February 5

Q&A: Can my dog get the flu from me?

I’m not a vet! I always feel the need to say that whenever I start out a column where I answer questions from readers. As always, if you are concerned about a medical or behavioral issue with your pet, please contact a veterinarian or appropriate animal professional for help.

Q. Is it true my dog can get the flu? Can he catch it from me or vice versa?

A. Dog flu is spreading around the country, and like human flu, it can be serious, especially for very young or old dogs or those with another illness. Fortunately, with proper medical care, most dogs recover from the flu. Dog flu usually starts with a cough, so if your pup has been coughing for a while and seems lethargic or has nasal discharge, a trip to the vet is in order (coughs can also be caused by bordatella – another malady that requires medical treatment). The biggest problem with dog flu is that in some cases, the dogs develop pneumonia, which is considerably more dangerous.

The form of flu found in dogs comes from horses. No humans have been found to get that strain of the flu virus, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be the first. Similarly, dogs do not get the strains of flu that humans are susceptible to. Don’t worry about having Rover hang out with you on your next sick day – he’ll be fine.

Q. My cat has been urinating outside of the litterbox lately – and I mean right outside. It seems deliberate. What can I do?

A. If your cat is urinating right beside the litterbox, it’s clear that she knows where she is supposed to be going. The first thing to check is that you’re cleaning the box frequently enough. Also, think about if you have switched to a different cleaning agent recently – it may have a different odor that bothers your cat. Try plain old white vinegar, which cleans well and has a smell that dissipates quickly. Have you switched brands of cat litter or has the manufacturer changed the formula recently?

If problems still persist, have a vet checkup that includes a urinalysis. As they age, cats are more likely to develop kidney disease, which could be causing more frequent urination (and thus, the box is dirty before it used to be). Arthritis or a hurt back may keep your cat from being able to easily jump in and out of the box. More rarely, diabetes can also be a medical concern.

Finally, check to see if you have changed behaviors. Have you arranged the furniture differently, started working outside the home or being away more hours, or introduced another pet to the household? All these things can upset cats, and it may take a little time for the cat to get comfortable again. Don’t compound the issue by scolding; instead make more quality time for your cat and see if it helps.

Q. Why are you always telling people to go to the veterinarian for things like dewormers or flea treatment? Most people can do those things themselves.

A. It’s true that giving a dog over-the-counter medication can be relatively easy, and safe if you read and follow the directions carefully. For some people though, keeping their pets parasite-free is not something they want to do personally. Or, a pet owner might like to learn from a vet or veterinary technician even for simple pet care issues. The bottom line is, if you have any questions or feel unsure in any way, work with a professional who has been trained in how to provide proper medical care for animals.

When I first had a pet rabbit, I was too nervous to cut her toenails myself. I took her into my vet’s office and paid $12 every 3 to 4 weeks until I got more comfortable with how to safely restrain the rabbit and cut the nail without touching the quick. Now, of course, I do this for my pet rabbits without a second thought. But it was valuable to me to have someone who had experience show me how.

The cost of a veterinarian’s time is actually low compared to many professionals. Take advantage of that if you need to. And for those who are comfortable providing a lot of basic care for your pets, by all means, continue to do so.

Q. Do you ever watch those pet psychic shows on the animal channel? Is there any legitimacy to that stuff?

A. The shows on Animal Planet are really for entertainment purposes only. Some of the answers the communicators give are hilariously simple, such as telling the owner that their dog really likes to have treats or that their rabbit doesn’t like to hop on the floor after a strong-smelling cleaning agent has been used. It doesn’t take ESP to determine that!

On the other hand, some of these animal communicators are actually great animal behavioralists. They understand how animals act and have a lot of experience with how to improve problem behaviors. This may be more of what’s at play than true mind reading.

But I’m not going to rule out animal communication because I’ve heard too many stories about how it has worked. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I would not laugh at someone who tried it to clear up a problem behavior. Whether it’s “psychic” or just good intuition, having another perspective on a problem can sometimes help clear it up, and could be worth a try.

See also: Dental checks, care necessary for long-lived pets   Thinking about a pet bird? Try chickens