Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker



By Kim Campbell Thornton

We are so fortunate that our dogs and cats are living longer than ever before and have access to the highest levels of veterinary care. At some point, though, just as with people, nothing more can be done. That doesn't always mean that euthanasia must be the next step. More and more, people are turning to end-of-life programs that help to ease a pet's journey out of life in a way that maintains comfort, while giving his family extra time with him.

Known as "pawspice," a term coined by veterinary oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos, it allows people and veterinarians to work together to increase survival time, ensure quality of life, relieve pain and recognize when it's time to say goodbye. That philosophy of maintaining quality of life honors the human-animal bond, Dr. Villalobos says.

"Pawspice is not abandoning the disease," she says. "It's palliative medicine that involves treating the disease."

Palliative medicine includes pain management, infection control, nutritional support and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or massage. Pets who receive it often have longer survival times, giving human and animal more time together before the pet's death.

If you have a terminally ill pet, talk to your veterinarian about a pet hospice plan. One of the things you'll need to do is to assess your animal's quality of life. Answering the following questions can guide you. Score criteria on a scale of 0 to 10. A score of 35 or higher suggests good quality of life, while a lower score may mean you need to make changes to improve your dog's or cat's situation or consider whether it's time to let him go.

-- Is my pet's pain manageable with medication or oxygen therapy? The most severe type of pain involves difficulty with breathing. Your veterinarian can show you how to monitor your pet's respiration and comfort level and identify labored breathing.

-- Is my pet's appetite good? Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe an appetite stimulant or insert a feeding tube. Some pets -- my cavalier, Bella, for instance -- respond well to being hand-fed. You can also try warming food to make it more aromatic. Sometimes scratching a pet's head and neck can encourage him to eat.

-- Is my pet drinking enough water? Dehydration can make pets feel sick. Providing a fountain can encourage your dog or cat to drink more water.

-- Is my pet staying clean? This can be especially problematic for cats, who may groom themselves less often if they don't feel well. Cats with oral cancers may find it painful or difficult to groom themselves. Gently brush or comb your pet regularly and give "butt baths" or other cleaning as needed.

-- Is my pet happy? It's a good sign if your dog or cat still greets you and enjoys petting and other interactions. If he seems depressed, anxious or isolated, try to make environmental changes, such as keeping him in a quieter area if he doesn't like noise or moving him to a place where he can enjoy being with the family if he's the social type.

-- Is my pet mobile? If necessary, see if you can help him out with ramps or steps to furniture or that make it easier for him to get in and out of the litter box.

-- Is my pet having more good days than bad? Your dog's or cat's quality of life may be going downhill if he's starting to have three or four bad days in a row. It may be time to think about euthanasia.

Most important, let your veterinarian know that your pet is important to you.

"They see a lot of people who have a utilitarian bond, not a love bond," Dr. Villalobos says. "They can help you better when they know that."


Cat's litter-box mishaps

may signal health problem

Q: We have two Abyssinian cats, an elderly male and an adorable 3-year-old female. Over the last year we've increasingly experienced that one of the cats has been peeing on towels that have been left on a chair or in a basket, on a backpack left on the floor and on a comforter on our son's bed. Additionally, we occasionally find poop on the carpet and frequently on the floor just inches from the litter box, even when it has fresh litter. All this occurs while we are away at work and school. The suspect is the young female, who was observed doing her thing just outside the litter box. Any suggestions on how we might teach her better manners? -- via email

A: You don't mention whether you have taken the cat to the veterinarian to rule out a health problem. Avoiding the litter box is often an early warning sign of a urinary tract infection or other medical condition. The cat is saying as clearly as she can that she's not comfortable.

The cat may also be anxious for some reason. The older cat may be bullying her, or she may be upset by some change in the household. Cats often mark items that belong to their people in an attempt to make themselves feel more secure by linking their scent with that of a family member. Try to think back to any changes that might have triggered her behavior.

Finally, you mention only one litter box. Experts agree that cat owners should have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. You need to have three litter boxes -- ideally in different areas -- so your cat can have a choice and so the other cat is less likely to disturb her while she's using it. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton

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No carbo loading

for canine athletes

-- What should your athletic dog eat? Protein and fat, yes. Gu and Gatorade, not so much. In a New York Times article last month, Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, a professor of clinical nutrition and sports medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, says canine athletes, which he defines as dogs who run continuously for more than 30 minutes, need diets that contain fat and meat protein. Dogs burn fat as their primary endurance fuel, and they need protein to build and maintain muscle, he says, noting that carbohydrates are not very important for them. The type of protein may also be important. "In one study, dogs fed plant-based soy protein experienced far more musculoskeletal injuries than dogs consuming meat protein," Dr. Wakshlag says.

-- Cats are able to fit through narrow spaces because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. If they can get their head and shoulders through, their lean bodies present no further obstacle -- unless they're not so lean. A cat's whiskers -- super-sensitive, specialized hairs -- spread roughly as wide as a cat does. But they don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which can put fat cats into a tight squeeze.

-- The San Diego Humane Society is working to place 422 chinchillas rescued from a breeding and boarding facility. If you have an interest in one of these furry critters, here are some fun facts: Native to South America, chinchillas can be sweet, social and trainable. They are active and love to climb and jump. At rest, they like to have a hiding place. Because of their dense fur coat, they prefer temperatures between 60 and 72 degrees F. Chinchillas clean themselves by rolling in dust and need a dust bath three times a week. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


Caption 01: Quality of life encompasses an animal's physical, mental and social well-being. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Not every cat can fit through a tight space. Position: Pet Buzz