My Pet World: Dog and mom still need each other

Question: Please help settle a family dispute. My 91-year old mother lives 70 miles away in an independent living facility. Her memory is failing, as she was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Pets are allowed, but residents need to be able to care for them.

I'm the only sibling who supports the idea of Mom keeping her beloved Charlie Boy. He's a 10-year-old miniature poodle who adores Mom as much as she adores him. We pay a staff person to walk Charlie twice a day. Do you think we're being fair to Charlie? And how do we deal with other care Charlie may need? — B.J., Miami

Answer: While I don't know your mom or Charlie, it seems clear they love one another. As long as you have Charlie's basic needs covered, you're set. I assume a staff member can make sure your mom remembers to give Charlie food and water. It would be nice if a relative, friend, or staff member could offer Charlie a somewhat longer walk once or twice a week. Then again, he's not a spring chicken and likely doesn't need much more than the chance to "go potty" three or four times daily. To insure that Charlie stays in good health, it's important that he visit a vet twice a year. Also, someone must be responsible for administering flea and heartworm protection.

As your mother's capabilities diminish, it will be beneficial to have one constant in her life. And while Charlie won't care much about Mom's failing memory, he will continue to love her unconditionally. In fact, over time, I'll bet you see their bond grow even stronger. At some point, Charlie might be the only one in the room who really knows what Mom is thinking.

Q: We took Macy to the vet and ever since she's been urinating outside the box a lot. I know it's her, and not Steven, because I've witnessed her doing this. Both are strictly indoor cats. Any advice? — B.J., Boston.

A: "After a visit to the veterinary clinic, Macy might look the same to Steven, but she smells like an entirely different cat," says Darlene Arden, cat behavior consultant, and author of "The Complete Cat's Meow" (Wiley Publishing, New York, NY, 2011; $19.99). From Steven's perspective, a smelly imposter has invaded the house.

Arden suggests placing Macy in a second bedroom, den, or other room where you can close the door. Place a litter box on one side of the room, and her food and water dishes on the other side. Separation will allow Steven to cool off. Certainly, this seclusion shouldn't be punishment; family members should visit Macy and play with her as often as possible.

Meanwhile, take a clean cloth and rub it on Macy (particularly around her cheeks), then rub that same cloth on Steven (as many times a day as you have time for), and visa versa. The goal is to deposit the cats' scents on one another. Meanwhile, clean up previous accidents with an enzymatic cleaner.

After several days, begin to allow Macy out of her room, but only when someone is there to supervise. Distract Steven from Macy with a treat or an interactive cat toy (a fishing pole-type toy with feathers, or a Cat Dancer).

Also remember, the rule for two cats is three litter boxes, and scoop daily.

Q: We have two adorable Cocker Spaniels, both adopted from rescue five years ago. Last April, they both developed ear infections, but between two veterinarians, we've made little progress. I clean the dogs' ears each morning, apply Baytril (an antibiotic) or Otomax (for bacterial infections of the outer ear in dogs). One dog, Murdock, also licks his paws a lot.

At times, the dogs are in pain, and our vet suggested both Tradmadol and Rimadyl (two types of pain relief). On most days, I get a lot of gunk out of their ears when I clean them. Our new vet has put both dogs on a prescription duck-and-potato diet, and they're taking allergy pills. The food change seems to have helped Murdock some. We're also concerned that Murdock is developing a resistance to antibiotics. Any advice? — T.V.P, Tampa, Fla.

A: As complex as your issues appear, they're also common (particularly in Cocker Spaniels), according to veterinary dermatologist Dr. Dunbar Gram of Richmond, Va.

"Since you've begun the food trial, certainly continue with the novel diet for the period prescribed by your veterinarian," Gram says. "Remember, your dogs can't have any treats or table scraps during this time."

If it turns out food allergy is the underlying cause, the persistent ear infections still require a more effective treatment.

Gram says it's likely that ear mites and hypothyroid disease have already been ruled out. Unfortunately, the frustration of resistance to antibiotic treatment is common.

"Sometimes, the problem is so advanced that surgery is the only option," Gram says. One type of surgery (lateral ear canal resection) allows for additional air flow; another operation (ear canal ablation) leaves animals deaf. However, the latter is sometimes done because the severe ear pain just can't be relieved any other way."

Before making any rash decision, if the problem persists consider seeing a veterinary dermatologist.

Q: Is my veterinarian crazy or money hungry? He wants to give my dog a Lyme disease vaccine. There's no Lyme disease where I live. — F.T., Alpharetta, Ga.

A: Actually, Lyme disease now occurs in all 50 states. While it's certainly more prevalent in New England than Oregon, Georgia is considered a high-incidence state. Also, consider where you travel. It's one thing if you remain in a large metropolitan area 12 months a year, and another if you go hiking or camping. Still, even in big cities, dogs may travel to the country, then return to deposit ticks in urban parks.

Deer ticks are prominent vectors for Lyme disease, so if you see lots of deer, there may be lots of Lyme disease around. Bottom line, if your veterinarian is diagnosing Lyme disease in the area, consider protecting your pet. At least for dogs, a vaccine is available. (There's no Lyme vaccine for people.). Learn more at

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