Q: I adopted a cat from the streets 19 years ago; she was about a year old at the time. She used the litter box for years, but recently stopped. I haven't changed the brand of litter. At the moment, she uses newspapers placed next to the box. What's going on? -- T.M., Caracas, Venezuela
A: Doing the math, your cat is now quite elderly. Beth Adelman, a New York City-based certified cat behavior consultant, is concerned that the change in behavior might be due to a physical problem, so please see your veterinarian. When you do, "Be sure to explain to your vet what's going on. Specifically ask to check for arthritis," Adelman says.
Adelman suggests substituting the kind of box you might store sweaters in under the bed. Cut out a large U-shaped entrance in front which will require little effort for your cat to use. Make sure there are no sharp edges on this 'door.' As options, you could try an extra-large cookie sheet or cafeteria tray. Since your cat seems to like newspaper, consider going with shredded newspaper. Or try a litter brand made from newspaper.
Keep in mind that it's no more unusual to see changes occur in a 20-year-old cat than it would be to see them in a 100-year-old person.. Overall, your cat seems to be doing remarkably well.
Q: We've been making our dog's food and she seems to be thriving. Brown rice is a large component of the recipe. Recently, however, I've seen information about brown rice containing arsenic. We're concerned that this might eventually cause health problems for our dog. We haven't found any commercial food she can eat which won't cause her to clear a room, so it seems we're stuck making our own. Any advice? -- J.D., Las Vegas, NV
A: You situation is complicated, with no definitive solution. It's true that there have been instances of recalled brown rice due to arsenic above acceptable levels for people. Also, according to a 2012 Consumer Reports study, eating rice daily can cause an increase on inorganic arsenic levels in the body by 45 percent. The study surveyed more than 60 different rice products, from baby cereal to rice pasta and rice drinks, and found "worrisome" levels of arsenic in most of the products.
Arsenic is also found in the environment. However, you're concerned about an animal smaller than a person eating rice on a daily basis. What's the long-range impact?
"We don't really have all those answers," says veterinary nutritionist Dr. Claudia Kirk, professor and head of small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville. She suggests contacting the manufacturer of the rice you use to ask if the company does regularly testing of its products. "Certainly, frequent monitoring is a good sign," she says.
Kirk suggests that quinoa might be an effective grain substitute for brown rice. The fiber and vitamin B content is similar (though not identical), she notes. Because brown rice and quinoa are different, having your dog food recipe revaluated (for nutrition, and so you know how much quinoa to use) is a good idea if you decide to make the switch.
For more information on rice, one resource might be the California Rice Growers Association, http://cawildrice.com. Experts suggest that if you use brown or white rice (for human or animal consumption), you should wash it first, then cook it with six times the amount of water you'd otherwise need. This will eliminate 30 percent of the arsenic.
Q: At what age should a puppy's baby teeth fall out? Our dog, who'll be 8 months old at the end of November, still has 12 baby teeth. The veterinarian says these teeth should be extracted right away -- at a cost of over $1,000. Does this sound right? -- L.G., Hudson, FL
A: Dr. Dale Paley, of Spartanburg, SC, says your puppy hasn't read the handbook. Those baby teeth are supposed to fall out between three and seven months.
"It's not unusual for a few retained deciduous (baby) teeth to be retained," says Paley, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Animal Hospital Association. "However, I've never seen 12; that's really a lot. So, first I wonder if 12 teeth really are retained. If so, yes, extracting those teeth is important. There's not room for the adult teeth and the deciduous teeth. But I'd want to know what's going on that there are so many teeth retained. Extracting those teeth is a big deal because the roots are deep. I'm concerned -- and really might consider investigating further with a board-certified veterinary dentist."
In Chicago, Dr. Sheldon Rubin adds that he's seen puppies with as many as 16 "baby teeth" that need pulling because they've failed to fall out, a problem most commonly seen in so-called 'pocket puppies' -- those from puppy mills sold at pet stores.
Q: As a kitten, my cat would cough and sneeze frequently, but this went away for years. Now he's at it again, sneezing a thick yellow discharge. My veterinarian says the cat has the feline herpes virus. The veterinarian put him on an antibiotic and said he'll get better, but only for a short time. I'm going to try a grain-free diet for my cat. I'm concerned about him being on antibiotics frequently. Any advice? -- S.H., Cyberspace
A: "Cats can get bacterial infections secondary to the feline herpes virus," says Dr. Susan Little, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. "And the antibiotics certainly are important to address any bacterial infections, but really don't affect the primary cause, which is a viral infection."
The majority of feline upper respiratory infections are caused by one of two viruses, herpes virus or calicivirus. Often times, the virus -- which may always lurk in a cat's system -- only unmasks and causes illness randomly throughout a cat's life, perhaps triggered by stress.
Little, who is the editor of the textbook "The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management," Elsevier, St. Louis, MO, 2012; $151) says you likely need to move to the next level of treatment, and suggests consulting a feline veterinarian, who may consider more thorough blood work and an antiviral medication. Little says that while a grain-free diet might not hurt your cat, it's not likely to help. In fact, if transitioning to the new diet is stressful for your cat, it might even contribute to the problem.
(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 http://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.)