Dear Daisy Dog: What causes the slime in my dogs' water bowls? Is it harmful?

Daisy responds: It's called a biofilm, and it's composed of bacteria embedded within a slime produced by the microbes themselves. Biofilms adhere to living and nonliving surfaces.

When a biofilm forms on teeth, it's called plaque. Persistent urinary tract infections often result from a biofilm that clings to the inside surface of the bladder. When an infection involves a catheter or orthopedic implant, it's usually due to a biofilm.

Biofilms protect bacteria from the environment, including the animal's immune system and antibiotics. Successful treatment requires exceedingly high doses of antibiotics, removal of surgical implants and other extreme measures.

Therefore, veterinarians focus on preventing biofilm formation through such methods as sterile technique and short duration of catheter use, particularly with urinary catheters.

As a biofilm grows in the body, some bacteria break off and establish new infections - and new biofilms - elsewhere. Unfortunately, it's difficult to culture bacteria in biofilms, because culture swabs usually can't reach bacteria protected within the slime.

Whether your dogs' water bowls are harmful depends on what kinds of bacteria are embedded in the slime. Since you don't know what they are, play it safe by scrubbing their water bowls with detergent daily. Don't simply swish the bowls out with water and refill them.

Besides, we dogs prefer the taste of water from clean bowls.

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Dear Christopher Cat: Although she's sweet at home, my cat Twinkie becomes so anxious when we see the vet that she gets aggressive. What can I do about this?

Christopher responds: Schedule an appointment with a veterinarian who makes house calls. Shortly before the visit, confine Twinkie to a bathroom so she can't hide under furniture and then get stressed when you try to pull her out.

At some point, Twinkie probably will need to visit the animal hospital, so it would be a good idea to help her feel secure about the trip. At home, accustom her to her carrier by putting especially tasty treats or a plate of yummy canned food inside. Add a soft bed or fluffy towel so she'll feel safe sleeping there.

Once she's comfortable in her carrier, spray the inside of it with Feliway, the feline facial pheromone that promotes relaxation, and take her for a short ride in the car. Repeat this activity weekly until she's calm during the drives.

Before Twinkie's next visit to the animal hospital, ask your veterinarian about giving her medication, such as gabapentin or trazodone, to decrease her anxiety.

If this approach doesn't prevent Twinkie from becoming aggressive, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Ask the Vet's Pets appears Friday in the print edition of the Reading Eagle. The animal authors of the column live with Lee Pickett, V.M.D., who practices companion animal medicine. Contact them at www.askthevetspets.com.