DEAR DR. FOX. In your professional opinion, what are the worst mistakes people make with their cats and dogs that they are not aware of? -- R.E., Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR R.E.: What a thoughtful question!
Maybe if enough readers respond with their top peeves and serious concerns, we will have a list good enough to start a book of proper companion animal care like Dr. Spock’s was for new parents! Then some of the harmful relationships that form between people and their puppies and kittens might be avoided.
Munchausen by proxy is a big one; on the dark side, there are the bullies and sadists, with their children and companion animals suffering similar fates and afflictions. Also, unacceptable treatments have become the norm: declawing kittens, ear-cropping and tail-docking puppies, and crating lonely dogs all day in empty homes.
There is an even darker side for dogs and cats: commercial breeding and being subjected to genetic manipulation. The goal is to make them more appealing and loveable, making them live the life of an animated toy, a child-substitute, a decorative item or a fashion accessory. Making dogs physically and psychologically ever more appealing and puppy-like as adults may satisfy human emotional needs, but may not be in the best interests of these animals, who generally require considerable veterinary attention because of their deformities. These dogs most likely have the canine equivalent of Williams syndrome, characterized by hyper-sociability and limited intellectual abilities.
I would like to believe that most dogs and cats kept as companions enjoy fulfilling relationships and healthy lives. Most animals require, at minimum, an annual wellness examination by a veterinarian. I believe this is the right of every companion animal, and should be mandated under laws protecting animals’ entitlement to humane treatment. Community charity organizations should help pay for veterinary services in cases where people cannot afford them; this would improve both the animals’ and their people’s quality of life and emotional well-being.
Many people feel their animal companions are their “soul mates,” but the devotion of humans can rarely equal the unconditional love that dogs and other animals bestow upon us. Human love is rarely simple or pure, as per the woman I confronted on an early Oprah Winfrey TV show: The woman brought on stage one of the American bulldog pups she had bred. The pup could hardly breathe, and was walking with difficulty up the few low dais steps. While petting the dog, I asked the woman how she could breed dogs who could barely breathe or walk. She said, “I know, but I do love them.”
On a lighter note, my top peeves are people walking their dogs and never giving the dogs an opportunity to use their noses, which connect to their minds and spirits; and cat owners, whether forgetful or irresponsible, who let their cats’ litter boxes turn into minefields of excrement. Cats detest dirty paws.
PET INSURANCE RISING -- OR SO THE INDUSTRY CLAIMS
Premiums paid for pet insurance increased 21 percent in 2016 over the previous year, and the number of insured pets rose 11.5 percent, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. More companies are offering pet insurance as an employee benefit, and more millennials and empty nesters are adding pets to their households, the association said.
Rather than purchasing insurance, many pet owners choose to set up a savings account or private account with the veterinary hospital/clinic for installment payments as needed, or contract for basic preventive vet care and periodic wellness exams.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.)