What causes a dog to lick obsessively?

September 5, 2012

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a 41 / 2-year-old female Chihuahua named Angel. She is alert and friendly, but she has one quirk we do not understand: her licking.If one of us sits next to her on the couch, she will reach her paws out and pull our hand over to her. She will then start to lick, even for 10 or 15 minutes, if she is allowed to do so.It isn’t only people. She will also lick upholstered furniture, such as a couch, until the area she licks becomes soaked. Because she is something of a burrower, she can be under a blanket, licking away, without our being aware of it.We feed her Purina Pro Plan for small-breed dogs. We wonder whether the licking is caused by a dietary deficiency, and, if so, what to do to correct it.

P.B., Manassas

DF: Your dog’s licking is probably an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that should be evaluated by a veterinarian. It might be resolved, which would improve the quality of your dog’s life, and yours, too.

Compulsive licking can be a sign of discomfort caused by periodontal disease or other oral problems, which the veterinarian will consider. Another strong possibility is digestive discomfort.If there are no oral health issues, I would gradually switch to one of the dog food brands that carry my seal of approval on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com, or look up my home-prepared dog food recipe. Soy ingredients and certain cereal grains can cause serious digestive problems in dogs.If your dog does not improve after six to eight weeks on a new diet, coupled with safe chew toys to play with and as much physical activity outdoors as possible, she might have an anxiety-driven OCD. Psychotropic drugs, such as Prozac, have proved very effective for dogs with this condition.

MIDDLE-AGE ACHES

Dear Dr. Fox: My indoor cat is about 9 years old. Lately, he has been limping or favoring his right hind leg or hip area.It’s possible he fell from a cat climbing tower or window last year and landed incorrectly. We’re not sure what happened, but he avoids climbing the tower now. His vet thinks he has some arthritis because of the probable injury and the fact that he is a large-framed cat and weighs 14 or 15 pounds.My vet gave me a sample of tramadol to try, as needed, for pain relief. I have heard that the taste of the tablet is very bitter and that my cat could foam at the mouth after taking it. Aside from the bitter taste, are there any serious side effects of using this drug?My cat is also asthmatic and has been on a daily regimen of inhaled Flovent and albuterol for about six years. He is very good about this routine.

L.W., Alexandria

DF: After middle age, many cats suffer from chronic arthritis, which is often only diagnosed because of reduced mobility after they take a tumble, as yours probably did.

Tramadol will give some pain relief, but I would not advise long-term use. I frequently recommend fish oil, because of its anti-inflammatory properties.Massage therapy and acupuncture might be beneficial, ideally done at home by a qualified therapist or trained veterinarian. There are schools for pet massage — just search the Internet — and my book, “The Healing Touch for Cats,” is used by many for in-home therapy.You are fortunate that your cat accepts the inhalation therapy. Many cats protest this and find the experience stressful. With patience, many often come to accept the treatment , no doubt because of the associated relief.In all cases of diagnosed asthma, food allergies and heart disease must be ruled out. A change in diet — trying various formulations — might be all your cat needs.

Oily hair, dry skin

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a 71 / 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier. He has had very dry skin ever since I had him. A few years ago, his hair became very oily, but his skin remained dry. Three days after giving him a bath, his hair is very oily.I have tried aloe, oatmeal and lanolin, plus numerous other shampoos and different kinds of food. I have been giving him a bath about every three days. If I wait any longer, he looks like he has been dipped in oil.The vet hasn’t seemed very concerned. A couple of years ago, in the spring, the hair on my dog’s hair started falling out, and he was itching. The vet said he had a flea allergy. I comb him once or twice every day with a flea comb. He had a few fleas, but never many. In the winter, his hair grew back.This past spring, the hair started falling out again. I took him to the vet, who gave him Temaril-P tablets. My dog seemed to be a lot better while taking the tablets, but when he was done with them, the hair started coming out again, and the itching resumed.I have put him on brewer’s yeast tablets, and I spray him with a pennyroyal and water mix for fleas. I gave him Comfortis for a while, and he was better, but I do not like giving him those types of things.What do you suggest for oily hair with dry skin?

M.S., Archdale, N.C.

DF: Your Yorkie is at the age when the thyroid, and sometimes the adrenal gland, become dysfunctional, leading to hyperthyroidism and Cushing’s disease.

The veterinarian should rule out these underlying possibilities, and you should also discuss your dog’s nutrition. He might be lacking omega-3 fatty acids, a common problem in dogs fed poor-quality dry dog foods. His digestive system might need enhancement with probiotics, which would also help his immune system. For details, see my Web site and check the archives, which contain letters from people with dogs sharing symptoms similar to your Yorkie’s. I would not use the pennyroyal, because it could cause liver damage.

Cries of distress

Dear Dr. Fox: My 17-year-old indoor cat’s behavior has become increasingly unbearable in the past six months. She leaves feces on my couch, on carpets and right next to her clean litter box, although she urinates in the box. She yowls constantly, and for no apparent reason. These episodes wake us up three or four times a night. She will stop if we clap our hands or yell louder than her screams.The tones of her vocalizations sound as though she is in severe pain. Our vet said that, but for the usual ailments of an old cat, she is fine.What causes these horrific sounds, and what can we do to stop it? It is driving us nuts.

J.C., Beltsville

DF: I am not sure why your veterinarian said your cat is fine but for the “usual ailments.” What does that mean?

She is clearly suffering, most likely from a combination of chronic constipation, possible diabetes, arthritis and probably senile dementia. One form of feline dementia is virtually identical to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.There is much that can be done to improve your cat’s quality of life. My Web site has information. For good measure, find a more empathic and informed veterinarian, and get a second opinion.

Grooming goes too far

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a 7-year-old domestic cat that has overgroomed himself from the belly to his rear and is starting on the inside of his back legs.We keep his litter box clean and give him as much attention as we can with a newborn in the house. How can we change his behavior and make him happy again?

S.D., Weaverville, N.C.

DF: A crying baby in the home and the associated change in daily routines can be extremely stressful for some cats.Obsessive-compulsive grooming can be one self-comforting response. The stress could have contributed to your cat’s thyroid gland becoming overactive, a common sign being excessive grooming.I advise a veterinary appointment. Other possible causes are allergens in the cat’s food or home environment.

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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