My wife is pregnant. Should I be concerned about having pets?

Q: We have two cats, three ferrets, one Guinea Pig and many little mice. My wife is now expecting a child. I’m worried that they can hurt my wife’s pregnancy. I try to clean them out everyday, but sometimes this is not always possible. They have a very strong odor. Have you ever heard of this causing anyone problems? They seem to be healthy but sometimes they do get sick just like us. Please help me with this dilemma if you can.

A: Cats, ferrets and related species can carry a parasite called Toxoplasma. Toxoplasma is a unicellular, microscopic digestive system parasite. In pets, it causes weight loss and diarrhea. In humans it can cause serious problems in an unborn baby. The parasite is transmitted to humans from the pet’s feces to the human’s digestive system. From there, it can travel to a woman’s uterus and hurt an unborn child. A careless pregnant woman may get feces on her hands from changing the litter box, then forget to wash before making a sandwich, and then suffer the consequences.

Prevention is simple, and there is no reason not to keep your pets. First, make sure your wife knows how toxoplasma is transmitted. She should always wash thoroughly after handling the pets, and again before eating. The wife should not change the litter boxes.

Pets can be tested for toxoplasmosis. A routine fecal exam by your veterinarian can check to see if the pet is shedding the parasite. A blood test (toxoplasmosis titer) can determine if the pet is carrying the parasite or has been recently exposed.

My two year old hamster sleeps all the time. How long do hamsters live?

Q: I am 14 yrs old. I am really concerned about my Syrian hamster. He is about two years and nine months old. All of a sudden his health has seemed to deteriorate. He looks like he is getting weaker everyday. I looked at his teeth and thought they were really long, so I took him to the vet. He said his teeth were fine. He doesn’t eat much, I give him apples and cucumber and buy him treats. He has one little nibble and then he won’t eat anymore. I am going to try to syringe feed him some slightly sour milk. He has water which has multi-vitatimns added; at first he really liked it but now he won’t drink. He won’t sleep in his house and when you touch him he is quite cold. He can’t walk very well. All he wants to do is sleep. He has gone into hibernation quite a few times. Please help I am really worried.

A: The life span of hamster is two to three years. Your hamster is the equivalent of an 80 year old human. Most of the problems you are noticing are age related changes. As hamsters age they sleep more and more, and become weaker and slower. Keep feeding him the same as always, and avoid stress, heat and running out of water. Don’t force feed or syringe feed, for this may make him choke or have problems. Definitely do not feed strange foods such as sour milk, for it may induce diarrhea. Keep his cage clean with fresh water and food always available. He will likely pass away in his sleep without pain or discomfort. If he appears to be in pain, crying and constantly fidgeting, your veterinarian may be able to help.

My puppy has bad breath. What can I do?

Q: My new puppy has bad breath. What can I do about it? Someone told that I could administer Dentamint; is that ok?

A: Bad breath can originate from dental problems from the stomach, or from internal disease. A veterinarian can determine if your pet has any dental or internal problems. Gingivitis and tooth decay can create very foul odors, and should be treated to avoid loosing teeth and unnecessary discomfort for your pet. Internal problems, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney failure, esophageal cancer and many others create odors that emanate from the mouth. Your veterinarian may need to run a blood test or other procedures to determine the exact cause of the problem. If your veterinarian finds no problems, then an internal breath freshener is a good idea. Also consider changing brands of dog food.

What can I do about a stinky cat box?

Q: We have two cats and when they use the litter box, it almost runs us out of the house with such a strong odor. I have tried different foods in the hope that would lessen the problem, but it doesn’t seem to help. Is there something else, or a cat food that will help with this problem? I clean the litter box daily and they always have a fresh supply of water.

A: You are not alone with an odor problem. Carnivores, such as cats, produce a much more odiferous fecal matter that their herbivorous counterparts in the animal kingdom. Some brands of cat food use vegetable fillers. These foods help some cats, but do not taste as good to most cats. Soy and similar vegetable additives produce more gas, making your cat stink even worse.

Although food choice can help, I have some other suggestions. First, feed meals instead of free choice dry food left out all the time. This will synchronize the bowel movements into predictable time periods. You can adjust the feeding times to suit your schedule. This will enable you to clean the cat box very shortly after each bowel movement.

Location of the cat box is also important. Many people keep the cat box in the corner of a small bathroom with poor air circulation. This concentrates the fumes and makes for a very stinky room. Consider a balcony, porch, or a room with a window that is kept open.

Choice of cat litter may be your best weapon. Use a desiccating cat litter, for dry feces smells less than wet. There are many odor absorbing litters on the market. Try them all, and choose the one you and your cat likes best. Consider additives, such as baking soda, mixed in the litter.

The cat box design also helps. Cat boxes with lids may be better than open trays.

Should I trim my tortoise’s toenails?

Q: We have two Russian Tortoises at home. Their nails have become sharp. Would
cutting them be something we should do? They live in a 20 gallon long tank

A: Tortoises often need their nails trimmed just as lizards, dogs, cats and birds. In the wild, their nails naturally wear. In captivity, they lack the abrasion to wear the nails down. You may need to trim all or some of the nails.

Use regular human toenail clippers. Have a stiptic powder handy to use in case the cut makes the nail bleed. I prefer ferric subsulfate stiptic powder. Most Horsefields or Russian tortoises grow toenails slowly, needing only annual trimming.