The Animal Doctor

Easter Celebration Warning

DEAR READERS: Many people will be soon celebrating Easter with chocolate bunnies and decorated eggs. But please resist the temptation of purchasing a fluffy, adorable live bunny, duckling or chick for your children.

This time of ancient celebration of the return of spring and the renewal of life should not involve the suffering and death of these young creatures, all of which require proper expertise in keeping them alive and healthy. Many children learn about death not long after Easter, while burying their Easter animals. And some can infect children with Salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria and diseases.

It is best for all to stick with chocolate bunnies (in moderation). And keep dogs away from chocolate and any xylitol-sweetened consumables, which can be lethal for them.

DEAR DR. FOX: I am looking for the right dog for our young family. I have read your article “Recovering Canine Health and the Natural Dog” on your website, and a friend sent me an article about the cost and complexities of pet health insurance and a list of various breeds associated with 70 genetic disorders. Many of these disorders can cause suffering and are expensive to treat.

What advice can you offer? Some of the smaller breeds we love, but they can have so many problems! -- R.W.McC., Arlington, Virginia

DEAR R.W.McC.: My advice is to first read “Choosing to Live With a Dog” on my website ( Then read my review on pet health insurance.

I always advise considering adoption from a local shelter, and never buying online. If you want a particular breed, think long and hard and read all about it. Only buy a pup when you can see the parents and assess how they behave and are cared for. Also, many people do best with an older dog who is fully house-trained.

Embrace Pet Insurance has posted the top five most common conditions in dogs, and their treatment costs, based on 200,000 claims filed in 2018. They are:

-- Intestinal issues, average cost of $790

-- Allergies, $390

-- Ear infections, $290

-- Lameness, $620

-- Cranial cruciate ligament tear, $4,160

I strongly advise against people having their pups’ DNA tested and then euthanizing the dog if it carries some inherited diseases. As with our adopted dog Kota (mainly Australian red heeler), these genes are often recessive -- meaning in Kota’s case that she is a carrier, but she is very unlikely to get the disease (degenerative myelopathy) herself. If bred to a male dog with the same recessive gene for that disease, their pups would probably develop this neurological disorder.

DEAR DR. FOX: My male cat, 3 years old, recently started sneezing. A lot. And he didn’t want to play; he would pull away, like it hurt to be touched. We took him to the vet, but they said everything looked great. No temp, no congestion. They gave him an antibiotic shot and a steroid shot just in case, and five days later, he finally got better.

Now our other cat is sneezing -- a lot! Do cats catch colds? And can we do anything to help? -- D.W., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR D.W.: Yes, cats do develop contagious respiratory infections, especially if they get outdoors and contact infected cats. Rarely will they get a respiratory virus, such as influenza, from people.

The most common cat viruses, rhinotracheitis, and calicivirus, can lead to secondary bacterial infections. These can include pus coming out of the nostrils and invading the sinuses, which can then lead to chronic inflammation, difficult to get rid of. More rarely, a fungal infection gets established, which can be very difficult to treat. Since the treatment given to your first cat helped, your second cat should be given the same.

I am concerned about very dusty cat litter contributing to respiratory problems in cats, and to secondary allergic reactions due to excessive grooming and fur-pulling. This possibility should always be considered, especially with indoor-only cats. Many cats spend time digging and raking and covering their excrement in their litter boxes, inhaling dust in the process and grooming it off their paws afterwards. Changing to a low-dust litter, such as paper pellets or washed sand, has helped many cats with recurrent sneezing and other adverse reactions to dusty cat litter.


Ingestion of chocolate, rodent poison, medications and foods containing xylitol (a popular sugar substitute) prompt the most calls to the Pet Poison Helpline, according to Embrace Pet Insurance. And xylitol poisoning is becoming more frequent as more people try to cut sugar from their diets.

Xylitol is highly toxic to animals and is a common ingredient in sugar-free gum, peanut butter, toothpaste, mouthwash, baked goods and beverages. (KSWB-TV, San Diego, 3/13/19)

(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.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at

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