Dear Dr. Fox:
This isn’t really a question, but it does concern animals.
I appreciate your advocacy of spaying and neutering to control pet overpopulation, as well as what you say about the huge farm animal population and the need to reduce our consumption of animal produce. But what about the ever-increasing human population?
DF: The human species is the worst of all planetary infestations! Human population control, through famine, disease and war, are ancient, arguably biologically natural and ecologically remedial correctives.
Costs notwithstanding, pharmaceutical, surgical and educational components of family planning are met with enormous obstacles, cultural and political. Having many children provides cheap labor and economic security in some cultures. Politics are rarely divorced from corruption and the kind of disinformation that equates family planning with genocide.
There is a delicate balance between stabilizing populations through the economic security of technological industrialization and sacrificing cultural and biological diversity. If the wisdom of America’s 19th-century natural philosopher, Henry David Thoreau — “That in wildness is the preservation of the world” — is incorporated by all who are dedicated to improving the human condition, the relentless conversion of the natural world into a bio-industrialized wasteland might be averted.
Effective advocacy of population control through family planning is to be applauded. Opponents who make religious and moral arguments against family planning live in denial of overpopulation’s environmental, economic and health consequences for a planet of finite resources. In the process, they bring more suffering into the world.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Almost 10 years ago, a cat wandered into my parents’ yard and had kittens two weeks later. I ended up taking in the mother, Kitty, and a daughter kitten, Dora. Until recently, I thought I had the best cats — sweet and with nice dispositions. I always felt so lucky.
A couple of months ago, Kitty started hissing at Dora. It went on for about three weeks. I decided to take her to the vet to check on medical issues, because that’s what most articles I read recommended. The vet did blood and urine tests and found that Kitty had an ear infection. The other test results came back fine. I gave her the prescribed ear drops.
Within four days, things were back to normal, and they were once again snuggled up, sleeping next to each other. On the fifth day, Kitty was sneezing a lot. I took her back to the vet. She had an infection. I opted for a shot, because I was nervous about how well she would take medications from me. By that weekend, she was really sick. I took her back to the vet Monday. She was given stronger medicine, and it made her better.
Then Dora came down with a respiratory infection. I took her to the vet, but this time I opted for oral antibiotics, because they would be stronger. It was a nightmare trying to give her the meds. After two days, I tried a paté-style cat food, crushed the medicine and mixed it in. That seemed to work. But Kitty went back to hissing, and Dora started hissing and growling.
I took Kitty back to the vet again. The ear infection had not completely cleared, so she was put on ear drops for another 10 days. Sadly, the aggression escalated when I was at work. They must have had a fight. There were tufts of fur around, and I found small tufts of fur under their claws. That night there was another incident.
Now I separate them when I’m not home and at night when I go to bed. Things are not getting better. I make sure they are not near each other to fight. Dora seems particularly traumatized by all of this. She is fine with me if Kitty is locked up, but she’s skittish and a bit nervous.
K.D., Brick, N.J.
DF: I am so sorry to hear about all the stress in your life dealing with sick and fighting cats. Your reaction to all the stress is probably also affecting your cats, creating a vicious cycle. Don’t feel bad about that.
How and why the older cat developed an ear infection is a mystery. It could possibly be an adverse food reaction. Any such discomfort can lead to defensive, aggressive behavior. You were wise to take the cat to the veterinarian. In the future, try to get an in-home visit, especially for cats who might pick up respiratory infections even in well-run veterinary facilities.
One way to break the aggressive reactions of Kitty toward poor Dora is to try the plug-in pheromone called Feliway. Put it in the room with Kitty and in the room with you and Dora. Get a moist cloth and rub it on both cats repeatedly so that they pick up each other’s scent.
Offer both cats good-quality dried catnip to eat — I call it cat Valium — then, after they have eaten or smelled and rolled in it and you have rubbed some under their chins, let them be together briefly. Repeat this on a daily basis and be calm and quiet. Have a towel or pillow on hand to put between them to stop any attacks by Kitty.
If these steps do not help, she might need to have a thyroid function test done, because hyperactive thyroid disease can lead to temperament changes, increased irritability, self-grooming, and ear and skin infections.
Dear Dr. Fox:
The Palm Beach Post recently had an article about a study of the effects of mixing chlorine with urine in pools. As it turns out, many people do urinate in pools.
Apparently, the combination of uric acid and chlorine causes a chemical reaction. The dangerous gas cyanogen chloride is the result, and it can harm the central nervous system, heart and lungs.
I thought of cat and dog owners who clean up accidents and litter boxes with bleach. I use white vinegar to clean up after my cats and used club soda as the immediate cleaner after my dogs’ accidents. Perhaps you could look into this and give a warning to your readers.
B.C., Palm Beach, Fla.
DF: Thanks for waving the red flag to minimize a possible risk from improper use of chemicals in the home environment.
I never suggest using bleach to clean things around the house, and especially for disinfecting various dog and cat urine and fecal deposits in and around the home. This fairly new information about the interaction of urine with chlorine in swimming pools underscores the hazardous nature of chlorine bleach products, which are also implicated in ozone layer destruction and endocrine system disruption. Safer enzyme cleaners, white vinegar and baking soda should be used in the home. Many people have died from inhaling mixtures of cleaning and disinfecting agents such as bleach with ammonia.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have two 10-year-old Devon rex altered female cats. They were born the same day but they are not litter mates. They are very different in looks, size and temperament, but they get along well. They have always been very affectionate with us and with others. They are indoor-only cats with no fleas and are fed both wet and dry food.
Several months ago, the usually outgoing tortie began to groom her lower back a lot and would warn you if you tried to touch it. The vet said that many cats do not like to have their lower backs and tail area touched, but she had never minded before. Last week, she bit my husband during her frantic grooming.
I began a Google search and think she is demonstrating the symptoms of hyperesthesia. We moved several times last year and have settled in Florida. We have had a lot of renovations done in the house and think maybe all the changes, noise and extra people around may have overstressed this normally pleasant cat.
She now has a bald spot on her back, and we have an appointment to see the vet again. We don’t know how to help her stop the grooming.
P.M., Sanibel, Fla.
DF: You must first rule out hyperthyroidism, which is common in older cats and can be precipitated by stress when the thyroid gland is already compromised.One of the symptoms can be hypersensitivity to touch and obsessive-compulsive grooming. Another possibility, especially where there is much humidity, is a malassezia fungal infection.
In the interim, see whether the cat will eat or drink a tea made from catnip that can act like Valium and have a calming effect for a few hours. Try a half-teaspoon of good-quality catnip, available in health stores. Some folks make a tea of it for themselves before bedtime. Another treatment could be one milligram of melatonin in the cat’s food daily.
A possible food allergy, which could have been brought on by a change in the ingredients in the cat’s usual food, should also be considered. Regardless of the same brand name, changes in ingredients from batch to batch of manufactured pet foods can pose problems. For details, see my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com.
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.