Cat's stinky breath likely points to a medical problem

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Q: My cat was never a kisser, but he's begun to kiss us. I like the affection, but not the nasty breath! You'd think there would be a mint catnip or breath mint available for cats. Do you know of any such products? -- S.J., St. Paul, MN

A: Actually, catnip is a member of mint family, points out Dr. Kate Knutson, Bloomington, MN-based president of the American Animal Hospital Association. However, a breath mint for a cat would only offer a temporary fix, at best. That's because likely something medical is going on with your kitty. Odd as it sounds, kidney disease can turn a cat's breath sour, or a dental problem might explain the bad breath. See your veterinarian, and Knutson bets that soon those kisses will soon smell sweet as sugar.

Q: My cockatiel pulls out feathers on his back, on the tops of his wings, and on his breast until he's almost bare. He does this year-round, except in August, when he has almost all his feathers. What can I do? And what is it about August? -- J.F., Buffalo, NY

A: Avian veterinarian Dr. Peter Sakas, of Niles, IL, suggests that your bird molts in August, and that's when his feathers begin to grow in, hence that's likely why he looks so good that month.

There are many possible explanations, or combinations of reasons, to explain feather-picking in parrots, including humidity, hormonal changes, illness, stress/anxiety and nutrition.

"Let's start with nutrition," says Sakas. "Many people choose all-seed diets for cockatiels, where a pelleted diet is ideal. You can't just change diets overnight; the change has to be gradual. And getting the bird to cooperate can be tricky. A veterinarian with a special interest in birds needs to see your bird anyway to rule out a health issue and talk with you further."

Q: We just adopted a Lab-mix from a shelter. We lost our other dog, also a Lab-mix, about 6 months ago at age 14. For the last two years of her life, she was increasingly hobbled up. Is there any way to prevent debilitating arthritis, aside from a dog not living long enough to get it? -- S.K., Nashville, TN

A: Dr. Daryl Millis, professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary, Knoxville, says that keeping extra pounds off matters. He points to a study which demonstrated that dogs with better body condition scores (svelte figures in good physical shape) lived an average of two years longer, and enjoyed a better quality of life compared to overweight dogs. Still, osteoarthritis does occur in some slim dogs as they age, and our dogs are, overall, living longer than ever before.

A part of what determines if a dog will develop arthritis is the pet's genetic luck of the draw, although larger dogs and specific breeds may be predisposed.

"When catching osteoarthritis early on, there's evidence that you can slow progression using certain nutraceuticals," adds Millis, a charter member of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Millis says there's evidence that avocado/soybean unsaponifiables may be more effective than the often discussed glucosamine and chondroitin, all of which (with other ingredients) are together found in a veterinary supplement called Dasuquin.

The tricky part is catching the arthritis before a dog starts limping. Tips on what to look for will be offered at the 2013 Sports Medicine Conference: The Canine Athlete at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville, Dec. 6-7. Topics will range from treating the canine athlete to how to use nutrition to benefit canine joints.

Registration is from $75 to $375 (depending, in part, on which programs you choose). Learn more at: Millis is one of the instructors. If you can't attend the conference in person, the website offers details on how to view events online.

Keeping in condition can delay or prevent the onset of arthritis, Millis notes.

"Your dog doesn't need to be a canine athlete. Regular leash walks and (for many dogs) swimming are excellent and safe activities," he says.

As for acupuncture for dogs, Millis says there certainly might be some pain relief at the hands of a competent, experienced veterinarian, but he isn't aware of a study which confirms that acupuncture provides preventive benefit.

Q: Thanks for your sweet Tweet (@stevedalepets) on "Knowing when to say goodbye." Scout, my 17-1/2-year-old Bichon, is nearly blind and mostly deaf. I was also comforted after hearing your radio interview (with Dr. Alice Villalobos). After all, Scout does respond when our other dog, Tucker, barks. She's feeble, but still gets around, even going up and down stairs (though I'm with her when she does this). She still drinks and eats well, though she's fussier. So it's not quite time for a farewell. -- D.R, Villa Park, IL

A: "No one told your dog to be depressed because she can't see or hear very well," notes Dr. Alice Villalobos, of Hermosa Beach, CA, who has a special interest in end-of-life care for pets. "The big thing is that, based on what you wrote, Scout isn't in very much pain. And while her appetite isn't nearly what it once was, she's still eating. You are right; it doesn't sound like it's time."

Learn more at, including Dr. Villalobos' Quality of Life scale, a guide to assist pet owners to determine when the time may be right to euthanize (found under the Resources tab).

(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; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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