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Q: My dog is forever eating things outside and drinking from puddles. Is that dangerous?

A: Dogs are scavengers by nature and if allowed, may eat decaying, rotten materials, garbage, or drink contaminated water. Aside from bacteria and toxins, such materials might also contain plastic, glass or other foreign matter that might obstruct or injure the digestive tract. Puddles and cast-off containers might contain harmful bacteria or any of a variety of toxic materials, ranging from antifreeze to pesticides. Common signs of garbage intoxication include vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. With other materials, signs depend on the nature of the ingested toxin. While most poisonings can be successfully treated, death may occur in severe cases. It's best to confine your dog to your yard or leash walking to avoid disaster.

W. James Brown, DVM

Cat loses his way

Q: One of my six cats has begun to urinate far away from his litter box. My vet found no sign of infection or crystals. Why did he suddenly change? What should I do?

A: Your problem is both common and complex. Finding a solution is like a human-feline chess match. First establish that he is free of non-urinary diseases. If so, consider why he would leave the previously acceptable litter and location. Did you change anything, about the box, litter or attention to cleanliness. Ask yourself what he likes about his new location and surface texture. Is there anything new about your household? A new cat inside or outside can upset routines. Are there any disputes in the feline population over food, social status or turf? Is he marking by raising his tail and urinating on a vertical surface or just squatting to urinate? A cure will involve limiting his access to the wrong place and making it unattractive. You will also need to make the litter box as user-friendly as possible. That involves finding answers to the questions outlined above and acting on your new understanding of feline psychology.

W. James Brown, DVM

The right amount of food

Q: How much should I feed my 7-year-old, 40-pound lab mix? My friends say Max is too thin.

A: I have a general guide for evaluating body condition on short-haired dogs. If you can see ribs, he is too thin. If you can not see them, but can feel them he is in good body condition. If you can not see or feel ribs he is overconditioned, or fat. The bag or can of food should have a feeding guide based on weight. Variations to their recommendations occur with type of food, and your pet's age, medical conditions, parasites, and living conditions. Ask your veterinarian to study Max's record for recent changes in weight. It may be necessary to take Max for a physical exam and stool exam, to assure that 40 pounds is normal for Max.

W. James Brown, DVM

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