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Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page C10

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 4-year-old cat who has been biting herself and pulling her hair out. The fur on her stomach and the insides of her legs is gone.

I took her to our vet and they put her on a hormone pill that helped, but once she was finished with the pills it started again. Plus, the pills made her gain a lot of weight. I found a new vet who felt it was anxiety. She put her on paroxetine, an antidepressant, and Derm Caps Liquid.

The biting seems better, but her fur is still not back and it's been over a year now. She still bites a little, but doesn't seem to be pulling any fur out.

Any advice? Are we on the right track? She was tested for fleas and her skin was scraped for other bacteria and all is fine on that end.

J.B., Clinton Corners, N.Y.

Your cat could indeed be suffering from anxiety, or she could have a food allergy. But her symptoms could also indicate that she has the most common hormonal disease in cats today, which first appeared in the 1970s -- namely, hyperthyroidism.

Other symptoms include weight loss, increased drinking and eating, vomiting of food, restlessness, aggressiveness, and neurological and heart problems. So your veterinarian should check your cat out for a hyperactive thyroid, which can be effectively treated in most cases with antithyroid medication.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an 8-month-old shih tzu dog who is housebroken and well-trained for walking and obeying commands. The problem that I am having is that she is consuming her own feces. She only does so in her fenced backyard. On our walks in open fields this is not a problem.

I have tried Deter, hot-pepper seeds, etc., and have not had success. I usually pick the feces up in the back as soon as she goes -- I don't know if this is wise or not. Do you have any suggestions?

G.H.S., Clemmons, N.C.

Stool-eating (or coprophagia) is one of the more obnoxious canine behaviors. Like rolling in stinky filth, it is a compulsive action rarely extinguished by consistent discipline and various behavior modification regimens.

The hottest Tabasco or jalapeno pepper sauce works to inhibit some dogs. Others cease to engage in coprophagia when given brewer's yeast (1 teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight) or raw beef liver (1 ounce per 30 pounds). Play toys and chew sticks help other dogs, especially those that are kept confined, where boredom may lead to coprophagia or the desire to not be in close proximity to their feces. For many dogs the ultimate solution is a muzzle when they're outdoors for short periods, with the caution that it should not interfere with the dog's ability to pant in hot weather.

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