DEAR DR. FOX: I’m writing to you on the topic of pets’ remote sensing of death. Our male cat (Spooky) lorded over our female (Sheba), always eating first and never allowing her onto the furniture. This continued for several years. Even if he was out of the room, she stayed on the floor.
One day, we brought them both home from a brief boarding stay. Noticing that Spooky seemed off his feed, we immediately took him back to the vet. His condition did not appear to be serious, and he was a strong, young cat, but he was kept overnight for observation.
In the morning, as we were preparing to go pick him up, Sheba suddenly jumped onto the sofa and began preening and grooming herself. We were watching her in amazement when the phone rang: Yes, it was the vet, calling to inform us that Spooky had suddenly and unexpectedly turned critical and had died from a massive infection.
Sheba lived to a ripe old age, and no one in our family will ever believe that she did not know of Spooky’s death before we did -- if indeed she didn’t somehow cause it! It is also possible that the subordinate cat had previously sensed the illness, undetected by humans, in her dominant housemate, and simply knew its outcome. The recent work with the ability of some service dogs to detect cancer or predict seizures supports that possibility.
There may be other explanations as well. The one thing that seems certain is that animals sometimes know things that we don’t, and we should not dismiss it simply because we can’t explain it. -- J.W., Bonita Springs, Florida
DEAR J.W.: Your observations and account of how the subordinate cat seemed to know that your other cat had died is intriguing.
There remains the possibility that it did not take long for the subordinate one to gain sufficient self-confidence to get up on the sofa and that there was no psychic or remote sensing involved. But in my opinion, this could well have been such a phenomenon, considering the fact that the dominant cat was only out of the house for such a short time.
I appreciate the many accounts of readers over the years documenting this phenomenon in their animal companions, some of which I published in my books “Cat Body, Cat Mind” and “Dog Body, Dog Mind.” With open hearts and minds, we, too, may rediscover this natural power and have greater respect and compassion toward fellow creatures whose sensitivity and awareness so often seem to surpass our own.
DEAR DR. FOX: I enjoy reading your column in our local newspaper, and recently read your excellent book, “Dog Body, Dog Mind,” in preparation for becoming a first-time dog owner. Our family is about to rescue a wonderful dog, a German shepherd mix, whose previous abusive owner left him tied up outside during Hurricane Irma here in Florida last fall. We are so excited to provide a safe, loving home for this wonderful and special dog.
I have a couple of questions for you about diet after reading your book, and also looking extensively at your website and your homemade dog food recipe. Our family eats a whole-foods, plant-based diet that is mostly organic, and I cook all of our food. We eat whole grains, sweet potatoes, squashes, potatoes and a wide variety of legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and herbs/spices. We consume animal products a couple of times per year, at most. Ideally, most of our dog’s food will be home-cooked as well.
It is unclear from my reading if dogs can thrive on a vegan, plant-based diet, or a largely vegan diet supplemented with occasional sardines, canned Alaskan salmon and a few other organic animal foods (if necessary). I am not thrilled about the contamination risks associated with bringing uncooked meat, fish and eggs into the home, but will do it if that is what dogs require.
I am concerned about both the health consequences of eating animal products and also the bioaccumulation of toxins in meats, even if they are organic -- this is not good for humans, and so it is probably not good for dogs, either.
What are your suggestions on ensuring that our new family member gets proper nutrition? Can he eat a largely vegan diet? If so, what additional supplementary foods or items would you suggest? -- B.P., Palm City, Florida
DEAR B.P.: I am glad that you asked this important question, because there are nutrigenomic (breed-specific nutritional) factors in canine diets, which can make a big difference in dogs’ health and longevity.
German shepherds are especially vulnerable to pancreatic enzyme depletion and insufficiency when fed too much carb-heavy, starchy food, and also to colitis, possibly associated with high gluten content. Some fruits and vegetables are fine, while nuts are less digestible. Too much broccoli (and related cruciferous vegetables) could lower thyroid function.
The home-prepared recipe on my website is one option, others being freeze-dried, grain-free dog foods such as Sojos and Honest Kitchen, available in some pet-supply stores and online. As far as raw foods go, never feed raw fish to a dog, because of parasite risks.
I applaud your family’s dietary choices: They’re good for you and for planet Earth, but not for all dogs -- yours in particular.
(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.)