Scratching post blues: Getting an old cat to learn new tricks

February 27, 2013

Dear Dr. Fox:

I recently adopted a wonderful cat. I am 77, and this is my first cat.

Molly is 8 and was in a home before being put up for adoption. She is obedient, eats well, uses the litter box and stays indoors.

She doesn’t seem to know what a scratching post is. She has learned to keep her claws in; however, she scratches the furniture. She doesn’t like catnip.

The first scratching post was half rug, half sisal. She just sniffs at it. The second one is all rug with two round treelike supports and a platform on top. She loves to sit on the platform, but she won’t use the post for scratching. I have pretended to scratch it myself, but she just watches. I sprayed it with Febreze to neutralize any scent. All she does is paw at it with claws withdrawn.

The vet says she is healthy. He says she will use the posts eventually, but she hasn’t in the two months I’ve had her.

S.W., Odenton, Md.

DF: I applaud you for adopting an older cat.

Get some Velcro strips and stick some plastic sheets or strips of duct tape and cover those areas on your furniture where she scratches.

One very good sisal scratch post, which is tall and sturdy, is the PurrFect Post. Some cats like horizontal scratch boards. Some like scratching posts made of corrugated cardboard. Check these out at your pet store.

Continue clawing the post with your fingernails while your cat watches, and then hold her up against it as far as she will reach upward. Push her front paws into the post, then stroke and massage up and down her back. My two cats love this. Get rid of the Febreze.

Your cat might also enjoy chasing a bunch of feathers or strip of fur tied to a long string on the end of a cane.

costly procedures

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a little Shih Tzu and Lhasa mix. She is 4.

She has had an endoscopy of her stomach, an ultrasound and a check for colic disease performed.

She eats only every other day, and she spits up large amounts of yellow foam.

She is very picky about eating. She won’t eat dry food at all, and she doesn’t drink much water. Sometimes she acts like she is choking and gags a lot.

The woman I bought her from mated her mother every time she came into heat. I didn’t know this at the time I bought her. She was very hard to train. But she is a good dog now, except for the eating. I give her pills to coat the stomach, but she spits them up as soon as they go down. I don’t know what to do.

J.S., Virginia Beach

DF: You and your poor dog have been subjected to several costly diagnostic procedures. The cost might be justified if symptomatic treatments failed, such as giving the dog antacid tablets to correct gastroesophageal reflux disease or trying a single protein, grain-free diet.

If neither of these possible treatments were considered before subjecting your dog to these diagnostic procedures, you should seek a second opinion, ideally from a member of American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

getting your omega

Dear Dr. Fox:

You’ve mentioned using fish oils rich in the omega compounds. But some media and concerned environmental groups talk of the depletion and pollution of global fisheries. Flaxseed and hempseed are processed to provide omega oil compounds 3, 6 and 9. Is there any harm in using a plant-based source instead of a fish or krill oil as you recommend?

My other question is about toxoplasmosis, which can be found in pet cats, rats and ferrets. It is harmful to humans. An infection of toxoplasmosis can result in compromised cognitive function and other health problems.

How can pet owners reduce the risk of acquiring a toxoplasmosis infection? How can they check for it?

J.R.M., St. Louis

DF: Nutritional science has shown that some people, like most cats and probably many dogs, are unable to process or convert omega-3 fatty acids of plant origin into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

These acids are essential for brain development, vision, immune system function and a host of other body functions. They also help balance inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids, which tend to be in excess in the human diet.

Consumers and their pets are facing a major nutritional deficiency and imbalance when it comes to these essential fatty acids. For dogs and cats, I recommend Nordic Naturals fish oil or free-range, grass-fed beef, dairy or poultry, which is higher in omega-3s than products from conventionally raised and fed animals. A small amount of canned sardine or mackerel can also provide some of these essential nutrients.

Toxoplasmosis is diagnosable by alert epidemiologists and parasitologists, and it is treatable in patients not too damaged by these organisms. To prevent toxoplasmosis, be careful when handling raw meat; wear gardening gloves when working in soil; outlaw people allowing their cats to roam free, becoming infected from killing and eating rodents; and avoid contact with feces when cleaning out the litter box.

too many pesticides

Dear Dr. Fox:

As a horse owner, I am bugged by all the vaccines being given to them. I agree with you that they can harm the horses’ immune systems.

Now we have Eastern equine encephalitis, which can infect humans, and West Nile virus, which can kill horses and people. What’s next? We never had these diseases when I was younger. What is going on?

A.R., East Lansing, Mich.

DF: Health experts and a few political leaders are waking up to the consequences of climate change, which facilitates the spread of some insect-borne diseases such as the two that you mention.

Wind currents and higher temperatures help spread viruses across continents, as can infected migratory birds. We need to acknowledge the role of humans in helping spread these emerging diseases such as West Nile virus and influenza epidemics.

Insect-borne diseases — such as Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, the Schmallenberg virus and a host of tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever — might be reduced if we stopped using pesticides.

Biting insects quickly develop resistance to pesticides, while the bats, birds and other creatures that consume them and help control their numbers get poisoned. The white nose syndrome fungal disease decimating bats might be a consequence of immune system impairment by pesticides. Ditto the fate of the honeybee and other beneficial insects.

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.

2012 United Feature Syndicate

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