There’s a myth that cats don’t benefit from regular bathing, and that they will inevitably hate the experience. Neither of those things are true, as I explained to a reader who wanted to know if it’s okay to bathe her cat weekly.
Q: My cat is good about grooming herself, but she spends so much time on my furniture, especially my bed, that I’d like to bathe her weekly. Is that a good idea?
A: I know this will be surprising to many people, but it makes sense to bathe a cat regularly, even one who spends all her time indoors. There are several good reasons for doing so.
The first is that it benefits people who are allergic to cats. As you know, cats bathe themselves with their tongues, and saliva carries allergens. Regular bathing helps to remove not only the remnants of saliva from fur but also dander — dead skin flakes that also carry allergens. That makes the presence of cats more tolerable to humans with allergies.
Senior cats may need baths to help them stay clean. Often, they have put on some pounds over the years or developed arthritis, both of which can make it difficult for them to groom themselves thoroughly.
Cats who go outdoors may get into sticky stuff, such as chewing gum, tree sap or tar. A bath is also important if a cat has been exposed to a toxic substance. Often, a bath is the most effective way to remove harmful chemicals from the coat. Cats with skin conditions may require medicated baths.
Finally, as you noted, cats spend a lot of time on our furniture. If you don’t want it to become “fur”-niture, brushing and bathing regularly will remove dead hair so it doesn’t fall off the cat and onto your belongings.
I always recommend that people with new kittens accustom them to baths and other grooming from the beginning. If you get them used to it at an early age on a regular schedule, you’ll have a sweeter smelling cat and a cleaner home.
Read more, including all about the role of the pet adoption counselor, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.
For the past eight years, I’ve had the same phone screensaver. It’s a photo of my granddaughter, Reagan, when she was just one day old, holding my right index finger with her tiny little hand. I’ve promised her I will never take it off until she asks me to (maybe to be replaced with her wedding photo or a great grandchild?).
But if my informal survey of the last couple of years holds true across the entire population, the screen saver of most mobile phones is not grandchildren or any other human beings. By a huge margin, the number one thing I see on people’s phones are images of family pets.
People are proud to share screensavers of their pets when I’m just a friendly seatmate on an airplane or when we cross paths at various events and locations ranging from sporting events (I’ve had neighbors in seats at the Super Bowl, Indy 500, and Kentucky Derby share pet photos) to the grocery store. But when they find out I’m a veterinarian (and a famous one at that), then they are about as excited as their own pets when the treat drawer opens up.
Not only do their energy levels go up to the three Red Bull-level, they next get into their pet album folder and show me dozens of images ranging from home and vacation to action shots, and what one called “urban shots,” as in, their dog on the street in town.
There’s one guaranteed reaction when this exchange happens. We both smile and become closer than we would have if we hadn’t shared this affection-connection as portrayed in phone photos.
There’s a puzzling condition that makes dogs’ hair fall out and not regrow. It goes by many different names, and it can be very difficult (but defnitely not impossible!) to treat. Here’s what I told a reader whose Pomeranion was affected by “alopecia X.”
Q: We have a 7-year-old blue merle Pomeranian whose fur started falling out when he was 2 or 3 years old. Now his torso, neck and tail are bald except for a few tufts of woolly fur. He’s been tested for many conditions, including hypothyroidism, and I think he has something called alopecia X. Is there anything we can try to regrow his fur?
A: Pomeranians, along with other Nordic breeds and toy and miniature poodles, can develop a coat condition called alopecia X. It’s also known as black-skin disease, adult-onset growth hormone deficiency, and castration-responsive alopecia. Linda A. Frank, DVM, professor of dermatology at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, calls it hair cycle arrest.
Dogs with this condition lose hair over most of the body, typically leaving only the head and feet with fur. The skin may thicken and turn dark. Alopecia X can occur before the dog is a year old, or much later in life. It appears to be more common in males than females. And while little is known about the disease, your dog’s blue merle coloring may also be a factor.
Sometimes the coat comes back on its own, but the fur is thin and soft. In some cases, the condition responds to treatment, although there isn’t a “one size fits all” fix. As you may have guessed from the term “castration-responsive alopecia,” the hair may regrow several months after the dog is spayed or neutered.
According to the University of Tennessee’s web page on hair loss, supplementation with oral melatonin has benefits in 30 to 40 percent of dogs with the disease. Check with your veterinarian first, especially if your dog has diabetes or has not been definitely diagnosed with alopecia X, and make sure the melatonin pills do not contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Read more, including tips on adopting from a rescue group, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.
Does your pet’s food have “fillers” in it? And can you tell from the ingredient list?
My clients and the pet owners who write me have a lot of questions about the ingredients contained in their pet’s food. I love this, as it shows they want the best for their pets, and are looking for answers. (Although I often say my clients and readers are the best pet owners in the world, so this may not be the norm!)
Pets, like people and other animals, don’t have a requirement for particular ingredients. What they – and we – need are nutrients. Ingredients are just the vehicle for the nutrients, and also contribute to the food’s taste and form.
Even sugar, which is an ingredient I don’t want to see in a pet’s food, isn’t really a “filler” – it’s there to make the food taste better to the pet. It has a purpose, albeit one that’s not good for the pet.
In the same regard, ingredients that are currently getting a bad rap, like corn, are not “filler,” either. Corn is a source of an essential fatty acid (“essential” means the body can’t make it; the nutrient must be supplied in the diet).
Other ingredients, such as fish meal, serve multiple purposes. It’s a source of protein, and also of Omega-3 fatty acids, so important for skin, joint, and even brain health. Or consider wheat gluten – a source of protein, as well as an ingredient that gives pet food some of its “mouth appeal” for our pets (just as it does for us).
So, if at least some of the things often condemned as “fillers” are actually useful or even necessary for our pets, how can we judge what should be in their diets? And what can the pet food label tell us?
Starting with the most obvious, our pets need protein. They also require a certain number of calories (although I’d argue most pets get too many of those!), along with fats, vitamins, and minerals. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires cat foods to include 25 essential vitamins and minerals, and dog foods to include 23. Those are some of the chemistry class-sounding ingredients on the pet food label.
However, as I’ve explained before, it’s not really possible to fully evaluate a pet food simply by looking at the label. It’s a good place to start, but you need to follow up by researching the manufacturer, looking at:
Their reputation in the industry
How they’ve handled past pet food recalls or other challenges
Their response to you if you contact them with questions
Where the food is made
What safety and quality assurance protocols and testing are in place
Finally, I’ll make my usual plea to keep a line of communication open with your veterinarian about your pet’s nutritional needs, weight, and your pet food questions. Together, you are the experts on your pet – and you’re much better off playing as a team!
Will your cat be lonely while your family is on vacation? That’s what a reader wanted to know, so I turned to my daughter, Fear Free Certified trainer Mikkel Becker, for an answer. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: Since my husband retired, our 12-year-old Maine coon has become super attached to him! She is in his lap every chance she gets, and if we go out in the evening, she is always waiting for us in the window. We are going away on vacation soon. We have a person coming in daily to take care of the litter box, food and water, but I am worried about how our cat will handle being without my husband. How can we make it easier for her?
A: It’s great that your cat has developed such a strong bond with your husband, but I can see why you might be worried about going on vacation. Here are some tips to help her feel more comfortable and less lonely.
Make sure she meets the pet sitter at least a couple of times before you leave. Cats like to take their time when getting to know strangers.
Unless your cat approaches the sitter on her own, the sitter should face away from her but toss treats in her direction. If your cat has a favorite toy, the sitter could also offer to play with it, again while not looking directly at the cat. Have the sitter prepare and set down the cat’s food while you’re there, too. Your cat will see that the sitter has nice “cat manners” and will associate him or her with good things — treats, toys and dinner.
Have your husband leave a T-shirt that he’s worn for your cat to snuggle with. Access to his odor will help her feel comfortable during his absence. A diffuser that releases a feline pheromone, such as Feliway, can also help to create a calm atmosphere for your cat while you’re gone.
Read more, including everything you need to know about walking your dog, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.
God was having one of his very best days when my beloved spouse of 40 years, Teresa, was born. My heart beats faster when she walks into a room and my heart slows down when I’m off the hamster wheel of travel, and home by her side on the couch holding hands, sipping tea, and rubbing the fur of our dogs and cat.
A lifetime pet lover, she has always opened her heart and home to every animal in need, is a devoted and empathetic horsewoman, may possibly love the dogs more than she loves me, and is now an integral part of Fear Free as a certified animal massage therapist.
Happy Birthday, Teresa! I still can’t believe you picked me, but I’m sure glad you did!
As a veterinarian, I have seen – and smelled – way more than my share of anal gland discharge. So who better to explain the subject to a reader who asked about it?
Q: After my cat got off my lap recently, I noticed a couple of wet spots on my pants. When I gave them a sniff, the smell just about knocked me over. What was that?
A: You have just been introduced to the secretions of the feline anal glands. These pea-size glands, also called anal sacs, produce a malodorous substance that enables cats to identify and communicate with each other as well as mark territory. When the cat defecates, the contents of the anal sacs are squeezed out, coating the cat’s stool and allowing him to leave a stinky warning — “Tom’s Club: No other cats allowed” — to other cats who pass by.
Usually, anal gland secretions aren’t an issue in cats, but sometimes anal glands become overactive, resulting in a noticeable odor. Anal glands that malfunction and don’t empty normally can become inflamed, infected or impacted.
Inflamed or infected anal glands may become swollen and tender, inhibiting normal passage of the secretions. If you notice your cat frequently scooting on the ground or biting at his rear, this may be the problem. Left untreated, the anal glands can abscess or rupture, which isn’t pleasant for your cat or for you when you have to medicate the area. Luckily, this condition is rare in cats; they are more likely to develop impacted anal glands.
Impaction occurs when stools don’t exert enough pressure on the glands as the cat defecates. This may occur in cats with chronic soft stools because the anal musculature has nothing to push the sac against to release the fluid.
Your veterinarian can relieve the situation by emptying the glands manually. If your cat has soft stools related to food allergies, a change in diet may help. Adding plain canned pumpkin to the cat’s food can boost his fiber intake and improve stool consistency as well.
Read more, including about treating pets with fecal transplants, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.
Many dogs suffer from intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), and it’s not always clear what the best treatment approach is. Here’s what I told a reader whose dog has been diagnosed with the condtion.
Q: My Lhasa apso has been diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease. What can you tell me about it, and will she need to have surgery?
A: We commonly see IVDD, as it’s called for short, in dwarf dogs such as dachshunds (who have 45 to 70 percent of all cases), poodles, Pekingese, beagles, French bulldogs and Lhasa apsos as well as in dogs such as German shepherds, Dobermans and cocker spaniels. Although the disc may rupture after a fall or jump, in most cases the “slipped disc” is a result of chronic disc degeneration.
Signs of disease — pain, difficulty walking, muscle spasms or paralysis — typically appear in small or short dogs when they are 3 to 6 years old. In breeds such as Labrador retrievers or German shepherds, signs usually occur at 5 to 12 years.
Genes play a role in development of the disease. Last October, researchers at the University of California, Davis announced the discovery of a genetic mutation across breeds that is responsible for dogs developing chondrodystrophic features — the shorter legs and abnormal intervertebral discs seen in low-slung, long-bodied dogs. They found that dogs with IVDD are 50 times more likely to have this mutation. Not enough is known yet about the prevalence of the specific gene in the affected breeds to be able to breed out the condition, but it’s a start.
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. In dogs with mild signs, the veterinarian may recommend pain medication and cage rest with slow, on-leash exercise only. When dogs don’t respond to conservative management or have severe signs, surgery is usually the best option. Some veterinarians use acupuncture and rehab techniques in combination with cage rest, analgesics and controlled exercise to help manage mild cases or to benefit dogs before and after surgery.
Read more, including a look at great new pet gadgets, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.
Even if your cat isn’t a teenager, she can still get acne, little blackheads or pimples that usually appear on the chin.
You may notice it more readily if your cat has a white or light-colored coat. Causes include allergies, stress and food bowls that aren’t cleaned daily. Some cats react to plastic food bowls.
Before you run out for a tube of Clearasil, take your cat to the veterinarian to determine the type and cause of acne and get a prescription for medication or advice on clearing it up, such as switching to stainless steel or ceramic food and water bowls.
Read more, including a look at the best and worst states for animal cruelty protection, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.