DEAR DR. FOX: I hope you can give us some advice, as we are quite confused and frightened for Simba, our beloved 8-year-old Chihuahua-Pomeranian whom we adopted from a shelter when he was only weeks old. He has always been in perfect health, and he is very fit, active and adorable. My mother adopted him a week before her unexpected death. We took him into our home and have loved him ever since. He is our connection to her.
During a routine checkup a few weeks ago, our veterinarian diagnosed a significant heart murmur and took an X-ray that revealed an enlarged heart on the left side. He recommended that we see a cardiologist, which we did immediately. Simba is asymptomatic, but an electrocardiogram revealed that he has moderate degenerative valvular disease with moderate left atrial dilation and mild left ventricular dilation.
We would like your opinion on the medications that the cardiologist has prescribed for Simba: enalapril and spironolactone. Simba has always been fed premium dog food, starting with Innova when he was a puppy and now Before Grain (salmon). We would like to switch to your food protocol, but we need more clarification on how to prepare it correctly. I am so frightened of giving him something wrong. His primary vet prescribed a cardiac nutrient supplement, but we won't start that regimen until we get him on the medications at full dose.
Could you give us your opinion as to whether we are giving him the proper medication? I trust the cardiologist, but we are not big medicine people, and I would rather our dog not have to endure side effects if the medication will not help him.
Simba weighs 10.3 pounds. We free-feed him and he self-regulates -- his weight has always been between 10.3 and 10.8 pounds. He walks three to four times a day, is not coughing and is as hyper as his breed would indicate. We are very concerned about him. -- C.S., Kansas City, Mo.
DEAR C.S.: The kind of heart disease affecting your dog is relatively common in many toy breeds. The treatment protocol and choice of drugs for this problem are eminently appropriate, in my opinion. I would not advise you to change your dog's diet at this time -- salmon is good, but steer toward a low-salt intake. If magnesium and coenzyme Q10 are not in the cardiac nutrient supplement, discuss their inclusion along with a few drops of fish oil.
Your veterinarian is well informed, and I would follow his advice. He needs to take blood samples to monitor Simba's condition and determine if and when the levels of medication need to be adjusted. With careful monitoring, blood tests and general checkups, your dog should enjoy a good quality of life with minimal, if any, harmful side effects from these medications. They will help stop further degenerative changes in your dog's heart -- but not reverse them -- and help maintain normal heart function and circulation.
DEAR DR. FOX: Last year was the worst for fleas for our cats. Frontline has always controlled fleas in the past, but not last summer. We used Frontline as directed, plus flea powder (which we also applied to our rugs), but we still got fleas.
A friend recommended Natural Defense, but is it safe for cats? It contains peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, lemongrass oil, clove oil, thyme and vanilla. If Natural Defense is not safe for cats, what do you recommend? Can you suggest something else?
My cats do go outdoors a little, and we have wild raccoons, opossums and squirrels outside. -- P.C.L., Matawan, N.J.
DEAR P.C.L.: By all accounts, fleas were a major problem last summer. I am not alone in contending that this epidemic is one of the many consequences of climate change.
One major concern with increasing populations of noxious, biting insects is that the bugs can develop resistance to insecticides. Ticks spreading Lyme disease to humans, dogs, cats and other animals is just the tip of this iceberg.
The best medicine is prevention rather than reliance on insecticides that can have adverse health and environmental consequences. One integrative approach to flea and tick control is available on my website, www.twobitdog.com/DrFox. It is especially important to not allow cats to roam freely outdoors, where they will be magnets for fleas. Getting them used to 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of brewer's yeast in their food every day, along with a daily flea-combing inspection, can help. Safe insecticides for in-home use include Perma-Guard and Fleabusters.
I do not advise using insect repellant products that contain essential oils such as peppermint and lemongrass on cats, but they are generally safe and effective on dogs.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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 www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.)