Q: My cat was never a kisser, but he’s begun to kiss us. I like the affection, but not the nasty breath! You’d think there would be a mint catnip or breath mint available for cats. Do you know of any such products? – S.J., St. Paul, Minn.

A: Actually, catnip is a member of mint family, points out Dr. Kate Knutson, Bloomington, Minn.-based president of the American Animal Hospital Association. However, a breath mint for a cat would only offer a temporary fix, at best. That’s because likely something medical is going on with your kitty. Odd as it sounds, kidney disease can turn a cat’s breath sour, or a dental problem might explain the bad breath. See your veterinarian, and Knutson bets that those kisses will soon smell sweet as sugar.


Q: My cockatiel pulls out feathers on his back, on the tops of his wings, and on his breast until he’s almost bare. He does this year-round, except in August, when he has almost all his feathers. What can I do? And what is it about August? – J.F., Buffalo

A: Avian veterinarian Dr. Peter Sakas, of Niles, Ill., suggests that your bird molts in August, and that’s when his feathers begin to grow in, hence that’s likely why he looks so good that month.

There are many possible explanations, or combinations of reasons, to explain feather-picking in parrots, including humidity, hormonal changes, illness, stress/anxiety and nutrition.

“Let’s start with nutrition,” said Sakas. “Many people choose all-seed diets for cockatiels, where a pelleted diet is ideal. You can’t just change diets overnight; the change has to be gradual. And getting the bird to cooperate can be tricky. A veterinarian with a special interest in birds needs to see your bird anyway to rule out a health issue and talk with you further.”


Q: Our 2-year-old Weimaraner is currently on allergy shots, but I don’t think they’re working. The poor dog is allergic to molds, trees, grasses, bugs, etc., and she gets yeast in her ears. I’ve tried adding vinegar to her water, but that hasn’t helped relieve the itching. I hate to keep spending money on treatments I know nothing about, yet I feel so badly for our dog. What should I do? – S.K., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Dunbar Gram, a veterinary dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, cautions that allergy shots can take a year to be effective. He adds that about 75 percent of dogs are greatly helped by the shots, but they’re not always the solution or offer a complete resolution. In addition, sometimes an antihistamine, steroid (cortisone) spray, or minimum dose of steroid pill may be used as an alternative.

Veterinarians will have a new tool in their arsenal called APOQUEL, starting in 2014. APOQUEL is the first drug for dogs in a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) 1 inhibitors, which means the medication targets the inflammation, and the itch it triggers, without the side effects of a steroid.

Gram says he knows of no data to indicate that vinegar in a dog’s water plays any role in relieving itching.


Q: We adopted a puppy two years ago, and to this day our cat walks up to the dog at least once a day and pokes him in the nose for no reason. Benji doesn’t seem to mind, but we feel badly for him. We’ve hollered at the cat, but it doesn’t do any good. Any advice? – C.V., Hartford, Conn.

A: Your cat is simply expressing his feline-ality, reminding Benji who’s in charge at your house. Benji seems to understand this and is taking it in stride. My advice is for you to do the same. Hollering could backfire. Cats with this sort of Type-A personality also enjoy controlling people. I’ll bet your cat has also learned how to get a rise out of you with this behavior. We can train dogs, but cats can train us.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.”