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Pets: A sudden change in dog’s fur

Q: I have a 6-year-old Havanese. Within the past year she has developed reddish fur around her mouth. I have read that it can be caused from her licking her mouth from her saliva mixed with the food she eats. She has been eating the same dog food for six years. The concern I have is that it hasn’t always been like this. She sometimes gets reddish fur on her paws as well from licking them but it’s not as noticeable as her mouth. Is there anything, other than antibiotics, that can prevent this?

A: There are many different factors that can cause a dog’s saliva to stain its fur. Food is one, but since your dog has been eating the same brand for the last six years I do not think that is the problem. I would venture a guess that some kind of gum disease is affecting the saliva now and thus causing the staining. A visit to the vet may be in order. Such situations rarely go away without some sort of veterinary supervision.


Q: We have a cat who has been an indoor/outdoor cat for the last 13 years. Now my wife wants to keep her as an indoor-only cat as that seems to be the thing to do these days to protect the wild birds in the woods that border our property. However, I have seen the cat kill mice and other rodents when she is outside. Isn’t killing harmful rodents why cats were domesticated? I would think that would help offset some of the harm that she does by killing the birds and wanted your opinion.

A: You are correct in what you say about why cats were domesticated by the Egyptians so long ago, but things have changed since then. The Egyptians did encourage North African wild cats to live among their grain silos so that they would kill the rodents that lived there and were eating the grain meant for humans. An analogy in modern times would be a cat living in a barn that killed house mice and Norway rats that lived in the barn and ate the grain kept there for the horses and other farm animals. However, house mice and Norway rats are not native to North America. They are an invasive species introduced from Europe that cannot survive on their own without some help from humans in providing food or shelter. The rodents that your cat is killing in her forays into the woods are white-footed deer mice, chipmunks, meadow voles and insectivores such as shrews, and these animals are creatures native to our vanishing woodlands and not bothering anybody and actually are an important food source for our small native predators such as owls and hawks.

People love to see a little screech owl sitting on a branch in their backyards, but if your cat kills all the meadow voles then the owl has nothing to eat and needs to find another place to live. So if your wife understands that free-roaming cats do hurt the environment and wants to start to keep yours as an indoor-only cat from now on, then I can only encourage her decision and suggest that you do as well.


Q: I was wondering if you had any advice on how to effectively deal with raccoons in the area. I have always owned dogs (large ones, like Rottweilers, wandering about the yard), but my last one died this past year. I saw a family of raccoons for the first time about two months later walk across the yard at midday, and then there was evidence of them trying to drink pool water during the summer and climbing my house and drainpipes at night.

Someone told me to pour Pine Sol around the yard. I did, but I have no idea if it helped. Do you have any suggestions to keep the raccoons away? I don’t want to hurt them and I definitely don’t want to hurt any other animals.

A: There is no way that the smell of Pine Sol is going to keep a hungry raccoon from looking for food or shelter. You must be sure to eliminate all food sources by having all trash cans secured and locked so that they cannot be knocked down and opened up by raccoons.

You have to think like a raccoon in checking your property for shelters where the females have their babies. If there is a chimney without a cap, a hollow tree or a shed or garage or attic that is not secure and is accessible, then you can be sure an opportunistic animal like a raccoon will seek it out. A fence will not keep out a determined raccoon, and if you trap one on your property and take it away then another will just occupy the void. So the idea is to make your property as unattractive to raccoons as possible so that they will merely cross over your yard on their way to the yards of other people who are not as proactive.