Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published October 14, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Dogs, other animals ‘play doctor’

Dear Dr. Fox: I have two dogs. The older female had a growth removed from her leg, and the other one (male) checks that spot every morning when they get up. They sleep on the sofa together. It seems like he’s checking up on her because he knows she’s had a problem. Do animals play doctor, or is it just curiosity because she may smell different?

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I have two dogs. The older female had a growth removed from her leg, and the other one (male) checks that spot every morning when they get up. They sleep on the sofa together. It seems like he’s checking up on her because he knows she’s had a problem.

Do animals play doctor, or is it just curiosity because she may smell different?

– R.E., Culpeper, Va.

Dear R.E.: Animals do indeed “play doctor,” caring for one of their own kind when ill, injured or in need of help. Members of the pack have been observed in the wild bringing food to an injured wolf until their pack mate made a full recovery. Chimpanzees and other primates have been seen consuming certain herbs when they are ill, clearly passing this knowledge from one generation to the next. Elephants and dolphins will protect an injured member of their group, and some serve as midwives and baby sitters. There are countless other reports of animals “playing doctor,” all indicative of a degree of awareness/consciousness and empathic concern that should radically change how people regard and treat them.

Some dogs are more adept or motivated than others to be attentive caregivers. Just like your dog, our male dog Batman vets our dog Lizzie every morning before they go out, carefully sniffing several places on her body where various growths were removed surgically months ago. He shows evident concern and was actually the first to spot a small growth on her ankle.

Researchers are applying this sensitive ability of dogs, with their highly developed sense of smell, to facilitate early diagnosis of various cancers in humans.


Dear Dr. Fox: Our kitten, Marshmallow, is 2 years old and has always had urinary problems. I had all my cats on Royal Canin SO 30 dry cat food for most of the time. I fed various canned cat foods every other day. The cats get chicken, lean beef, fresh grass and homegrown catnip. I have eight clean litter boxes and several sources of fresh water.

Last time I had Marshmallow to one of my vets, she had crystals and thickening of her bladder wall. He told me to give her Royal Canin SO 30 canned food plus 85 days of Dasuquin. It took more than two months, but her urine cleared and increased in amounts.

Recently, I decided to switch my cats gradually to the Wellness brand dry food. After only two weeks, Marshmallow is starting to strain a little, and her urine is darkening. I thought Wellness was good for urinary tracts. What should I do?

Also, my beloved 17-year-old cat, Lucky, has kidney failure. Any of your golden advice to make her more comfortable would be much appreciated. – J.Z., Ayr, N.D.

Dear J.Z.: You have learned from Marshmallow what happens to many cats who are fed only a dry food diet. Since she was doing well on the canned food brand, I would not switch to another. Encourage her to drink plenty of water, even flavoring it with a little milk or boiled chicken juice. Adding a drop of fish oil, such as Nordic Naturals for cats, to her food every day will help soothe her bladder because of the anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil. Gradually increase the amount to one-half teaspoon.

Old Lucky, suffering from kidney failure, would also benefit from fish oil and, under veterinary supervision, from being given a phosphate binder plus potassium, a drug such as benazepril (to lower blood pressure) and a vitamin D supplement.

Administering fluids under the skin periodically is a cheap and effective form of kidney dialysis and benefits many cats suffering kidney failure. Some veterinarians offer kidney transplants from healthy donor cats, but I am not in favor of this for medical and ethical reasons.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

Tags: