The Animal Doctor

DEAR DR. FOX: We have a cocker spaniel who is quite active. When he was 3 years old, he tore the ACL in his right leg. We opted for surgery, although I was a pastor and money was tight.

We paid on the installment plan, and, yes, it was about $3,500 total. He wasn't overweight, but our surgeon insisted he still lose weight and take a short course of meds. Of course, he tore the ACL in his other leg a year later. Same price. We followed the surgeon's orders regarding running and jumping, and he wore an Elizabethan collar to keep him from going after the sutures.

He is now 9 years old. The only medication he takes is Dasuquin, which we get by mail order. He's kept the weight off and has had no further problems, happily.

I love to watch him run. He is walked daily, except when it's icy. He is pain free. He can jump up without any problems.

Many people felt we should have had him put down. I'm so happy we didn't. When I lived in Washington, D.C., we went to a great clinic that was willing to accept payments on the installment plan. It was worth every penny. -- S.M., Crownsville, Maryland

DEAR S.M.: Thanks for confirming the benefits of corrective surgery for this common canine problem, along with documentation of the expense and the accommodating payment plan your veterinarian set up with you.

Your dog was young and not a heavy-bodied breed; older dogs are poor candidates for this kind of surgery. Still, losing some weight was important. This is one factor that makes dogs prone to tearing their cruciate ligaments, as is lack of regular exercise and sudden activity after a long winter indoors. I advise people to keep their dogs from being too active when they get outdoors and are still in poor physical condition.

DEAR DR. FOX: My elderly father lives in a two-story house. He has recently become disabled, and he may have to live in the downstairs area only. There is one small bathroom on that floor.

The problem is that we currently use that bathroom as the location for his cat's litter box. Further, this 14-year-old cat uses the entire bathroom to eliminate, frequently going on the floor and foregoing the litter box, even when it's clean. The cat has been doing this for years, and we cannot seem to break him of his most undesirable toilet habits.

Since this is the only bathroom that my father will have access to, we have to find a new location for the cat's litter box. My father and his nursing aides will not possibly be able to share this bathroom with a cat who makes a daily disaster out of it. What's the best way to acclimate a cat to a new litter box location, and how do we get him to use it 100 percent of the time? Otherwise, we're going to have to find a new home for this cat; I am unable to take him. -- R.A., Newark, New Jersey

DEAR R.A.: This is a challenge for an older cat! Your best hope is to buy a large wire dog crate, 4-by-5-feet or larger, and put the cat inside in the new "room," along with a bed, food, water and litter box. Clean up the bathroom with Nature's Miracle enzyme cleaner. Let the cat out, supervised, as often as possible for play and grooming, but never allow him back into the bathroom. The cat should adapt quickly to using the litter box in the confines of the cage, which can eventually be left open so the cat can come and go freely or be kept most of the time in the closed room with as much human company as possible, and being let out and closely monitored at other times.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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