Playful cat means business when he bites

April 7, 2011

by Michael W. Fox

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 10-year-old Siamese cat has all of the breed’s characteristics: He is vocal, affectionate, intelligent and generally high-maintenance. He also has a trait we wish he didn’t: biting exposed arms and legs.

Loud purring and head butting usually precede the biting. The bites are not play bites but serious crunches that can draw blood. We have refrained from tossing him across the room, but he has heard “no biting” many times. We know when to expect this behavior, so it isn’t a huge problem. Is there a cure?

H.S., Ashburn

DF: Part of the behavioral issue of your cat’s painful, possible dominance bites and play bites is that if he had a companion cat with which to enjoy executing these ritualistic feline actions, he would probably leave you alone. With a feline companion, he would quickly learn to control the intensity of his bites, just as other cats learn self-control in the use of their claws.

Because you know when to expect this behavior, you can try two approaches — separately, of course. First, redirect his attention to a favorite toy and engage in interactive play, as with a cat feather wand.

Alternatively, get a training clicker to startle your cat before he attacks and then ignore him by turning away, folding your hands on your lap and sitting still. Do continue to refrain from tossing him across the room.

Many cats become hard biters and more aggressive after they have been declawed, a practice that in more civilized countries is unthinkable. See my Web site, www.twobitdog.com/drfox.

WART REMOVAL

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have volunteered for six years at a no-kill animal shelter, where I have learned many wonderful holistic treatments for dogs and cats. I need advice on treating dog warts.

My brother has a 10-year-old black Labrador; she weighs 50 pounds. It started as one wart on a foot, and now she must have at least 20 all over her body. Our vet examined her and said nothing could be done to stop the warts, which are most likely from papillomavirus.

Most of the warts do not seem to bother this sweet dog, but some are on her paws, and she chews them open. Another is in the center of her forehead, and she rubs furniture with her head. I know they must itch.

From what I have read, if the immune system is boosted, it can help reduce and clear them up. I have three cats with feline immunodeficiency virus, and I sprinkle L-Lysine on their food to help their immune systems. I have read about a liquid called Thuja that might help the warts, and also about a product called FlexPet, a wafer with natural ingredients that supposedly boost the immune system so that warts go away.

L.B., Fairfax

DF: The L-Lysine might certainly help your cats but probably not the old dog. She might benefit from skin-improving supplements such as flaxseed and hempseed oil and brewer’s yeast, providing half the recommended daily human dose, twice daily.

Essential oils — diluted in almond oil or a similar “carrier” oil (about one drop in 20 drops of carrier), such as frankincense, myrrh, lavender and helichrysum — applied to the warts several times daily could make a big difference. Smaller warts can be dissolved with salicylic acid or cauterized. A wide-banded neck collar might be needed to stop the dog from licking her paws until they are wart-free and healed.

SEPARATION ANXIETY

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have been living in Hawaii for a year, helping our son with his business. We have a home in Wisconsin with two cats, Casey and Stitch, being cared for by a housesitter named Chris. We heard they are doing well and have bonded to him.

Casey is 6 years old; we got him when he was 5. Stitch is almost a year old. Stitch adapts well to any situation, but Casey does not and urinates on beds when he is upset.

By the time we return home, the cats will have been with Chris longer than they were with us. Will they remember us?

L.M., Honolulu

DF: A couple of weeks before you return home, send two separate packages of three to four T-shirts that you have worn, sealed in plastic bags. Have your sitter open them up and set them where you normally sit; he can put them in different places. This will probably trigger your cats’ scent memories and re-sensitize them to your once-familiar presence.

STRESSED-OUT CAT

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 9-year-old spayed female cat had a urinary tract infection recently, for which she received an injection of antibiotics. She lost a couple of pounds, but her appetite seems better. Her blood tests showed everything else was okay — no feline AIDS or leukemia.

She was a kitten from a feral cat and has always been skittish. She bites if confronted or even petted unless she instigates it. Around the time of the urinary tract infection, her back toward the tail started to spasm. Her eyes get large and she runs and hides, remaining hidden for hours. We have not had her X-rayed or scanned yet because she would have to be sedated.

We use a clumping litter. The vet said to try to give her vitamins and fish oil. When we put a crushed vitamin pill in her food, she won’t eat the food. She eats a variety of mostly wet canned food and freshly baked chicken, sauteed shrimp, cut-up steak, canned tuna water with a small amount of tuna and other people food. If we aren’t looking, she will lick bacon and eat creamed, chipped-beef gravy, which is very salty.

We never see her drink water, so we started giving her a small amount of 1 or 2 percent milk after the urinary-tract infection. What else can we do?

J.K. & D.L., Fairfax

DF: Your experience confirms the connections between temperament, stress susceptibility and feline cystitis. Go to www.feline-nutrition.org for more insights and to learn about possibly switching your cat to a raw food diet.

The bottom line is to avoid stress, such as veterinary visits and vaccinations, as long as she seems well. Encourage her to drink plenty of water, such as seasoned, salt-free beef or chicken bouillon flavor or a half-teaspoon of mackerel in one cup of filtered water. Even having your cat lick from a dropper or pipette of diluted skim milk would be a good preventive of further episodes.

Do not use scented cat litter; volatile chemical fragrances can make some cats ill.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011 United Feature Syndicate

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