DEAR DR. FOX: We have an 11-year-old 62-pound female shepherd mix who is a sweet family pet.
She is drinking more water and beginning to have urinary incontinence issues at night. She is still peppy on walks and actually seems to have less stiffness in her joints -- without any pain meds or anti-inflammatories.
After an exam and blood work, the vet said it's probably Cushing's disease, since all tests for diabetes, infectious causes and kidney problems were normal -- her alkaline phosphatase and liver enzymes were up. The vet proposed a crazy day of diagnostic testing, giving Dexamethasone and testing blood every few hours.
I think the testing and treatment both sound too painful and stress-inducing, not to mention expensive. I think we will do nothing and enjoy and spoil her while we can. Do you have any insight into why this happened? -- A.F., Rockville, Maryland
DEAR A.F.: Cushing's disease (hyperactive adrenal glands) is all too common in dogs and does take time and expense to determine the right dose of medication to subdue adrenal activity. I know of no simple and effective herbal or other alternative medication, although some believe that vitamin C and melatonin may be beneficial.
This condition often develops in both male and female ferrets after they have been neutered, which causes a hormonal imbalance. The same may be true for neutered dogs; neutering after 1 to 1 1/2 years of age is less disruptive to the dogs' endocrine systems than neutering at an earlier age. This early neutering is an accepted practice in animal shelter adoptions because of overpopulation.
DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing to you after reading a recent column, where a cat owner stated that her 10-year-old cat's appetite had diminished. Yes, as you stated, a trip to the vet needed to be considered, as well as possible kidney disease.
However, I was surprised that you did not mention possible dental issues. Cats are notorious for hiding health issues, and teeth problems can be a real health concern. Also, just a visual inspection of the teeth often does not reveal the whole picture. Based on my own dental experience of having an abscess that did not show up on visual inspection, I suggested to the vet to have X-rays taken. My cat also had an abscess that had not shown up on visual inspection. He was eating regularly within a day.
A further testimony to having X-rays done happened in a conversation with a friend who told me that her friend had a cat who was not eating. The cat had every test possible, and a visual inspection of the teeth didn't detect any problems. The vet suggested the owner should have the cat euthanized, despite not knowing why it was not eating. I told my friend my story and how it helped my cat. She called her friend and the cat was taken to a different vet, X-rays were requested and sure enough, there was an abscess. Dental X-rays saved that cat's life.
So many cat owners never pay attention to the health of a cat's mouth, and I would like to see that addressed in your column. -- K.L.W., Mercerville, Virginia
DEAR K.L.W.: Your concern over dental abscesses in cats is, indeed, a red flag for cat owners and for veterinarians who may rely on visual inspection of the oral cavity of cats who have difficulty eating or who have stopped eating altogether. But I would be concerned if dental X-rays became yet another routine, add-on diagnostic procedure for cats who are off their food.
Careful observation of a cat's eating behavior and attempts to eat help in making a diagnosis and justification for dental X-rays, especially if a cat solicits being fed but then avoids the food or cannot chew but is still hungry -- this points to a possible dental abscess, periodontal disease or a fractured and painful tooth.
DEAR DR. FOX: My 40-year-old son has moved in to help care for my wife, who has Alzheimer's disease, and he brought his cat to live here, too. In two years, we fell in love with this little 14-year-old cat.
She recently started feeling ill, and our vet thought she might have a virus and prescribed a medicine for her. After a few weeks, she seemed well. Then, suddenly, she died.
My wife is incontinent and has bowel problems. My son feels that the cleaner he used on her urine and feces might have left a coating on the floors and the cat might have picked up some of that.
We would like to get another cat, but my son insists that cleaning up after my wife could kill it. Would you please offer some comments to help settle this issue? -- R.D.Z., Lakewood, New Jersey
DEAR R.D.Z.: I sympathize with your family caregiving situation, which must be demanding on many levels.
Considering the cat's age and moving into a new environment, such stress could have weakened her immune system, which would have then been impacted by the disinfectant that was used on the floor and other surfaces that the cat may have had contact with.
In the future, I would use a combination of 1 cup distilled white vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda. This is a potent anti-bacterial and anti-mold cleanser and is cat safe.
(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.)