Lavender will run a Vet Q&A in our Pet Issues as well as online. If you have a question you’d like answered by a Veterinarian, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I was thinking of getting my dog a haircut but the cold temperatures worry me. I’ve read that sometimes the length and difference between hair and fur might matter in how cold a dog gets. He only goes outside for walks and then spends the rest of the time indoors. He’s getting a bit scraggly, so he’ll need a cut sooner than later. Any advice?
A: It is important to continue grooming your dog through the winter months. Dirty, matted hair is not just unsightly, it’s also uncomfortable and loses some of its ability to keep your dog warm. Long hair on the feet can collect snow and retain ice-melt. This can cause discomfort and cracking of the foot pads. If your dog’s hair is not too matted, your groomer may be able to brush out the coat and trim the hair, leaving it longer than in the summer months. If the matting cannot be brushed out, your dog will need a shorter cut. For dogs who spend the vast majority of time indoors, this is not a problem. There are many breeds of dogs who have very short coats (for example, dachshunds or weimaraners) who still enjoy short periods of outdoor time in winter. If you plan on taking longer walks, or spending an extended time outdoors, consider a sweater and booties. Dogs who spend the majority of their time outside should also continue to be groomed. They should be brushed regularly to prevent matting, and bathed if the coat becomes dirty. The coat should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being returned outdoors.
Q: My cat keeps licking her fur off her belly. I’ve been looking into allergies and checking to see if her skin is okay there and everything looks fine. Should I be worried or do you think this might just be something she does for a while and then stops? Do cats have stress?
A: Whenever I see a cat who is licking off her fur, I immediately think of three things: fleas, allergies, and stress. The first thing to do is determine if your cat has fleas. This is especially important in cats who spend time outdoors. Comb the hair with a fine-toothed comb, looking for fleas and or flea “dirt” ( which actually is their droppings!). It does not take many fleas to cause itching, so they may be hard to find. If you find fleas, or see fine, black particles in the coat, call your veterinarian for advice on flea control.
Allergies are fairly common in cats. They can be caused by just about anything in the environment and can even be caused by a sensitivity to ingredients in food. Allergies can cause hair loss, scabs, redness, and excessive grooming. These symptoms can be seasonal or may be year-round. If you suspect your cat has allergies, consult your veterinarian. They may prescribe anti-histamines or corticosteroids to relieve symptoms, and may suggest a diet change.
Stress can also cause inappropriate obsessive grooming. You may simply see hair loss, but some cats will lick enough to cause abrasions. Hair loss from stress may be intermittent. If you suspect your cat suffers from stress, try to determine the cause. Has there been an addition to the household–feline, canine, or human? Has there been a change in the amount you interact with your cat? Are there outdoor cats contributing to stress levels? If you are not able to identify and correct the cause, consult your veterinarian to help rule out a medical cause. Some cats will require anti-anxiety medications to help them through a difficult time.
Q: I’m going to move in with my significant other who has a labrador. We both have dogs, my terrier is six and the labrador is eight. The terrier thinks he’s the boss but the labrador isn’t about to let the terrier be the boss of his territory. How do we make this work?
A: Congratulations! Combining canines can present a challenge, though the vast majority of dogs will work it out on their own. Dogs are by nature pack animals and enjoy the company of other dogs, and, of course, their humans. They look to their leaders–that should be you and your partner–for cues on how to behave in a given situation. If the pair are being aggressive toward one another, do not leave them unsupervised. Crate them or leave them in separate rooms when you must be gone. Make sure that you spend plenty of time with the dogs together. Make their time together fun; go for long walks, play with new toys, etc. Reinforce good behavior with praise and small food treats. If play becomes too aggressive, have your dogs take a time-out until they are calm. Leave leashes on both dogs if you are concerned they may end up in a fight. Do not attempt to separate fighting dogs with your hands or you may very well be the one bitten! Some situations are much more complex and require professional help. Consult your veterinarian if you see no improvement in the situation. They will have more specific advice for you or may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist for further assistance. Good Luck!
Q: My dog has bad breath. What can I do at home to help? How often should a dog’s teeth be cleaned?
A: Bad breath is an indicator that bacteria are growing in the plaque and/or calculus in the mouth. Plaque is a thin film that naturally forms on teeth. Bacteria begin to grow in the plaque, and along with the enzymes contained in saliva, cause the plaque to harden and form thicker and thicker deposits of calculus. The best way to keep your dog’s mouth healthy is to daily remove plaque before it hardens to form calculus. Brushing the teeth with a pet toothpaste is the most effective way to remove plaque. These toothpastes come in several flavors, like chicken, beef, or seafood, and many pets look forward to having their teeth brushed. If this is not possible, pet oral rinses are the next best thing. Antibacterial and tartar control rawhide chews are also very helpful. Dental diets contain abrasives to help reduce the amount of plaque and calculus buildup. Despite your best efforts, calculus will eventually form in the mouth. Deposits of calculus will cause recession of the gums and formation of pockets around the tooth roots if left unchecked. These infected teeth are painful, and can lead to serious health problems. A recent study showed that 80% of 3 year old dogs and cats had dental disease. I recommend yearly evaluation of your dog’s teeth by a veterinarian. Most dogs and cats should have their teeth professionally cleaned at least once annually to remove calculus buildup, and evaluate the health of the teeth. X-rays of diseased teeth should be taken to determine a course of treatment. This will require general anesthesia to be done properly. February is National Pet Dental Month. Many veterinary clinics will have special promotions during this time.
Dr. Dan Anderson has been practicing Veterinary Medicine since 1991 and can be found at Larpenteur Animal Hospital in St. Paul. He has two chihuahuas, Edith and Olive.