By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
Q: My German Shepherd was just diagnosed with blastomycosis, The vet is concerned and says he's not optimistic. Of course, we're very concerned. Any advice? -- S.H., Louisville, KY
A: Blastomycosis is a fungal infection caused by the organism blastomyces dermatitidis, which is commonly found in decaying wood and soil. When ground is stirred up by construction, dogs are more likely to be exposed to the spores which cause this illness. People can get this disease, too, but our noses aren't typically to the ground, so we aren't as prone. Studies show the most commonly affected dogs are larger, and live or play near fresh water. For whatever reason, generally younger dogs get blastomycosis, though it can infect dogs of any age.
The disease can cause damage to the lungs, eyes, skin and bones. Without treatment, Dr. Al Legendre says, a dog will die.
"The secret is to diagnose and treat early before serious disease, particularly lung involvement, results," says Legendre, a professor in the department of small animal clinical sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville. "We can lose 10 to 12 percent in the first week. Over half the dogs will be cured after the first course of treatment; most others after a second course."
The problem for many owners isn't the eventual effectiveness of Itraconazole (Sporanox), but the cost of the drug. Legendre says the cost for a German Shepherd-sized dog could exceed $25 a day, and treatment might last from 60 to 90 days or more.
Q: I adopted my domestic short hair cat as a stray. Sable was quite sick for the first few months as a young kitten. I had her spayed at 9 months and declawed (I know I'm awful). Since the surgery, she's become quite a biter. Every time something happens, like I go away on vacation, the biting gets worse. Sable is punishing me. Even her play involves biting. Can you help? -- M.L., Tampa, FL
A: Smart as we are, we're not cats. Often, when kittens are brought up by people, they never learn not to bite. If Sable had bitten another kitten in her litter or Mom, she would have learned her lesson instantly. Not being feline, we have a difficult time replicating that instant communication.
Certified cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, of Nashville, TN, host of "Psycho Kitty" on Discovery Channel in the UK, explains that the biting might increase when you're away because of a lack of stimulation while you're gone, or maybe anxiety plays a role -- not because Sable is punishing you.
"It's important to teach your cat what is appropriate for play, chase, pounce and bite," Johnson-Bennett says. "Play (with Sable) with a pole toy at least once a day. If you won't be home, offer a variety of toys. Do consider that cats -- while they are independent -- can get lonely."
If your cat bites you, offer no attention except a stern, "No." Then calmly walk away. Don't create a chase game.
The best instructor remains a feline. Consider adopting another cat as a pal for Sable. If you do, introduce the cats very gradually, says Johnson-Bennett, author of "Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-adjusted Cat -- Not a Sour Puss" (Penguin Publishing, New York, NY, 2011; $18).
By the way, you did a great thing by taking in this kitten, but the declaw was not necessary. Amputating part of a kitten's toes is, indeed, awful.
Q: We bought a leopard gecko from a pet store. Spotty is fun, but we really can't pick him up; he's so squirmy. Any advice? -- C.J., Chula Vista, CA
A: "Maybe Spotty won't be so hesitant if every time you reach slowly into the cage you have a mealworm or waxworm in your hand," suggests Liz Palika, of Oceanside, CA, author of "Leopard Geckos for Dummies" (Wiley Publishing, Hoboken, NJ, 2007; $9.99).
Waxworms are especially appealing -- like candy for geckos. But don't overdo it, or you could have a sick or overweight lizard. The training process could take several weeks.
"Meanwhile, when you go to clean the cage, don't chase Spotty with your hand or he'll be fearful," says Palika. "Just place a paper cup in the cage and gently herd him in."
Q: I have a very playful cat. She loves to play ball, even catching the ball in her paws. She also retrieves. Sometimes, she'll catch the ball, drop it in her water bowl, then bring the wet ball back to me. What's that all about? -- L.F., Homosassa, FL
A: Perhaps your kitty drops the ball into her water bowl so it's clean. Or perhaps she's taking the ball back to where she always eats, just as outdoor cats return to the same place with prey they've caught. This is all merely conjecture. It might simply be that your cat is entertained by watching the splash as she drops the ball in her water.
Q: What's your opinion of choke collars for dogs? -- B.B., St. Paul, MN
A: If you mean metal chain-link collars, often referred to as choke collars -- I don't believe there's reason to use one, ever.
While it's true that when used correctly, such collars actually don't choke dogs, not all owners use them correctly. What's more, recent research has shown that such collars can cause a build-up of eye pressure over time. Choke chains can also exacerbate airway issues. For instance, this type of collar can worsen coughing in dogs prone to collapsing trachea (weak muscles in the throat) and affect the ability of dogs with small tracheas, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, to breathe. Additionally, when corrections are harsh enough, dogs may even develop neurological damage.
Bottom line, why would anyone consider a choke collar? I prefer a harness or head halter (such as a Gentle Leader). If a dog doesn't pull, a leash attached to a flat buckle collar can suffice.
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 www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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