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Pet Talk With Dr. Marty Becker

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

Kerry Anne: Is it really OK to allow your puppy to sleep with you?

MB: First, I woke up this morning with two dogs staring me in the eyeballs — so that's my short answer. There was recent media hysteria about the health dangers of sleeping with your pet, and some of the television shows I'm on were interested in doing a segment on it. But we couldn't find a single person who got anything worse from a pet than ringworm. The fact is, there are health risks and there are people who get sick from sleeping with a pet. But the health benefits far outweigh the risks. The exceptions to that: If your immune system is compromised. If you've got a chronic illness or if you're on a medication that weakens your immune system, you have to be more careful. If you keep up your pet's vaccinations and parasite control, and you bathe them frequently, the risk is negligible.

Question from Adrienne: Hi, Dr. Becker! I have a cat who sprays. I've had him since he was rescued at 4 weeks. He was neutered at 6 months of age. I've tried everything, including a stint of him on Prozac, which worked for a while but then he sprayed again so now he's off. Recently, I brought some stuff down from the attic that has never been around any cats, including my own, and he sprayed the pile of stuff while I was sleeping. Any insight? PS: my vet has checked him thoroughly several times and she is completely baffled.

MB: Inappropriate elimination is the No. 1 reason cats are relinquished to the shelter. Unfortunately for us, the whole world is a cat's urinal in the wild. The first thing you need to do is rule out a medical problem. Most cat households don't have enough litter boxes. The rule of thumb is at least one per floor of a house and at least one more than the number of cats that you have. I was just at the global pet expo and one of the new products was a video camera that a dog or cat wears around his collar, and this was like undercover video because you get to see what happens when you're either not home or not looking. Something that was commonly seen was that when a cat went to use the litter box there was a bully cat ready to pounce on him. Imagine you were going to get beat up every time you went to use the bathroom. You'd find someplace else to go. That's why you need more litter boxes. Also talk to your vet about pheromones

Barb: How do you feel about yearly vaccinations for dogs?

MB: We used to give every dog or cat the same thing every year, but now we do a personalized health approach that looks at the breed, the age, the lifestyle and any emerging risks. That's how we determine what, if any, vaccinations are needed. Most core vaccines are given every three years now. But there are exceptions, such as kennel cough, Lyme disease or dental vaccines. Are you surprised to hear there is a vaccine to treat dental disease? Ask your vet about it. Most people don't know it exists, and it can save a lot of money.

AARP Host: Thank you, Marty! I know we couldn't get to all of your questions today. You can ask Marty your question in our AARP Pet Pals group . And be sure to read Marty's columns on AARP.org.

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