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Pet Talk With Dr. Marty Becker

America’s top veterinarian answers your questions about your furry and feathered pals

Ann: I have three dogs, three cats, three birds. My brother calls me an animal hoarder. How do you know when you have reached your limit?

MB: Ann, you're talking to someone who has four dogs, four cats ... so I'm with you. The good news is that there are studies that show that pets in multiple pet households are sick less often and when they go to the hospital, they get out more quickly and they live longer. And basically that's because of the socialization they enjoy with their own species. So unless you are breaking your budget and spending more than you can afford, or you're exceeding a legal issue that your landlord or covenants won't allow it, I'm fine with multiple pet households. The average size house, which is about 1,600 square feet, is ideal for 1-1/2 cats. When you have too many cats and too many dogs, it ends up causing chronic stress for cats.

What veterinarian behaviorists recommend for multiple cat households is to expand the living space, and we're not talking about knocking down walls; we're talking about expanding the vertical living space. Multiple level carpeted cat trees are good and I recommend putting up multiple small bookshelves that are just big enough for one cat.

Ira: Dr. Becker, I have a mixed-breed dog named Bandit. He is mainly a lab but has some retriever in him. Bandit is 6 years old. I feed him kibble, keeping his bowl full daily. The only treats I give him is Science Diet biscuits. Is this a good brand to go with? Bandit sheds a lot and tends to rummage thru garbage. Anything I can do to mitigate it?

MB: I recommend asking your vet what brand of food he feeds his own pet. My dad told me years ago that you should ask housepainters what kind of paint they use, and ask car mechanics what kind of motor oil they use. So this holds true for vets, too: what kind of food they use, shampoo they use, parasite control products they use.

Let's face it, dogs aren't known for their dietary discretion. The diaper pail, the cat litter box, the garbage can are all a veritable buffet for a dog with a sensitive nose. So the key is to deny access to things you don't want your dog to eat. We see so many pets who get into things like mouse bait, so make sure you put them in places where your pet cannot possibly get at it. You also should make sure to keep your pet away from human prescriptions. That's the No. 1 reason people have to call animal poison control. Also, make sure you keep your medicines in a draw and not on the counter. And don't have any gum that has Xylitol in it — an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs.

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