DEAR DR. FOX: I enjoy your column and often find interesting things that apply to humans as well.
One thing I have been curious about for a long time is spreading tooth decay. There have been reports that a mother kissing her baby can transfer saliva that can give the child dental caries (decay), especially if the mother has untreated cavities. The reports say sharing a spoon can also spread this.
Many people kiss their pets. Some people might use a used dinner spoon to scoop out wet cat food. And I have some great pictures of a relative's German shepherds with their heads in the dishwasher licking the plates. Do you think that pet cavities might be caused from interacting with humans in this way? I was not able to find the original study for the child/mother cavity information. -- S.G., Sandy Hook, Conn.
DEAR S.G.: Basically, saliva heals, and the exchange of oral, fecal and body-surface bacteria is an essential part of any infant animal/human developing a healthy bacterial flora. The infant comes in contact with this bacteria when interaction with the mother and through contact with others and the soil.
These good bacteria play vital roles in immunity, disease and allergy resistance, digestion and other physiological processes. The bacteria is currently being investigated with some surprising findings, even indicating dysbiosis -- a dysfunctional "microbiome" bacterial population in the guts -- plays some role in obesity and depression.
Certainly if the microbiome is not yet well developed in an infant, the introduction of harmful bacteria, as from a shared spoon with a parent, could be problematic.
My book "Healing Animals & the Vision of One Health" explores such connections and more in an integrative approach to wellness. We should be concerned especially with the continued, wholesale use of antibiotics by the livestock industry and harmful pesticides by industrial agriculture.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have two Persian cat brothers who were purchased together as kittens. They will be 3 years old in November. One of them has a problem: For almost a year now, he will not use the box when pooping. He continues to go on the carpet. He didn't have this problem before, but it has become an everyday thing. He never urinates outside the box, and he seems to know when he poops on the floor that he has done something wrong, because he runs and hides for a while.
I have tried everything: picking it up and putting it in the box; scolding him when I catch him and then gently bringing him over to the box; changing the litter to a different brand; cleaning the boxes every time one of them uses it. I have three different boxes. Neither cat covers what they do in the litter box, whether it is urine or poop. They scratch around the box or even on the wall, but not the litter. Must be a Persian thing.
I would appreciate any help you can give me. -- D.R., Newtown, Conn.
DEAR D.R.: According to other people who have Persian cats, not covering excreta does seem to be a problem with the breed. Persians have long fur and "feathers" around their hindquarters, which can get matted with cat litter, not to mention the litter getting trapped between their paws. This can be a deterrent for the normal covering-up behavior. Try a litter like Purina's Yesterday's News (recycled newspaper pellets) that I have found to be less cat-adhesive than many others.
Many cats choose to defecate outside of the box because they are constipated and they associate the pain of evacuating with being in the box, so they develop a litter box aversion. Feeding your cat moist food and a teaspoon of pumpkin or mashed butter beans may help soften the stools. You can also try the mild and tasty pet laxative Laxatone.
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