DEAR DR. FOX: After a lot of trial and error with bones and chews, I settled on frozen beef marrow bones as a way to keep my dogs' teeth clean and satisfy their urge to chew. Most of the other things I've tried upset their stomachs, had a splinter risk or had something else about them that wasn't good.
I have been buying frozen bones labeled bovine growth hormone- and antibiotic-free from a family-owned pet store, but they just stopped carrying them, and butcher shops are now the only places locally to buy frozen beef marrow bones. Those bones may come from cattle given bovine growth hormone (BGH) and antibiotics. I do not know whether those things would make it to the bones and present a hazard to my dogs.
I found a pet store 60 miles away that carries the BGH- and antibiotic-free frozen bones and ordered enough to last a few months. If butcher shop bones would be safe, that would be cheaper and easier. On the other hand, if there is a possibility of BGH and antibiotics harming my dogs, I will keep making the drive. What do you think about giving dogs bones from BGH- and antibiotic-fed cattle? -- S.H., Minneapolis
DEAR S.H.: In my opinion, there is little or no risk for dogs regarding BGH and antibiotic residues in bones and bone marrow. I appreciate your vigilance, though. The recombinant bovine growth hormone is more an issue in cows' milk -- ditto antibiotics. Anabolic steroids and growth stimulants are the big issue in beef, but the bones are spared -- they accumulate lead and fluoride the longer the animal lives!
I advise allowing dogs to chew only raw (first scalded to kill surface bacteria) beef soup shank bones at least 4 inches long. Short "rings," commonly sold for soup making, can get caught behind dogs' canine teeth. Allow only short periods of chewing or gnawing to avoid cracked teeth, and store the bones in a plastic bag in your refrigerator.
CAT GAMES AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT
You don't have to spend a small fortune on cat toys and furniture to make your cat's life more stimulating.
Cats do like to sleep a lot, but fun for them is watching, hiding, ambushing, chasing and catching -- all elements of hunting behavior -- and engaging in short bursts of physical activity, ideally with another cat or with an understanding caregiver.
Here are a few activities your cat would love:
-- Hiding inside a big cardboard box with a small hole cut in the side, or under a towel.
-- Chasing a fluffy toy or large feather on the end of a string tied to a cane, which you can also poke under a towel or throw rug on the floor.
-- Chasing and catching a spiral of pipe cleaner, which some cats will even retrieve.
Beware of loose, long threads and balls of wool that cats may lick and swallow. The best source of environmental enrichment for a cat is another cat. For more details on cat games and even IQ tests for cats, see my book "Supercat: How to Raise the Perfect Feline Companion."
(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.)