DEAR DR. FOX: What is your opinion about the role of dogs in transmitting Ebola? A dog who was living with an infected person in Spain was killed, but one in the United States was put in quarantine. Some fear dogs will be blamed for helping spread this disease in West African countries and subsequently poisoned and killed. -- S.A., La Belle, Florida
DEAR S.A.: This is a pertinent question, considering the hysteria over this virulent but not highly contagious disease. Reports that dogs have dug up and eaten Ebola victims' corpses -- they have eaten human waste and corpses for millennia -- may lead to hysterical persecution and mass killings of dogs, which could make the situation even worse. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association is calling for testing and quarantine and opposing automatic euthanasia of dogs who have been in contact with infected people.
Dogs serve a significant public hygiene service in many communities by consuming garbage, human waste and carrion, which reduces the potential spread of various diseases by flies and other animals. Through a process called "passage," infective organisms, such as viruses (like Ebola) and harmful bacteria, may lose their virulence when taken in by community dogs; any that survive passing through the dogs may be rendered harmless to humans once through the dog.
Humans may put themselves at risk dismembering and consuming infected dogs (a common practice in many parts of the world) and other animals such as bats, antelope, monkeys, chimpanzees and other wild animal sources of "bush meat." This is the primary source of Ebola infection in human consumers. It then can spread rapidly between humans via various body secretions. So rather than exterminating community dogs, public health authorities should take action to keep them healthy and outlaw the bush meat trade.
Some see Ebola as nature's revenge or divine retribution. But these kinds of public health crises will never end until we have the same compassionate concern for our own families and for the victims of the next plague we bring upon ourselves as we must have for the health and well-being of all animals and the natural environment under the banner of One Health, One Earth. (For details, see my recent book, "Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health.")
The relatively low transmissibility of the Ebola virus, at least to date, pales before the highly infective airborne influenza strains that affect millions of people annually, along with E. coli, salmonella and other bacterial foodborne illnesses, which come from the epidemic disease-creating centers of our cruel and inhumane pig, cattle and poultry factory farms. Thanks to the World Bank and other international agribusiness aid and development organizations, these concentrated animal feeding operations have proliferated globally. We need to consider the personal and public health, animal welfare and environmental/ecological wisdom of vegetarianism and humane sustainable agriculture coupled with addressing the most serious planetary plague -- human overpopulation.
DEAR DR. FOX: I got my first cat at the end of January. She was a rescue cat given to me by a friend who already had several.
When she was found, she was in good condition. My friend took her to a vet, who thought she was about 1 year old. She got her shots and was spayed. She is curious and funny, and I enjoy having her around except for a couple of things:
She doesn't seem to like being petted. I can pet her briefly under the chin and on her chest, which she especially seems to enjoy when I return home after being out. But then she tries to grab my hand with her paws and bite -- usually not hard enough to break the skin, but it is quite uncomfortable. If I stroke her back, she will almost immediately turn over and do the same thing.
She also, at times, will "stalk" my feet and grab my ankles, trying to hang on and bite them. I interpret this as playing, but I am not sure if that's correct and wonder whether she will grow out of these behaviors. She has a variety of toys that she will play with, but isn't distracted by them when she is doing these things. I have a spray bottle that I have used occasionally while telling her "no." By now, she knows if I show her the bottle she should stop these behaviors. Am I doing the right thing? Is there anything else I can do to stop these actions?
On a related issue, she usually likes being in the same room with me and frequently sleeps on the foot of my bed but never sits on my lap or next to me on the couch. I am wondering if she is ever likely to become more of a "lap cat," or if I should just get used to her habit of more distance. -- K.A., Sandy Springs, Maryland
DEAR K.A.: Since this is your first cat, you must learn to "be" a cat and understand her behavior and needs. You need to read up on cat behavior and psychology. I have books that can help; find them on DrFoxVet.com.
Your cat wants to play! Put down the spray bottle and get a 3- to 4-foot cane. To that, tie a string and a feather or fluffy lure for her to chase and "kill," especially in the early evening. This is the best interactive game for cats. Some like a laser spotlight to chase. After playing, brush her -- grooming will calm her down and reinforce the bond.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)