Advice from the Experts

Q and A with Steve Dale

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Q: I've read that apple cider vinegar be used as a supplement to assist with dog health. Is this true? -- H.W., Chicago

A: According to some reports, apple cider vinegar is everything except, maybe, the fountain of youth. Some websites proclaim that apple cider vinegar improves digestion, as well as teeth and gums, prevents skin problems, assists infections to heal, wipes away tear stains, can serve as an appetite stimulant in sick dogs, and helps improve immune systems. (Presumably, for skin problems, diluted apple cider vinegar is wiped on the PET'S coat. To remove tear stains, similarly wipe with diluted apple cider vinegar. For all other benefits, add to the dog's food or water.)

The problem is, there's no scientific evidence to verify these benefits (except the tear staining, which perhaps apple cider vinegar is effective for, but it may also irritate some dogs).

Dr. Jill Cline, a Ph.D. nutritionist and nutrition insight manager at Royal Canin pet food, says, "I am aware that apple cider vinegar has become an area of keen interest for some holistic-type veterinarians. The good news is that there's no data to demonstrate that it's harmful (as long as the product is diluted), but then there's no data to show that apple cider vinegar is beneficial."

However, there is data to validate that coconut oil (another current craze) is beneficial to coat health and has shown to benefit dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (an Alzheimer's-like condition). It remains unclear but seems possible, if not likely, that coconut oil could also help with gastrointestinal issues and support immune health. In fact, not surprisingly, coconut oil offers benefits to human health, as well.

Q: I don't have pets. I don't want pets. Every day, when I open the door to get the newspapers, there's pet piddle on my front door. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening? And why are our neighbors such slobs? -- L.D., Las Vegas, NV.

A: I can't explain your neighbors' behavior, nor can I defend them, but I agree that they are inconsiderate slobs! Having said that, I believe most people want to do the right thing. I also assume your neighbors love their pets.

My hope is that these folks are open to a reasonable conversation about the problem. Odds are, other neighbors feel as you do, and there's power in numbers. While it's unfair, of course, that you have to deal with dog or cat pee on your property, your best strategy might be to point out to your neighbors how many animals allowed to run loose are hit by cars. Even for street-savvy dogs and cats, all it takes is one squirrel or mouse on the other side of the street to put them at risk.

You could also mention to them (in a nice way) that animal control might mistake their pet for a stray. And when pets land in shelters without microchips or tags, they can't be easily located. Also, many communities charge a fee for pet owners to reclaim their animals. Of course, there are leash laws, so allowing a pet to wander is illegal.

You sound angry, and I don't blame you a bit. However, I hope you understand that the pet has done nothing wrong. The problem is a lack of responsible supervision.

Q: Our 15-year-old cat was diagnosed with hyperthyroid disease. She also has liver problems, which we treat with Zentonil. Since she began taking the drug, she's stopped eating her special prescription food for hyperthyroid cats, called y/d. I can't give her another food, or add anything to this food because you're not supposed to do that if your cat is on y/d. Her breath smells terrible, but I don't know this is due to her teeth or the liver problems. What can we do? -- N.L., Laval, Quebec, Ontario, Canada

A: Veterinary endocrinology expert Dr. Mark Peterson, of New York City, explains that cats with hyperthyroid disease may indeed also have high liver values. He wonders, therefore, if you're checking the thyroid levels often enough to insure effectiveness of the diet to control your cat's disease.

"What you're smelling might indeed be dental disease, as you suggest, or even kidney insufficiency. So, aside from a dental check, kidney values must also be looked at," Peterson says.

And you're right, a cat on Hill's prescription y/d cannot have any other food or any treats. As for your cat's apparent lack of appetite, it's unlikely this is related to the Zentonil. Dental issues may be an explanation, or perhaps your cat is just tired of the prescription food. Peterson suggests.

The best solution may be to ask your veterinarian about another option to treat hyperthyroid disease. One choice is called radioactive iodine (the cat would have to remain hospitalized several days for treatment). Only specialized veterinary hospitals offer this treatment. Radioactive iodine works, typically curing the disease.

Another option is medication, which your cat would then take for the remainder of her life. When the thyroid is monitored regularly, the medication is effective at controlling the disease. Surgery is a third option, and cures the disease, but is rarely done anymore since these less-invasive options became available.

Q: I've always wondered, just as I recognize my friends' voices on the phone, can dogs recognize one another's barks? -- P.G., Appleton, WI

A: We know dogs recognize each other's barks through observation. Let's say you're out in a field, and a familiar dog barks in the distance, but at a place where your dog can't see the pet. Your dog will go running in the direction of his barking friend. If a strange dog barks, your dog may stop what he's doing for a moment, but won't go running with excitement.

And, by the way, dogs recognize our individual voices. However, their ability to do so is limited. Dogs do far better at recognizing hand signals than our voices when it comes to training.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.