Q: When we purchased our 8-week-old German Shepherd, we were told he was very healthy. However, he's suffered from an unbelievable skin condition, constantly scratching his stomach, genitals and ears. We've taken him to a dermatologist and to our veterinarian many times, but all they say is he should undergo "scratch tests" that would cost thousands of dollars -- and that might not even help. We can't afford the tests. This dog also suffers from clogged anal glands. We love him enough to put him out of his misery. We know he must be uncomfortable. What would you advise? -- S.M., Cyberspace
A: Euthanizing any pet is a very personal decision, but in this instance, it would seem to be a tragedy. "In very young dogs, the most likely explanations (for what you describe) are food allergies and/or scabies. They are both 100 percent treatable," says Dr. Dunbar Gram, a veterinary dermatologist in Richmond, VA.
Scabies or sarcoptic mange is caused by mites and is contagious (to other pets). Some dogs may show symptoms, some not. If scabies is identified, other dogs at the breeder where you purchased yours may have had the problem. Gram adds, "Scabies can be hard to find, but it's not unreasonable to treat thinking they may be there."
Gram says that testing for food allergies can cost several hundred dollars (but not thousands, as you suggest). Most importantly, it probably isn't necessary. A more cost-effective option would be to put your dog on a food trial, using an appropriate hypoallergenic diet recommended by your veterinarian. During a food trial, your dog would eat nothing except the suggested "special" diet for two months -- no treats, no table snacks.
It's true that such "special" diets are more expensive than most over-the-counter food brands. However, working with a veterinary dermatologist has several advantages, one being that together you may be able to pinpoint the allergen (if there is one, keeping in mind that mites might be the problem, or a contributing factor).
As for the anal gland issue, Gram wonders if your dog is licking back there because his rear-end itches (as a result of food allergies), or if there are truly unrelated anal gland problems. If so, these can be treated.
My hope is that your dog can enjoy an itch-free happy life and you can help make that happen without breaking the bank.
Q: I'm desperate for answers. Baby, our 7-year-old, 16-pound cat was very healthy, then she began to leak a black liquid from her rectum, which developed into a vaginal infection. The problem creates an odor, though it's not like "poo." I brought Baby to the vet, but I've now spent $750 and they still can't find a thing. These trips to the vet are so stressful that Baby has to be sedated. Dry food is always available, and Baby gets canned food in the morning. Her stools are always soft. The only suggestion from my vet is that I see a specialist, but that's too expensive. Any other ideas? -- M.J.S., Las Vegas, NV
A: One hint as to the problem may be Baby's girth. Dr. Vicki Thayer, president of the non-profit Winn Feline Foundation and past president of American Association of Feline Practitioners, says, "Of course, you'll have a happier, healthier cat overall if you and your veterinarian can develop a weight-loss program. This would likely include cutting out the free feeding (leaving food out all the time), transitioning to only canned food (a low carbohydrate choice) and beginning an exercise regimen."
Thayer says it's possible Baby isn't able to groom around her rear end because she can't reach (her tummy gets in the way), and with weight and age, she may be developing arthritis so reaching back to groom hurts.
Since Baby's problem doesn't generate a smell like "poo," clogged anal glands is the likely answer, says Thayer, of Lebanon, OR. Your veterinarian can offer advice, depending on whether or not the glands are infected.
Q: Our cat, Eddie, loves to attack the rolls of toilet paper in our bathrooms. He chews off big chunks of paper and unravels the paper, creating a huge mess. We've had to resort to not hanging toilet paper on the holder. How can we stop Eddie's annoying habit? -- C.L. Boca Raton, FL
A: Eddie needs a life. Give him more interesting activities, although this might be a challenge now that playing with the toilet paper has become his favorite sport.
Hang some self-play cat toys from door frames and door knobs around the house. You could also add some free-standing toys that move when cats touch them. Rub the new toys in catnip to attract Eddie. Meanwhile, close your bathroom doors or remove the toilet paper from the rolls when you leave the house.
Many self-play toys are available at pet stores and online. You can also make your own. For example, take a wire coat hanger and tie a string to one end with a hanging mouse toy or cork (from a wine bottle), then attach the toy to a door knob. Another idea: Scattering a few plastic lids from milk cartons on the floor. NHL players may be on strike, but your cat can still play hockey! Rotate Eddie's toys periodically.
I also like toys in which you can hide kibble or food; they provide a kind of occupational therapy for pets. A new line is available from Aikiou.
To help Eddie use up some of his excess energy, when you are home, use a fishing pole-type toy to play with him daily.
Wiping out Eddie's toilet paper habit is serious business. If he's actually ingesting some of that paper or bit of the toilet paper tubes, this could be dangerous, potentially causing a gastrointestinal obstruction.
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services