasize in my book "Understanding Your Cat" can be very affectionate as kittens, but when their personalities mature they do not enjoy the same intensity of physical contact. So do not force it. Accept your cat for who she is and relate to her on her terms, petting and grooming her when she wants.

Adams Morgan, DC:
My one year old tabby cat often sounds like he's congested with heavy breathing that can be loud at times. When I first got him I brought him to the vet and they put him on antibiotics. This didn't have much of an effect. Is this a possibly serious condition or should I ignore it?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Your cat most probably has an allergic bronchitis, which can be induced especially by pollen but also any aerosols you may be using in your home. I hope you don't smoke. Antibiotics will not help as you have discovered. You need to thoroughly investigate your cat's environment, use an air purifier, or ionizer, and put microfilters on your air conditioning units.

Bowie, Maryland: Please! Please! Give me an alternate treatment for a 4 year chronic ear infection in my golden retriever. I've had him tested for allergies with no success. Systemic antibiotics and no success. I am out of thousands of dollars with no success. The next step unfortunately is something not too great for the dog and heartbreaking for me.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Chronic ear infections sometimes need corrective surgery to open up the dog's external ear canal. In my experience when cleaning and antibiotic medication does not work, you need to look at the dog's diet. Adding a multi-mineral and vitamin supplement, plus one teaspoonful of flax seed oil and also making up your own homemade recipe of dog food from natural ingredients may help. Some ear problems seem to be related to food allergies and nutrient deficiencies.

Lorton, VA: Is there any way to boost a puppy's immune system?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The best way to boost a puppy's immune system is a wholesome, healthful diet, ideally containing organic ingredients. Good nutrition is the cornerstone for health, coupled with regular exercise and love and understanding. A healthy puppy does not need special herbal supplements like echinacea to boost the immune system. Avoid stress, such as noisy and rough children, and be mindful that the puppy's immune system is weakened for some time after the puppy has been vaccinated.

Washington, D.C.: I have 3 cats: 18-year-old female, 8 year-old female and 2-year-old male....They all are indoor-outdoor, are healthy and "get along."
The 8- and 2-year-olds wrestle and romp occasionally, but I worry that the young male seems lonely, needs a younger companion to play with full-time...should I?
Four cats might be a bit much....

Dr. Michael W. Fox: In some cat families, two will form a strong bond leaving the third one out as you have experienced. Sometimes bringing an additional cat in can cause conflict in the social structure that has developed. So approach with caution and consider adopting a healthy young kitten who will hopefully bond with the young newcomer so that you will have a happy family of four cats. Remember to encourage the two cats that play together and be protective of the newcomer when first being introduced, since there will be some sniffing, swiping, and hissing.

Reston, VA: Dr. Fox, would you please explain the possible effects that declawing a cat can have? I have heard that declawing can affect a cat's skeletal system over time.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The declawing of cats is a serious animal welfare and ethical issue. The procedure is analogous to having your finger tips removed, since cats use their claws not just for clawing but for delicate manipulations, and they are extremely sensitive appendages. Cats can be trained to use scratch posts and rather than putting a cat up for adoption that claws furniture, or having his claws removed, I would remove the furniture.

Alexandria, VA: My dog is 15 years old and is part Norwegian elkhound and part black Labrador. In general, he is healthy, however since the heat wave has hit the Washington area, he has been skipping his daily meal, occasionally every two or three days and is lethargic when he goes outside for his walks. Should we be concerned about his health? Also, now that he is a "senior" should we be giving him a special diet with fortified vitamins? We feed him dry food for the "inactive dog"

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Your senior citizen canine should not be skipping his meals. Just as with elderly people, it is essential that a good dietary intake of nutritious food is maintained on a regular basis, otherwise there can be very serious complications. When did he last go for a checkup with the veterinarian? I would have his heart and circulatory system carefully checked out and in hot weather, take him out early morning and late in the evening and avoid strenuous exercise. Old dogs should never be forced to be active in hot weather.

Meridian, MS: What's the best thing I can do to lengthen my dog's lifespan?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: The best you can do to lengthen your dog's life span is to embrace and practice the following basic animal rights, which mean owner responsibilities: Right Nutrition; Right Understanding; Right Environment; Right Veterinary Care. For more details, check my book "Understanding Your Dog", and also "The Healing Touch". A warning to all dog and cat owners: Discuss with your veterinarian the possible risks associated with the still widely recommended annual booster vaccinations, since there is a growing consensus that for protection against many diseases, adult animals only need to be vaccinated every three years, and giving a combination of vaccines at the same time is to be avoided.

York, Pa: How do you know if your puppy has worms? If the dog has been wormed can they still get worms?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Even when the mother dog has been wormed during pregnancy, the puppies may still be born with worms or become infested during the first few weeks of life. Most of these internal parasites can be discovered by the veterinarian taking a fecal sample from your puppy and examining it for the presence of worm eggs. It is important to check out puppies and kittens for these parasites because they can cause serious health problems in people, especially children.

Falls Church, VA: Why are my birds so noisy? When we first got them they just sat in their cage and would only talk when they were hungry. Now they won't shut up.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I think if I lived in a cage all my life, I would either be silent or squawk my head off. But in all seriousness, your birds are probably enjoying life...you don't say what species...and it's their way of communicating with each other and of expressing their natures. It is possible that if they had more to do with their lives, they might spend less time engaging in vocal activities. Do they have a room to fly around in, or a large flight cage? Boredom in caged birds can lead to a variety of behavior problems, feather pulling and self-mutilation being common and excessive vocalization, especially when alone and lonely. Try to provide your birds with more freedom and novel objects to manipulate and investigate. Leaving a radio or TV on when you leave them alone may also help enrich their environment. Same for dogs and cats, whose human companions are away at work all day.

Manassas, Virginia: We have a 6-month-old dalmation/Labrador mix. She is very calm but we have problems keeping her out of the kitchen and from eating the cat food and cat feces out of the litter box. How do I stop her from doing these things?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Cats can jump over those expandable door gates that people put up to keep kids and puppies out of certain rooms. So I advise you to train the cat to either jump over or crawl under the expandable gate to get to her litter box. Cats like to have the litter box located in a quiet, low-traffic area of the house. You may want to consider allowing your cat to eat on a kitchen counter where the dog cannot reach her food. Eventually your young dog should grow out of her desire to snack from the litter box. But the cat food will always be a temptation.

Alexandria, Virginia: Hi, I have two miniature poodles -- one male, one female. They are approximately 2 years apart...both very good companions, funny and smart. But they certainly act like siblings, rivals and yet they can be very playful together. Question: The older, male dog has become more aggressive ... he in fact has traumatized the younger, female dog to the point where she won't eat...until very late at night and when the male dog is out of sight. He intentionally puts his treats in front of her and growls at her. How do I modify his behavior? I treat him as the "top" dog...feed him first, pet him first.... Worry sometimes. Any suggestions?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: It is amazing how some dogs become bullies, just like some children. You need to intervene and behave like the alpha wolf in the pack. Whenever the older male dog shows any aggression toward the younger female, you should give him a loud verbal reprimand "no, bad dog", and either pick him up and put him in another room for time out, or in a dog crate. Alternatively, you can shake him by the scruff of the neck and hold him down until he submits to you. You may want to wear protective gloves because he may protest initially when you become the alpha wolf. He should learn to be more chivalrous and behave like a well-mannered dog. It's my guess that he has been overindulged by you and is a canine delinquent who needs behavior modification!

Los Angeles, California: Where can I adopt a pet?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: You can adopt a pet from your local shelter or humane society. Please check our web site petcity.com for some leads under the adoption and rescue section. Also look out for an upcoming article by Mary Jane Checchi on What's the Right Pet For Me? We are very sensitive at petcity.com about puppy mills and the wholesale commercial trade in pets and exotic animals. We seek to link those who care with those who care in all arenas, commercial, educational, recreational, and inspirational, when it comes to our relationships with all living creatures.

SW, DC: I have a three year old loveable mutt. Will she still benefit from obedience school or is she considered an "old dog" for purposes of a "new trick"?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: An old dog is never too old to learn new tricks, and certainly a three-year-old dog is far from being too old to be educated. It is my conviction that all dogs should receive some basic training and petcity.com will be providing the necessary basics and leads in this domain. There are some very excellent and some very bad dog trainers who give obedience classes, or will take your dog and "train it." It's best to go to classes with your dog and teach your dog the basics of good manners and simple obedience, which will make your dog a better companion for life.

Waxahachie, Tx: My 15-year-old dog gets plenty to eat, but begs for more non-stop. At her age, I hate to make her miserable by denying her food, but I worry about obesity. Is there anything I can give her that will fill her up but not pack on the pounds? She hates diet dog food.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Some dogs beg because they want attention. I've trained mine to wait until I have finished eating and then they always have a taste from my table. If your dog is ravenously hungry, she may have a serious nutritional deficiency, which was probably caused by the low cal, high fiber diet that your poor dog has been put on in order to lose weight. So your dog needs some quality food and I would supplement her diet with cooked whole-grain rice, pasta, scrambled egg, cottage cheese, and so forth. A thorough physical exam by a veterinarian would also be advisable.

Culpeper, Virginia: Our 14 year old, 3-leg, fragile but very friendly English sheepdog broke off the top half of one of her large canine teeth. Our vet said to just watch her to see if she developes pain. He says then he would have to pull her tooth, which would probably break her jaw, but she is too fragile to be put asleep for an operation. Is there anything that can be done that is more humane? Is this tooth going to become abcessed? Thank you so much.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Your dog is very old and is a high risk for surgery. A cracked or broken canine tooth can be quite painful and your veterinarian could prescribe a suitable analgesic to help your dog deal with the tooth problem. I would not elect for surgery. Surprisingly, some dogs with a badly damaged tooth like yours seem to experience no pain while eating. The tooth may die and it is possible that an abscess may develop which could be treated conservatively with antibiotics.

Alexandria, VA: Our 6 year old male Labrador has started having seizures. They occur infrequestly, about once a month. He seizes (trembles, falls over) for about 5 minutes. He does not lose control of his bowels, but occasionally dribbles some urine. The vet wantes to put him on phenobarbital, but we are reluctant to use such a strong drug on a relatively young dog with infrequent seizures. Can we hold off on the phenobarb? Are there any alternatives?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Seizures can be difficult to control and sometimes phenobarbitol is the only solution. Some dogs do well on potassium bromide or primidone. I've heard some success with a high fat diet, making one-third of your dog's daily ration very high fat hamburger lightly cooked. Other dogs seem to do better on a natural whole food, organic diet that you make up yourself. You should avoid subjecting your dog to conditions that may cause stress, overexcitement, and also think twice about having him given booster vaccinations.

Charlottesville, VA: Dr. Fox, My question to you is made with heavy heart. My 11 year old male cat has hyperthyroidism. Last summer he had surgery to remove one side but both were inflammed so it didn't do any good. I can't get him to swallow a Tapazole pill every day. Even the vets can't get him to swallow. I've already called RadioCat but they want $1,200 to treat him which, as a single mother on a very limited income, I just don't have. He's thin...so thin. I don't want to lose him yet. What can I do to try and improve the quality of his beautiful little life and when do I give up the fight? He's just so thin....any advice would be helpful.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: If you do not have difficulty handling your cat, your veterinarian should give you a syringe or cat pill popper so that you can get the Tapazole pill down your cat's throat. Don't be afraid of experimenting...crush the pill and make it into an emulsion with milk or butter and inject it gently toward the back of your cat's throat. This disease is most distressing and all too common and I hope that future veterinary research will come up with ways to prevent it.

Alexandria, VA: Our newly adopted 1-yr-old German shepherd seems to hate both very small dogs and very old dogs. She is very aggressive towards them. She does, however, get along well with other dogs her size. Is there a psychological reason behind this and what can we do to get her to be more accepting of them if not at least less aggressive?

Dr. Michael W. Fox: Your dog is still young and will not mature for another one- 1/2 to two years. So it is critical at this time that you help shape her personality and learn basic obedience training to inhibit her aggressive behavior toward old dogs and small dogs. You should try remotivating her when she shows aggressive intentions, such as calling her name and distracting her by running with her on the leash to chase a ball or frisbee. You must keep her on the leash at all times and teach her the sit and stay commands, and with voice control you should be able to inhibit her in the presence of very small and very old dogs from showing aggression. You need to determine if this is out of fear or a desire to dominate. Under suitable control, even putting a muzzle on if you think necessary, allowing her to stay close to the dogs that trigger this undesirable behavior should eventually result in desensitization. So be patient and be mindful of the possible serious consequences of her not being properly restrained during this critical training period.

Port Angeles, Washington: Dear Dr. Fox,
We have adopted a Chihuahua who has had problems with losing hair for some time. We changed his food to a better quality, began feeding him meat and food supplements (oils) but he has continued to lose most of his top coat and patches of the light gray fur down to his skin. He doesn't scratch much and doesn't seem nervous or upset. Other than the hair loss and flaking skin on the totally bare patches, he seems of good disposition and to be in good health; he's alert, friendly, energetic and loving.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: One of the most common reasons why dogs have dry coats, flaky skin and shed profusely is because their diets are lacking in essential fatty acids. I recommend for a 30-pound dog one teaspoonful per day of organic flax seed oil, or safflower oil mixed in with the food. An occasional scrambled egg is also beneficial.

Dr. Michael W. Fox: I enjoyed responding to your many questions and wish that I could have answered all. I would be happy to meet any of you in person at a slide show that I am giving on June 22nd at the American University, Nebraska Avenue NW, Washington, DC, at the Ward Building, Auditorium, at 6:30 pm. I will be talking about work in India that I am involved in helping make life better for people, their animals, and the wildlife in the jungle that surrounds India Project for Animals and Nature's Animal Refuge. Hope you can come. Don't forget to spread the good word also about www.petcity.com that, in my mind, is the wave of the future to help improve the health and care of our animal companions and enhance and enrich our relationships with them.

Moderator: Our thanks to Dr. Michael W. Fox, PetCity.com and all who participated.

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