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Ask a Vet: Answers to your questions about ticks, athritis and how to brush a dog's teeth

Dr. David Balaj, Harper Woods Veterinary Hospital
Dr. David Balaj, Harper Woods Veterinary Hospital

Dr. David Balaj joined WDIV Local 4's Sarah Mayberry on the ClickOnDetroit.com digital set for "Ask a Vet," a half-hour show answering your questions about pet health. This show we cover flea and tick medicine, arthritis, allergies, teething brushing and why dogs eat the things they do(do).  

Thank you to everyone who sent in questions and joined our Facebook Live. You can watch the segment here or in the video at the end of this story. Below is a recap of Balaj's answers (paraphrased) to your questions. 

Does a flea and tick medicine applied to shoulder blades prevent ticks and kill fleas on dogs? 

Yes, they do work. They take 12-18 hours to take effect, meaning you will still see fleas walking on dogs after initial applications. 

Along with topicals, oral pills are very, very effective in dogs. Topical medicines are best for prevention, but if you have an infestation, the oral medications work better. There are no oral medications for cats because of the toxicity. Some things you put on dogs can be toxic for cats. 

How do flea and tick medicines work? Do they repel or kill bugs? 

Both. Topical medicines will make sure eggs don't hatch, and some repel fleas, tickets and mosquitoes. Oral medicines aren't preventative, but work quickly to kill infestations.  

Do flea and tick medicines work with bed bugs? 

They don't work well with bed bugs. Talk with your vet on how to get rid of them. 

What can be done for arthritis in dogs? 

When you see a dog having a difficult time getting up, arthritis is often the cause. If medicine isn't working, you may want to get an X-Ray to look for the cause. You may also need to work with a vet on a series of steps to reduce inflammation. It may not be one thing.  

Do cats get arthritis?

Arthritis is rare in cats. If they're having a hard time moving, nutrition and supplements can have a big impact on feline health.

Does acupuncture for dogs work?

No. 1, you need to go to someone who is highly skilled in acupuncture. They can make a difference, but check credentials because many people take a class or two and offer services. Highly skilled acupuncturists can improve a dog's health.

How do you find a highly trained pet acupuncturist?

Most vets will know the best people to see. You can also call service providers and ask for their credentials. If they're not highly trained, or reluctant to share their training, steer clear. There are about three highly skilled pet acupuncturists in the Detroit area.

How old can you spay or neuter dogs? 

You can spay and neuter dogs at any time. Younger is better to avoid health risks, and around 6 months old is optimal for dogs and cats. There's a small amount of risk to the procedure, but most pets of any age are OK. 

Why do dogs eat grass? 

Researchers did two multi-million-dollar studies and still can't figure out why. No one knows why, and it's really not dangerous. Rarely, a hairball of grass needs to be removed, but usually grass does little harm to dogs and cats. 

Why do dogs eat poop? 

Again, no one really knows why. You can stop it by cleaning up the dog poop quickly or adding crushed pineapple (it's safe for dogs) to food because the enzyme in it makes it less appealing to dogs. Some dogs you can't stop, and there's no medical reason for their (gross) taste.

Why does my cat "spray" even after being spayed or neutered?

When you fix an animal it decreases the chance of having behavioral issues controlled by hormones, but there are other reasons you'll see cats spray. For example, social pressure from other cats nearby can set cats off. They also may have had a bad experience in a litter box. When it is a problem, it's difficult to stop because cats are nocturnal animals and they're difficult to re-train.

When will my 6-month-old sheltie stop chewing everything?

They're teething between 6-9 months old, so that's usually the chewing behavior. Once they get through that phase they'll usually calm down. Smarter dogs tend to chew longer, because they're experiencing their environment and they explore through their mouth. Dogs usually stop chewing after 1-year-old. 

Should you see a vet if chewing persists after a year? 

We recommend bringing a bet to the vet around 9 or 10 months old for a check up. Vets can identify behavioral issues and even markers for obesity around 10 months old in a dog, so you're going to see a big change in veterinary medicine in the next three or five years toward preventative care to stop issues because it gets too far. 

How do you help a kitten get through a cold? 

Most cats it ends up a herpes virus, which is very common, nearly all cats get it. It usually runs its course on its own. You can bring a cat in the shower to help steam them a little bit. If they're having a hard time breathing or eating you may need medicine to clear it up. Make sure they can eat and clear their nose as best as possible. 

My 13-year-old cat stopped eating. What might be the reason? 

First thing I'd check is the mouth for bad teeth. Cavities can be very painful and cause them to stop eating. Sometimes changing the food can help, or there can be underlying issues. 

How do you brush a Chihuahuas' (or any dog's) teeth? 

You have to start young and build up a tolerance. You can get them professionally cleaned, and more and more, people are doing this to help dogs. It's one of the most-important things you can do for a dog. They live their lives through their mouths. You can also get products to minimize tartar build up, including a product made by TruBenefits Entero you sprinkle onto food to kill bacteria and help gastrointestinal health. 

My cat has dandruff and coat isn't shiny? 

That usually means they're deficient in fatty acids, but could also be a sign of an underlying metabolic disease. TruBenefits and other supplement-makers offer products to restore fatty acids. 

My little dog loved riding in the car, but now gets sick. Is there anything I can do? 

Don't feed them before you go, but there are medications that can solve this problem, so talk to your veterinarian. You can try short rides and slowly extend, if you need to train.

My dog has skin allergies on his feet and its getting worse in the summer. What can I do? 

Allergies are the most frustrating disease we deal with, even more than behaviorial issues. It's one you're probably not going to cure. You have to determine the primary cause. Its it an inhalation allergy, like us, or is it a food allergy? If it's inhalation there are medicines coming out that are really good. If it's food, it can be really frustrating trying to get the right protein source. Unfortunately, allergies tend to be progressive and tend to get worse. With the right intercession you can make progress. 

Pets can't talk, so you do you figure out symptoms to treat? 

Their body language tells you what's wrong. If you watch them, they'll show you what's wrong. Treating any pet I need three things: I need to hear your voice, I need to see your eyes to see how distressed you are, and I need to see your pet's eyes. Then we can go from there. 

Many thanks to Dr. David Balaj from Harper Woods Veterinary Hospital for taking part in Monday's "Ask a Vet" and to everyone who shared questions. Look for future episodes of "Ask a Vet" from WDIV Local 4 and All 4 Pets.