DEAR DR. FOX: Would you please elaborate on your stance that dogs should not be left in crates seven or eight hours a day? Most of my friends think this is fine. I don't. -- J.P., Pevely, Missouri
DEAR J.P.: This is an all-too-common practice, and it is one deplorable aspect of the dystopia of this age of animal exploitation and selfish affections. These people should have to sit in a cage all day alone.
This common practice of all-day confinement in a cage or crate means dogs suffer in many ways, including separation anxiety; excessive self-grooming, chewing and licking to the point of self-mutilation; worn and broken teeth and zinc poisoning from chewing metal cages; extreme boredom leading to depression and hyperactivity when let out; excessive barking and yowling; multiple health issues related to retention of urine and feces; and lack of exercise. In extreme cases resulting from being caged from puppyhood, dogs can have limb deformities and become permanently crippled.
People who claim to love their dogs and cage or crate them all day may not fully understand the nature of love or the love of dogs. Perhaps they should not have gotten a dog in the first place or should have sought professional help to eliminate all reasons for justifying routine caging or crating of their canine companions.
However, I should point out that many dogs enjoy their cages and crates when left open, serving as their "dens" where they feel secure and comfortable.
DEAR DR. FOX: About three years ago, we had a beautiful feral cat come into our lives who we started feeding.
I built a "cat house" to keep the food dry and give her a place to rest. We placed a 55-gallon drum on its side with rugs inside and a Plexiglas front to keep the cat dry in winter.
I noticed the cat started doing its business in my organic garden. I have been organic gardening for about 40 years. I built a separate structure full of kitty litter surrounded by Plexiglas in the back of the garden where she climbs over the fence into the yard. She uses it as a spa instead of an outhouse.
Many years ago, I saw an article in a newspaper about feral cats causing a disease, but I cannot remember what it is.
I recently came down with prostate cancer, and my wife got colon cancer within the year. I wonder if this cat's feces could be causing our troubles. My wife is the only one who can get near the cat. She eats only the dry cat food we buy. -- E.J.T., Middletown, New Jersey
DEAR E.J.T.: First, let me say that I am sorry that both of you developed cancer. While genetics play some role, it is our collective desecration and pollution of the environment that makes many cancers a "disease of civilization," some of which also afflict our canine and feline companions.
Your cat had no direct role to play in your and your wife's cancer. The disease you read about is toxoplasmosis. Another disease you may have read about is toxocariasis -- a roundworm larva that causes blindness and neurological problems in humans.
I wish that all well-intended people like you would not feed free-roaming cats unless they plan to rescue them and take them to the animal shelter. Most feral cats are not neutered, and you are only contributing to the breeding success of cats in your community. They are a public health concern and an ecological concern for indigenous wild birds and mammals, which they kill by the millions.
DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing in response to a letter recently published in your column. You noted, "Cats can transmit a score of diseases to humans, so this is a significant public health problem."
My dog was sent to "dog heaven" with many tears from many people. He was very sick. Before his departure, he bit my forearm, leaving four tooth punctures. (I had been trying to bring him back into my apartment, and he became frightened and defensive by neighbors coming into the hallway and loudly asking what was going on.)
When my arm would not stop bleeding after one day, I went to my general practitioner, who determined I needed an infectious disease intervention. After taking a swab of the bitten area and having it evaluated, it was determined that I had cat-scratch fever. Thankfully, it healed within one week of the intravenous antibiotic.
How did my poor dog get that into his mouth? And did it affect his own health? Is it possible for other dog owners to avoid this? -- G.P.T., Poughkeepsie, New York
DEAR G.P.T.: I sympathize with the ordeal you went through with the medical emergency of blood poisoning, or bacterial septicemia.
Dogs can harbor the same Bordetella species of bacteria in their mouths as cats and other animals. These bacteria are transmitted in animals' saliva to the paws and claws of cats in the process of self-grooming. This is why cat scratches (as well as bites) can cause bordetellosis, commonly called cat-scratch fever.
(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.net.)