Pet Connection

For the Love of Dogs

A visit to South America inspires a new goal to help dogs

You've probably heard the phrase "all dogs go to heaven." If you ask your dog if he likes his life, he'd probably tell you that living in your house is heaven on earth. But what about quality of life for dogs in other countries or continents? How are they treated?

I've been blessed to have traveled to more than 80 countries in my life and career. While there are places where canines live lives that are as good as or better than what ours have in North America -- I think of France as a great example -- in most developing countries and some modern societies, dogs are lucky to survive. Only a precious few thrive.

My wife, Teresa, and I recently took a six-week trip to South America, where we visited several countries, including Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. In Argentina, we saw many "paseadores de perros," or dog walkers, on the streets, with six to 10 dogs at a time. As you know, walking is good for both a dog's mind and body, and this is a great social activity. Unfortunately, the vast majority of dogs we saw were living lives that focused on the basics of food, water and shelter.

At home, we watch our dogs like children. We have fenced yards, walk our dogs on leashes and are diligent about protecting them from dangers ranging from antifreeze spills and poisonous plants to traffic and aggressive dogs.

In most of South America, many dogs are let inside to sleep at night but are turned out in the morning to go explore the farm, neighborhood or town. You see them moving down sidewalks or roadsides like commuters headed to work. They spend the day rummaging or begging for food, playing, grooming each other, exploring or snoozing in the sun. We never saw anyone physically abuse an animal by hitting, kicking or throwing rocks, but we also saw that people had little physical contact with the dogs. It was rare to see anybody petting or hugging them, let alone kissing them. They were largely treated like animals, not family members.

Almost all of the dogs on the street (who weren't being walked on a leash or carried) had fleas. It was two steps forward, stop, scratch, continue on. Or they'd lie down, close their eyes, wake up to scratch or bite those pesky fleas and close their eyes again. Because of the fleas, lack of regular bathing and poor nutrition, the dogs' coats were typically coarse, dry and thin, with skin that looked and smelled unhealthy.

Being a veterinarian and a lifelong pet lover, I always look for ways to interact with local dogs. I can tell you from having done this at least 100 times in six weeks, every time Teresa or I approached a dog, baby talked to him and pet him on the neck or chest, he'd close his eyes with pleasure and lean in for more. Many would roll over for a belly rub. Most of these dogs didn't suffer from physical malnutrition but instead from emotional starvation.

This trip and our travels throughout the world have redoubled our support of World Vets, who do so much for animals all over the globe.

I'm blessed as "America's Veterinarian" to have a large pulpit and a wide network of pet lovers. Teresa and I have made it a goal to find a way to provide free flea control to pets in most of South America before we leave to be reunited with our dogs in heaven. Giving every dog relief from fleas and offering more physical touch is our dream with deadlines.

Please consider donating to World Vets ( to help provide care and kindness to animals in need.


Rabies vaccine

important for cats

Q: Does my indoor cat need a rabies vaccination? It's not required by law in our state. I want to protect her, but I worry that she'll get cancer from the vaccine or have some other bad reaction. -- via Facebook

A: I understand your concern, but even though the laws of many states don't mandate rabies vaccinations for cats, the American Association of Feline Practitioners considers rabies a core vaccine for cats, even those who live indoors. The reasons are twofold. One is because rabies is a public health problem. The other is because life is uncertain. There's no guarantee that your cat won't escape outdoors someday, or she may one day live in a home where she is allowed outdoors. And it's not unheard of for bats, the primary species causing rabies exposure in humans, to fly into homes through open doors or windows or to inhabit houses in areas such as attics.

According to a 2014 article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, rabies was confirmed in 247 cats in 2013 (the most recent numbers available). That's more than in dogs, with only 89 cases during the same year.

To reduce the risk of vaccine-related cancers, my colleague Alice M. Wolf, DVM, an internal medicine specialist who speaks widely on vaccination, recommends using nonadjuvanted rabies vaccines in cats because they produce little to no inflammation at the site of the injection. That's important because it's suspected that chronic inflammation is associated with the development of vaccine-associated sarcomas.

According to the 2013 fact sheet on feline vaccinations from the AAFP, cats with a history of injection-site sarcoma believed to be associated with a rabies vaccine should not be revaccinated, although local rabies ordinances or statutes may apply. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Shed pounds, help

pets at new gym

-- Want to work out and exercise your dog at the same time? If you're in Radcliff, Kentucky, near Fort Knox, you've struck gold. The Lost Pounds Fitness and Pet Center is set up so people and pets can hit the treadmill side by side. Founders Norma Cooper and Toshie Murrell wanted to help dog owners and their pets stay healthy. "Obesity is just as unhealthy for pets as it is for people," Murrell says. Fitness classes are available two to three times a week. The facility also offers day care, boarding and grooming and fosters animals in need of homes.

-- A veterinary clinic that cares for pets of people who are homeless finally has a full-time home of its own. Located in Sacramento, California, the Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Pets of the Homeless celebrated the grand opening last month of its new facility, the Tom Kendall Teaching Clinic, named in memory of its cofounder. Started in 1992, it spent 24 years operating in various temporary locations with the purpose of providing pets with exams, treatments, vaccinations, parasite preventives and spay or neuter surgery, all at no cost, supported only by donations. The clinic's current goal is to purchase more surgical equipment to become fully functional.

-- If you've ever giggled at the iconic "I can has cheezburger?" cat, you're familiar with the British shorthair. The large, handsome, dignified breed was the fifth most popular registered by the Cat Fanciers Association in 2015. People like them for their calm personality, wide variety of colors and patterns and love of sitting in laps (although they're not wild about getting carried around). Choose one if you'd prefer a cat who's happy to go no higher than your sofa when it comes to exploring, leaving your kitchen counters and curtains safe from feline incursions. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


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.

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