November 13, 2013

Dear Dr. Fox:

In 1998, when my three littermate kittens had become adults, one developed a urinary tract infection. I think the cause was one of the controlling littermates not allowing him to use the litter box.

I read your column about using a squirt gun, and I tried it on the aggressive cat. It worked for a while, but then he got used to it and put up with getting soaked. Nobody got hurt, and he finally quit doing it.

Years later, the third littermate would come to the kitchen and get under my feet all the time. I would put him back into the living room, sometimes forcefully, but he would keep coming back in the kitchen. He had a mind of his own and would not mind me. Once he decided to do something, he wouldn’t quit unless I became angry.

Finally, I tried showing him the broom. This was scary to him, and he quit coming in.

D.L., Maryland Heights, Md.

DF: Your observations on training might be helpful to other people who are learning the ropes with their cats when it comes to inhibiting unwanted behaviors.

Pain from slapping is unacceptable, and acute discomfort with a spray of water can become habituated to, as you found out with your cat.

But, hold on! The cat getting “under (your) feet” might be showing affection or really hungry, so keep your cool.

In many instances, as when your cats are playing too rough, a loud yell followed by a a clap of your hands or tossing a towel over them, will break up a spat. You are distracting them by triggering the startle response. I do not intervene until one of our cats gives a distress scream or is cornered and assuming a defensive posture. A degree of rough play is acceptable; the odd scratch is all part of being a cat.

Separating your cats while you are away from the house might increase the tension, so I would let them stay together, but with escape and refuge hideaway boxes and tubes, and a few extra litter boxes.

Ear infections

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 11 / 2 -year-old female hound mix, which I recently rescued from an animal shelter, has a recurring yeast infection in her right ear.

I took her to the vet twice for this, and he put her on medication. Ear drops are out of the question, because she panics when I try to put the drops in. The vet told me the problem could be food allergies.

I can’t afford all these vet visits. I am retired and on Social Security. Do you have any suggestions?

J.M.P., Springfield, Mass.

DF: I am glad that the veterinarian has raised the possibility that your dog might have an underlying food allergy that could be related to your dog’s inflamed ear.

Such a condition can be extremely distressing for the dog. Scratching and head-shaking can result in additional traumatic injury, including cauliflower ear (hematoma).

Most likely, there is a mixed infection of bacteria and fungus in the ear canal that calls for appropriate medication. Ear mite infestation must also be addressed. You must get someone to help you restrain the dog for daily ear treatment, and check the pet store for a basic rice and lamb hypoallergenic dog food.

Your veterinarian might not be familiar with Zymox, an enzymatic ear medication for dogs, which has helped many dogs with ear inflammation and infection.

Cats gone wild

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have two Cornish rex brothers that are 10 years old. After I returned from a 10-day vacation, I noticed that both cats had started urinating on chairs, counters and tables, as well as using the litter box. I used my regular cat sitter while I was gone.

They don’t have any physical problems. I tried different litters and use the Feliway pheromone dispensers. They are on antidepressants, and we’re trying Royal Canin Calm food. I clean the boxes daily.

I’ve brought litter boxes into the areas they are soiling. They use them and then go to another part of the house and spray. There are three open boxes and one that’s covered.

The boys are very close and fight only now and then. They are extremely affectionate cats, and I love them dearly.

G.W., St. Louis

DF: I sympathize with your difficulties. Whatever made your cats feel insecure and needing to spray-mark around the house — possibly the perfume or deodorant your cat sitter was wearing — they have developed the equivalent of a habit fixation, continuing to soil the house after your return.

There is a remote chance that there is an outdoor cat prowling, spraying and yowling that set off your cats while you were away.

You need to confine the cats to one room to help break the cycle. Spend as much time as possible in there with them for two to three weeks. Get them back onto their regular cat food and off the antidepressant, and offer a little dried catnip every other day.

Clean all soiled areas with a liquid enzymatic cleaner, such as Nature’s Miracle. Do not put litter boxes out except in the place they were before the problem started. When you let the cats out after their deconditioning isolation, be very calm and go about your normal daily routine.

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, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate

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