Ask the Vet: Mailbag Edition

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In this post, we’ll be continuously updating and adding in questions we’ve gotten from readers, answered by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM.

If you have a question, drop us a line at and we may feature it here in the mailbag!


Hi, Can you provide tips on the best cat food bowls for messy eaters. I’m looking for what kinds of bowls are best for cats who are messy or like to play with their food. Should any bowl shapes be avoided? Are there any specific cat bowls you recommend on Amazon for messy eaters?


For people who like their current cat food bowls, the best option might be to place an easily washed mat underneath. Puzzle feeders and food dispensing toys can slow a cat’s eating behavior, provide much-needed entertainment, and limit messes.

Likimats are great for cats who eat wet food.

Bowls with wide bottoms and non-slip pads can prevent cats from moving bowls around and tipping them over. Raise bowls that are surrounded by guards with elevated edges can also contain any mess that is generated.

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if your cat has recently become a messy eater. It’s possible that dental disease or other problems within the mouth is making it difficult for your cat to chew and swallow or causing pain.


Hi, I’d like to get information about about sun burn in dogs? Can you share some insight?


Dogs that have sparse, light-colored coats are at the highest risk for sunburn and sun-related illnesses like some types of skin cancer. However, any dog who spends an extended amount of time in the sun could get a sunburn on thinly-haired parts of the body like the bridge of the nose. Sunscreen may help if you think your dog is at risk for sunburn, but if possible, it’s best to simply avoid sun exposure during peak daylight hours.

Some ingredients commonly used in human sunscreens can be dangerous for dogs. For example, when ingested (and what dog won’t try to lick off sunscreen!), zinc oxide can lead to vomiting and potentially to red blood cell abnormalities. Salicylates like homosalate and ethylhexyl salicylate may cause stomach ulcers. Pet-friendly sunscreens generally avoid these ingredients but most don’t benefit from FDA oversight so their safety and efficacy are often unknown.


I need help regarding metabolic diseases in cats. I would specifically like to know what is a metabolic diseases (as simply as possible)? What are the metabolic diseases that specifically affect cats? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments? How to diagnose? What can I do for my cat with a metabolic disease? Can they be fatal? Anything else I should know? Thanks so much for the help.


The word metabolism can be defined as all the chemical reactions necessary to convert the food that an animal eats into the energy needed to fuel all the cells in the body. The phrase “metabolic disease” is not very specific but can be used to refer to any disease that disrupts an animal’s metabolism. Since hormones play a big role in metabolism, many of the most common metabolic diseases in cats are involve problems with particular hormones. The most common metabolic disease in cats is diabetes mellitus involving the hormone insulin. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common feline form of the disease. Most diabetic cats are initially overweight, which leads to insulin resistance—a reduced ability of cells in the body to respond to insulin. Insulin resistance results in abnormally high blood sugar levels. Increased thirst and urination and weight loss despite a good or even increased appetite are usually the first signs of diabetes that pet parents notice. Some cats may also develop weakness and an inability to fully straighten their hind legs. A veterinarian can diagnose diabetes with a physical examination and lab work. Cats with diabetes need to be permanently switched to a high protein-low carbohydrate diet. Canned food is far superior to dry. Initially, diabetic cats should receive insulin injections, but if they receive treatment in a timely manner, some will go into remission and can be weaned off their insulin injections.

Without appropriate treatment, a diabetic cat will develop ketoacidosis, become comatose, and die. Hyperthyroidism is another common metabolic disease in cats that involves overproduction of thyroid hormone, usually due to a benign tumor of the thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism in cats (like a sebaceous cyst) can be treated with medications that suppress the production of thyroid hormone, surgery to remove the thyroid gland, low-iodine diets, or an injection of radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine treatment is considered to be the best option for most cats. Cats with hyperthyroidism tend to lose weight despite having a ravenous appetite. Vomiting, diarrhea, and increased thirst and urination are also possible. A veterinarian can diagnose hyperthyroidism with a physical examination and lab work.


Hello! I’d like to ask some tips on the best pet insurance policy. What are the most important features of a pet insurance policy? What are the benefits (if any) of adding a wellness/routine care package to your policy? Why might pet owners overlook pet insurance, and what would you tell them to persuade them to enroll their pet in a pet insurance policy? Lastly,What key factors influence the price of a pet insurance policy? Thank you so much for accommodating my questions!


First, look at the policy’s price — not just its monthly premium but also any copays and deductibles you will be responsible for. Many policies also have a maximum payout (cap) either per year or per incident, after which you’ll be responsible for the cost of your pet’s veterinary care.
Price isn’t the only factor to consider when picking out a pet insurance policy. It’s very important to understand the policy’s reimbursement level. For example, one policy may cover 90% of a pet’s covered expenses while another might cover only 70%.
A policy’s reimbursement level, maximum payout, copays, and deductibles greatly influence its cost. In general, the more expensive a policy, the more it will cover.
Preexisting conditions are usually excluded from coverage. Sometimes this holds true even if a pet hasn’t been definitively diagnosed with a disease or injury but has had symptoms consistent with it. Check that any insurance you are considering covers hereditary and congenital conditions that are common for your pet’s breed. Coverage for bilateral conditions, like hip dysplasia, and chronic conditions, like osteoarthritis, is also important.
Ask yourself if you could cover all the costs associated with a major pet illness or injury right now. If the answer is “no,” pet insurance could literally save your pet’s life.

The cost of preventive care should be planned for, but a wellness plan still offers the benefit of being able to spread out many expenses in a monthly premium rather than in one or two big bills per year. Wellness plans can also encourage pet parents to stay up to date on important preventive care.


Hi, I’m hoping to get information on “can dogs eat water chestnuts. How healthy and safe is it for dogs to consume?  Thank you!


Water chestnuts are safe for dogs to eat and can be a healthy and tasty treat, particularly when temperatures rise. Water chestnuts have a high water content and contain potassium, an important electrolyte. Water chestnuts are also a good source of energy, fiber, and iron. It’s fine to feed sliced water chestnuts straight out of the can but choose products that are low in sodium. If you purchase whole water chestnuts, cut them into bite-sized pieces to reduce the risk of choking.
Any new food can lead to gastroenteritis, which may cause vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and dehydration. Make sure to feed dogs only a small number of water chestnuts to begin with to see how they react.

Keep treats of all sorts, including water chestnuts, to 10% or less of a dog’s total caloric intake. Feeding too many water chestnuts, or any human food, can lead to nutritional imbalances.

Question:  What are the best and worst Cat Food? What to know before buying one?

Hello, I’m a new cat parent, can you share some foods should cats avoid? How often should a cat eat? Why does my cat keep begging for food? Also, What cat food brands do vets most recommend? Thanks


Wet cat foods have some natural advantages over dry cat food. Wet foods are generally higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates because, to keep its shape, kibble needs a relatively high carbohydrate content. Wet foods are sterilized using heat and steam, which means they don’t need artificial preservatives like mixed tocopherols, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), or ethoxyquin.

Wet foods also contain a lot more water than dry foods, which is beneficial for cats because they are naturally predisposed to get most of their water from their food rather than a water bowl. If possible, avoid feeding cats dry food and opt for wet instead. Whichever type of food you choose, make sure it is made with quality ingredients and has an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement of nutritional adequacy that is appropriate for your cat’s life stage printed on its label. Your veterinarian can help you find a good food based on your cat’s age, health status, lifestyle, and other factors. Cats are designed to eat multiple small meals throughout the day. Feeding cats just twice a day can lead to begging in between meals. If your schedule doesn’t allow frequent feedings, consider purchasing an automatic feeder.

Veterinarians typically recommend cat foods like the following:
• Purina Pro Plan High Protein Turkey & Cheese Entree in Gravy Wet Cat Food
• Wellness CORE Natural Grain-Free Chicken Turkey & Chicken Liver Pate Canned Cat Food
• Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat & Kitten Food


Is it safe for dogs to eat blueberries and bananas? If not, why? Please explain.


Blueberries and bananas are very healthy for dogs. Blueberries are a great source of a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins. They also contain vitamin C (another antioxidant that also supports the immune system), vitamin K, manganese, and fiber. Bananas contain a lot of potassium as well as B vitamins, vitamin C, and other antioxidants and phytonutrients. Blueberries and bananas are best thought of as treats for dogs but can also be incorporated into a homemade diet. A veterinary nutritionist should always be involved in preparing appropriate recipes based on a dog’s particular needs. Recipes that are available online or in books are almost never nutritionally complete and balanced. Any new food can cause gastrointestinal problems in dogs. Feed just a small amount at first to see how your dog reacts. Keep treats of all sorts, including blueberries and bananas, to just 10% of a dog’s diet to avoid nutritional imbalances. Call your veterinarian for advice if your dog gets into a large amount of any type of new food.

Question: What tips and advice you can give about adopting a pet from rescue or a shelter?

Hi we’re looking to adopt a pet from a shelter, but we are curious on what factors should someone consider before owning a rescue/ shelter dog? How can we prepare for the unexpected when adopting a rescue? What are proper or healthy expectations to have when you rescue a dog from a shelter? Do you have any interesting personal stories about owning a rescue dog or working with one that might give people a little insight into what owning a rescue can be like?



Pet parents often overestimate the predictability of purchasing a purebred animal. Individual variability plays a huge role in a dog’s personality. For example, while Boston Terriers have a well-deserved reputation for being absolute sweethearts, one of the most aggressive dogs I’ve ever worked with as a veterinarian was a Boston.

A big benefit of adopting a dog from the shelter is having access to shelter personnel. They truly want to make a good match, and they know the pets they’ve been caring for. Shelter personnel can often give you a good idea of a dog’s personality and help you determine if they might be a good addition to your family. Dogs in shelters will have undergone a thorough veterinary checkup and should have at least started their vaccinations and other forms of preventive care.

If health problems were noted, they may have been treated (a dental cleaning with extractions, for example) or they will at least be noted so you have an idea of what you might need to address. Many shelters also have extensive socialization programs so they will assess and work on a dog’s behavior before putting them up for adoption. Never overlook shelters and rescues. Dogs who have experienced the rough side of life can be extremely affectionate when they finally find a loving, forever home.

Question: What’s the Best Cat Litter Boxes? What you should know when buying Cat Litter Boxes?

What is the best and worst kind of litter box? What is the number one thing cat owners should know when buying a litter box?


Most cats prefer large, open-topped litterboxes. Avoid litter boxes with hoods. Even though we like the way they trap odors and help prevent litter from spreading around, cats will often avoid using them. Cats want to be able to keep an eye on their surroundings when they are in the “bathroom” and can be very particular about using a smelly box.

Open litterboxes with high sides can help keep things neat but make there is one low spot so your cat can get in and out. This is especially important for pets with mobility issues, like older cats with arthritis. Always have at least one more litterbox than the number of cats in your home. So, if you have one cat, you need at least two boxes.

The best litter for most cats is an unscented, clumping cat litter that contains activated charcoal. However, cats can develop very definite litter preferences, so other options may work better for a particular individual.

Avoid highly-scented cat litters. Cats have a much better sense of smell than we do, so even if the litter smells good to us, cats can find it very irritating
Whatever type of litter you use, make sure you scoop the box at least once a day.

Question: What is Orthopedic Dog Bed? How are they different from a regular Dog bed? 

Hi i’d like to know what’s the definition of an “orthopedic” bed? The term seems to be thrown around a lot, when we’re talking about mattresses … is that a real term with any kind of regulation around it? How is an orthopedic dog bed different from a regular dog bed? Is searching for “orthopedic” beds a good place to start, or should pet parents prioritize something different for senior/arthritic dogs? What qualities should pet parents look for in an “orthopedic” bed? Which dogs will get the most mileage out of an orthopedic bed? Which won’t? (maybe dogs recovering from an injury or those with hip dysplasia?) Ultimately: do you think these beds offer real health benefits? And can they help my dog feel better?


Orthopedic pet beds generally provide significantly more padding than traditional pet beds. Some include memory foam, which is especially good at reducing pressure on skin and over joints. However, there is no regulation over the use of the term “orthopedic” when it comes to dog beds. Pets with chronic musculoskeletal problems like osteoarthritis often benefit from orthopedic beds. The extra padding helps support painful joints and provides insulation against cold floors that can worsen a dog’s symptoms.

Pets with thin skin or bony frames, including the elderly or breeds like greyhounds, enjoy sleeping on orthopedic beds since thinner mattresses may lead to uncomfortable pressure points and potentially pressure sores. Any pet who spends a lot of time lying down would appreciate the extra support and padding of an orthopedic bed. If your dog is suffering from illness or injury, is disabled, or is getting on in years, an orthopedic bed would make a wonderful gift.

As is the case for all pet bedding, the padding in orthopedic beds breaks down over time. Check your pet’s bed every month or so and be prepared to replace it when it becomes noticeably less “cushiony.”

Most dogs need more than one bed. Dogs want to be where their people are, so unless you’re willing to cart a bed around the house, make sure there are several in the areas where you spend most of your time and where you expect your dog to spend the night.

Question: How to bond with a dog and to make sure they’re comfortable at home?

Let say I have a new dog and I need practical tips on how to bond with my dog. What can you do to make sure the new pup is comfortable in his new home? What to do if you have other pets or small children in the home? Thank you!


Never use punishment to try to train your dog! Positive reinforcement dog training means that you focus on good behaviors, which will eventually eliminate problem behaviors. For example, when a dog remains seated instead of jumping up on you, you give them lots of praise and a treat. If they jump up on you, immediately walk away and ignore them for a few minutes. With time, dogs realize they get what they want (your attention and a treat) when they do what you want. Studies have shown that training techniques that make use of negative reinforcement/punishment are stressful for dogs and can lead to anxiety-related behaviors. Using rewards and other forms of positive reinforcement is a more effective and humane way to train dogs. Never yell, hit, or punish your dog. Dogs remember negative experiences for a long time.

Early socialization is very important. A puppy who is given a lot of attention in a safe and loving home will usually be comfortable in many different situations when they are older. Peak socialization periods for dogs tend to occur around 6 to 8 weeks of age and again around 6 to 8 months of age/ When working with a new, adult dog, create a safe and respectful home that meets all their needs—good food, clean water, comfortable beds, toys, and lots of walks. Over time, the dog will start associating you with all the good things you provide.

Throwing a ball or a stuffed toy for your dog is one of the best games there is. It’s fun and a great way for your dog to get some exercise. If your dog hasn’t quite learned to “drop it” yet, play with multiple balls or toys. Most dogs will drop the first one to go chase a second. Avoid games like tug-of-war because some dogs forget their manners when they are in direct competition with a person.

Dogs should always have a safe place where they can escape and take a break when things get overwhelming, particularly when there are children in the home. A comfortable crate placed in a quiet corner usually works well. Make sure kids know never to disturb a pet who is in their crate, sleeping, eating, or drinking. Teach children to move slowly when petting a dog, and never grab ahold of their fur. Pets should always feel like they can walk away when they’ve had enough attention.

Question: Why does Cat Purr? how they do it, why they do it, and what it means.

Just writing a couple of questions about Cat purring, what are some reasons that cats purr? (for bonding? To self-soothe? So their owners can find them? etc.) Why do cats purr when they are in pain, such as when giving birth or dying? I’ve read that cats can purr at frequencies that may stimulate healing (even in humans): is there any merit to this claim? I’ve also heard that cats are capable of producing a clever combination of a purr and a specific cry that mimics a human child (a sound that’s very hard for us to ignore)…could this be evidence that cats have learned how to manipulate us?How can cat owners interpret their cat’s purring? What clues/context should they be looking for?


Purring is a form of communication that often seems to be associated with contentment in cats. We can’t say for sure, but it’s probably a way for cats to tell those around them that whatever is going on at the moment meets with their approval. However, cats may also purr when they are stressed, sick, or injured. Research has shown that the frequencies cats generate when they purr promote healing, so it is possible that these cats are trying to make themselves feel better.

Most purring is related to positive emotions and/or events in cats. However, cats who are purring and exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or anxiety should be seen by a veterinarian. Meows do occur at much the same acoustic frequency as a human baby’s cry. They can also combine a meow and a purr, which has been dubbed solicitation purring. Research has shown that people find solicitation purring less annoying than straight-up meowing so it’s more likely to get cats what they want. Cats are simply trying different ways of communicating with us and when they hit upon a signal that works, they’ll keep using it.

This is why the best way to get your cat to stop doing something that annoys you is to not react to that behavior at all. Reward the behaviors you want to see and ignore those that you don’t.

Question: What Are The Best Trailers For Dogs and Safety Tips

Hi i’m looking for the best trailers for dogs and I’m hoping to get your insights on what to look for in a dog trailer but also safety tips and what to keep in mind when actually cycling with a dog trailer.


Cycling trailers for dogs should include many of the same safety and comfort features as those designed to carry children.

The best bike trailers are lightweight and streamlined but still durable. They need to provide excellent ventilation but also have the ability to cover openings should the weather take a turn for the worse. Make sure you can easily get your dog in and out of the trailer. Some added storage can also be handy. Check the height and weight limitations of the trailer. Do not exceed a trailer’s capacity by either cramming in a dog who is too big or by hauling more than one pet when it can’t be done safely. Attach a tall safety flag to the trailer to make it more visible to nearby cars. Attach your dog’s collar or harness to the inside of the trailer using a short tether so they can’t leap out and run away while you are cycling or when you stop and open the trailer sides.

Dog trailers need to be comfortable but easy to clean. Look for removable floor liners and the option to add a pet bed.

Question: What are the best dogs for beginners?

What are the best dogs breeds for beginners/new pet that you can suggest to new pet owners and why. Can you share some general information about what new pet parents should consider when getting a dog and why certain breeds are easier if you’ve never had one before.


The best dog breed for a new pet parent depends on a variety of factors. The best dog for a beginner will have a laid-back, forgiving nature and be relatively easy to train. But you also need to look at things like size, activity level, and grooming needs to determine whether they’d be a good fit for a particular family’s lifestyle.

  1. Labrador and Golden Retrievers are usually good options. They tend to be kind-hearted and tolerant of mishaps. However, they are large and require a lot of exercise to stay physically and mentally healthy. Their double coats also shed a lot.
  2. Boxers are similar in size to Labs and Goldens but shed less. They are also very people oriented but have more than their fair share of health problems.
  3. If you are looking for a smaller dog, a Beagle might be a good option. They are friendly, active, and fun-loving but can be loud.
  4. Miniature Poodles are of a similar size and have the added benefit of not shedding. Don’t be put off by their upscale reputation—they are playful, smart, and athletic.
  5. The Newfoundland is a gentle, patient giant that is great with people, as long as you can handle their size and prolific drool and shedding.

More important than a dog’s breed is the personality of the individual dog, which means you should never overlook mutts, particularly those in shelters. Shelter personnel can often give you a good idea of a dog’s personality and help you determine if they might be a good addition to your family.

Question: What are your favorites vacuums for pets?

Hi! What can you suggest for best pet vacuums to rely on, whether professionally or personally?


A high-quality, powerful vacuum is an absolute must if you live with pets who shed significant amounts of hair. Look for vacuums that have a HEPA filter, particularly if you suffer from allergies. Pet hair has a way of getting everywhere, so attachments that let you easily clean upholstery, stairs, baseboards, under furniture, and in crevices are very helpful. If your pets (or any people in your home) have long hair, look for a vacuum with a self-cleaning brush roll. I’m currently using the Shark Apex Upright Vacuum that has a self-cleaning brush roll and haven’t had to cut away tangles of hair since I’ve had it. A large dry mop is a great tool for quickly removing hair from hard floors. Simply push all the pet hair into a corner and use the detachable hose on a vacuum to suck it up. Avoid using brooms since they can push a lot of hair and dander into the air.


Hello feline experts!  would love to get some advice from you about healthy cat weight. How can cat owners determine if their cat is a healthy weight? Is there an indication that my cat is within normal weight, is underweight, or is overweight? are there any physical characteristics and/or other signs (such as energy levels) ? Can I determine their pet’s “body condition score” (BCS) by myself at home? If so, can you offer any guidelines on how to do so? What’s the difference between an overweight cat and an obese cat? What are some actionable steps I can take if my cat is overweight or obese? What about if my cat is underweight or refusing to eat? How can I help them? How often should I be feeding my cats? Are feeding guidelines the same for both underweight and overweight cats? 7. I understand that many cats have what’s called a “primordial pouch.” How can I differentiate between that and just a fat, overweight belly? Many thanks for considering all my questions! Have a wonderful day 🙂


According to recent estimates, more than half of pet cats are overweight. Being overweight can reduce a cat’s lifespan and adversely affect their quality of life. The hormones and inflammatory cytokines released by fat cause chronic inflammation. Being overweight increases a cat’s risk for diabetes mellitus, hepatic lipidoses, arthritis, and lower urinary tract disease. When getting up and moving around takes so much work, it’s not too surprising that overweight cats tend to spend more time just lying around. Activities that require extra effort like climbing long flights of stairs or jumping onto counters are often the first to go. A cat’s body fat percentage is influenced by many factors including genetics, activity level, spay/neuter status, breed, age, feeding method, and the type and amount of food they eat. The word “obese” is typically used to describe pets that are 20% or more over their ideal weight. “Overweight” is used for pets that are 10-19% over their ideal weight. A body condition scoring chart, like the one put together by WSAVA (, can help owners determine if their cat is underweight, overweight, or just right. In general, a cat who is at their ideal body condition will have a visible waist when looked down on from above. It should be easy to feel their ribs with gentle pressure, but their ribs should not be visible. Their belly and their chest will be at approximately the same height off the ground. The cat’s abdominal fat pad (primordial pouch) should be very small. A veterinarian can identify what a cat’s ideal weight should be, and then use this to estimate the cat’s resting energy requirement. An appropriate multiplier is then used to determine the cat’s daily energy requirement based on whether they need to gain or lose weight. Keep in mind that these numbers will need to be adjusted as a cat gains or loses weight. If a cat is only a little overweight, owners may be able to take care of the problem on their own. Gradually decrease the cat’s caloric intake by about fifteen percent. First scale back on treats, table scraps, and other extras and then, if necessary, reduce the amount of cat food you offer or switch to a product that has a lower caloric density. Weigh your cat weekly, with a goal of helping them lose around one percent of their body weight per week. Due to a lack of consistency in labeling, some over the counter, “weight loss” foods may only offer slight calorie reductions or even be more energy dense than a cat’s current diet. Therapeutic diets (available only under veterinary supervision) designed for weight loss contain a reduced number of calories while still providing adequate amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals and promoting a feeling of fullness and are best for cats that need to lose significant amounts of weight.


Thomas Demers
Tom is a managing partner with Pet News Daily. He has been writing and researching on the web for over 10 years. He owns 3 dogs, 3 cats, and is a huge animal lover. His current obsession is working on training his (currently very good but very poorly behaved) 87 pound, 1 year old Bernedoodle named Pinecone.