Think free birds, not free cats

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 2-year-old cat, Tuxedo, prefers being outdoors and on the screened porch, with the screen door ajar. His personality is loving to us and fearful of other people and noises.

He has not learned to use our porch pet door. We carry him to the door and coax him with food and treats to open it when he is most hungry and try when he is outside by opening the flap and enticing him with favorite food. He simply will not walk through or allow us to gently lift him through the open flap.

W.K., Front Royal

DF: I am very much opposed to letting cats go free outdoors unless they enter a bird- and escape-proof enclosure.

Please make every effort to help your cat enjoy life outdoors in an enclosure rather than allowing him to roam free. Many cat owners build outdoor enclosures for their cats to enjoy. Alternatively, you can make the screened porch more cat friendly by including a cat condo, scratch-post or secure tree branch placed for him so he can climb and look out. Consider adopting an easygoing, healthy young cat to enrich his social life indoors. Cats can be trained to wear a harness and enjoy strolling outdoors on a leash.

Pet doors should be left open initially so the animal gets used to passing through the opening. Then tape it up so it is half-closed and just needs a little push up.

anxious pup

Dear Dr. Fox:

I think my 10-month-old puppy suffers from anxiety. He runs in circles and barks like crazy when he sees a tree, mailbox or person. I don’t know what to do.

C.A., Fargo, N.D.

DF: This sounds more like excitement than anxiety. If he gets out and about rarely and is not widely socialized, you could be creating a Kaspar Hauser — a poor soul who feels “overloaded” outside and cannot take in too much stimulation.

This often manifests as agoraphobia and xenophobia, fear of open spaces outdoors and strangers. Dogs kept in kennels can develop these anomalies, though genetics and temperament make some more susceptible.

Your young dog, with the tail chasing and spinning, could be developing obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can lead to tail biting and self-mutilation. I advise lots of physical activity outdoors; an organic, additive-free diet; and no more vaccinations after his one-year booster shots, except for mandated rabies shots.

Also try the cradling therapy, which is described on my Web site, drfoxvet.com. In severe cases, Prozac or a light dose of Valium can help.

familiar strangers

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have had two cats, brother and sister, for six years. Recently, the male had to visit the vet for a urinary tract infection. We were gone for less than an hour, but when we returned, the female acted as if he were a stranger.

This behavior has gone on for more than three weeks, and the male has stationed himself behind our sofa and comes out only to eat.

We have a pheromone diffuser and squirt the female when she attacks him. No one, not even our vet, can tell us what to do.

W.D.L., Scranton, N.J.

DF: What you are witnessing is one of the irrational aspects of feline behavior: The strange scent your cat picked up at the veterinary hospital makes your other cat terrified and act as though she no longer recognizes her brother.

Olfaction plays a major role in feline gestalt perception and cognition. This is a fairly common occurrence and is seen notably when one cat comes in from roaming outdoors bearing the scent of another cat after a fight or other physical contact.

Rub a little bit of the same perfume or after shave used by one of the caregivers on both cats for several days, around the cheeks and back of the neck. Offer them dried catnip. If these steps fail, visit my Web site, drfoxvet.com, and look up procedures to introduce a new cat into the home.

DOG CAN’T relax

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have been caring for a 7-year-old Westie for five months. The rescue center told me a Missouri breeder dropped her off, saying she had no problems, was in good health and had been kept in a pen her whole life.

It took her a little bit to come around to me, but she now comes when I call to her and can obey simple commands.

I would like to socialize her, but she seems to be very sensitive to sounds that naturally occur in a home. She is extremely frightened of the outdoors and other people. If she and I are outside in the back yard and she hears a neighbor talking or a car drive by, she panics, pants, shakes and begs to go back inside.

She doesn’t know how to play or chew on toys, and she seems to want only to hide in a corner and sleep all day. She doesn’t bark, bite or act aggressive. I speak softly to her, pet her and show her as much love as I can. She trusts me now, but she can’t seem to accept the simplest of noises.

L.M., St. Louis

DF: I share with you the frustration and sense of failure you have gone through with this poor dog.

It is likely your dog is suffering from the consequences of prolonged environmental deprivation. Depending on breed, temperament, duration of confinement and the quality of rehabilitation treatment, recovery is possible. This syndrome is similar in some ways to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under veterinary and behavioral therapist guidance, using a combination of Valium or Xanax with gradual desensitization behavior modification, your little terrier might recover and enjoy a better life with freedom from fear. Spending several hours a day with an easygoing, friendly dog could be the best medicine. Try fitting her with an anxiety wrap, such as the kind sold to help dogs suffering from fear of thunder, when you go out.

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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