DEAR DR. FOX: I recently had an appointment for my old dog, Rusty, to get a distemper vaccine, but I canceled. Rusty is 14 years old, and I had a bad feeling about getting it.
My veterinarian's receptionist told me I would not be able to get Heartgard Plus for Rusty because I didn't get the vaccine or his annual checkup. Can Rusty get by without Heartgard?
Also, whenever I take Rusty in, my vet always wants to clean his teeth. I realize this is important, but when Rusty was 13, I was told he has a heart murmur. I think that his age makes it too risky, so I refused to have it done. My vet told me he'd cleaned the teeth of a dog who was 15 years old.
Am I wrong in not getting the teeth cleaned, and is there somewhere else I could get the Heartgard Plus for Rusty? Do I have to get it from the vet? Can Rusty do without the Heartguard?
I really don't know what to do at this point. Rusty is deaf, almost blind and has a weakness in his back legs. What would you advise? -- P.E.S., West Long Branch, New Jersey
DEAR P.E.S.: I occasionally receive letters like yours that make my blood boil. Most veterinarians are ethical and do not resort to this kind of emotional blackmail or client manipulation. Many veterinarians are aware of the urgent need for proper dental care, and some can do a good job without having to give anesthetic to at-risk animals.
Consult with another veterinarian for the heartworm blood test and preventive medication. If there is any question about the need for a distemper vaccination first, ask for a blood titer test to determine if it is needed.
DEAR DR. FOX: We had to have our 23-year-old cat euthanized yesterday. I credit her longevity to drinking water from the kitchen faucet all these years. You've written many times that fresh water is vital for cats' good health.
We brought our beloved Sugar home to be buried. I put her blanket on the ottoman to be buried with her. Our other cats came over and smelled her, and we all said goodbye. This morning, one cat sat on the ottoman and "cried" a strange meow. It was very touching. -- M.D., St. Charles, Missouri
DEAR M.D.: My condolences and appreciation for your letter, emphasizing the importance of cats drinking plenty of fresh water, which, if your municipal water supply was of reasonable quality, probably contributed to her longevity. But check my website, DrFoxVet.com, for the article "Pure Water for Cats and Dogs." In some cases, municipal tap water can make cats sick; you can see it when they improve dramatically when given purified water. Declining potable water quality and availability is rapidly becoming the next global crisis.
Your letter also underscores what I have long advocated: Allow surviving animals to see the body of their companion for "closure." Some may ignore and seem indifferent and never show signs of loss or grief, but many do, just like the rest of us. I believe the strange meow you heard is the cry of a grieving feline soul.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 12-year-old domestic shorthair tabby cat. I adopted him when he was a young kitten. He is an indoor cat, and he's one of two in the family.
Tiger is a very sociable cat who loves to be around the family. If someone is coming through the doorway, he runs to the door and waits for him or her to enter. He starts meowing as a greeting and puts his front paws up on your leg so that you will pet him. He has access to all areas of the house.
At night, I shut him out of my room because I am a light sleeper. He now sits outside my door at all hours of the night and meows to get in. Needless to say, I haven't been getting a lot of sleep. When he meows, I open my door, spray him with a water bottle and he runs away. He does this several times a night. It seems like just as I fall asleep again, he'll start meowing. When it gets really bad, I catch him and lock him in a hallway bathroom, where he has access to his litter box and water. I open the door and let him out as soon as I get up in the morning.
I have tried a spray deterrent around the outside of my door to keep him away. He doesn't do it every night, and he always does it by himself. I've never had problems with the other cat. How can I stop him? -- K.H., Springfield, Virginia
DEAR K.H.: You are not the only one having your sleep disrupted by a cat. I wonder why you don't do what he wants and let him sleep with you? Let him come live on your bed, and, like one of my cats, he may really enjoy sleeping beside you under a light blanket or towel.
Make sure he's not hungry before bedtime. He may enjoy some catnip or melatonin before turning in. As they age, some cats develop a pattern of night-restlessness, which can be associated with chronic pain from arthritis or dementia. A few drops of fish oil in his food may help both of these conditions.
(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 DrFoxVet.com.)