Cat Tends to Bite The Hand That Pets It

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a 1-year-old tabby. From the time she was a kitten, she has had a habit of biting and scratching after we pet her. As she grew older, the habit increased, and she also began attacking and biting legs after a petting session. She is very aggressive, with her fur raised up.

My wife is especially concerned because this behavior injures her leg and messes up her stockings.

We don't know what to do to correct this problem. Friends who visit are now scared of her, saying that she acts like a protective dog.

-- W.G.

St. Albans, N.Y.

Your cat is still young, and behavior modification therapy might help.

Do you ever play with her? Does she have toys to chase, attack and "kill" instead of you?

She is still young enough to accept another cat in the home. A playmate that can teach her, if you can't, to be gentle might be your best remedy.

Many bored cats act out as yours does, and the more you understand the cat's mind, the better you will all get along.

Dear Dr. Fox:

The pads on my 9-year-old springer spaniel Minnie's feet are particularly soft and tender. She has always had this problem, and it seems to be getting worse.

We recently went hiking in the Ozarks, and her pads blistered quite badly. Is there anything we can spray on her feet to keep them from blistering? Once they blister, what is the best treatment?

-- H.W.F.

Little Rock

Several conditions can make dogs' pads tender, swollen and prone to blisters.

You need to rule out food allergies. Ask your dog's veterinarian for his or her opinion on treatment regimens, including steroid ointment. Or try applying essential oils such as frankincense, myrrh and helichrysum to the pads. Soaking the paws in cider vinegar (diluted in an equal amount of warm water) is a folk remedy for "soft pad" disease. Supplements such as vitamin A and zinc might help. Artificial skin or ointment that quickly dries to close up a cut is available over the counter and might give your dog extra protection. Or try outfitting her with boots when she is walking over rough terrain.

"Hard pad" disease is the antithesis of your dog's condition and used to be common in unvaccinated dogs that survived a distemper-virus infection. Their pads became unusually hard due to hyperkeratosis.

Dear Dr. Fox:

We noticed that our 1 1/2 -year-old neutered cat became inactive in March. He was listless and hardly moving and had a fever. The veterinarian said he had a urinary blockage and forced him to urinate.

The vet and his assistants seemed frantic. One assistant said that because the cat was neutered young (about 7 months), his urethra had not grown enough, and I would probably have more problems. He showed me the bloody urine and pointed out the "sandy" urine and small plugs, which were blocking the flow. My cat was given an antibiotic in case he developed a kidney or bladder infection, and a shot to help his flow. I was given another medicine, but I never had a chance to give it to him. He died before noon the next day.

The next week, national news about tainted cat food was released. I had purchased small and large cans of beef-like slices in gravy, which my cats loved.

-- B.L.

Frostburg, Md.

My condolences to you and to all the other readers who have lost their dogs and cats in the recent pet food poisoning debacle. Some animals pulled through only after tremendous suffering and hefty vet bills. The contaminated pet foods were notably of the fake-beef-slices-in-gravy sort. Manufacturers reportedly used cheap wheat gluten imported from China that contained melamine and other urea-type chemicals that can make animals extremely ill. It's rather like the animals are consuming their own concentrated urine.

The pet food companies should pay for veterinarian-verified cases of poisoning.

Your cat may or may not have been poisoned by contaminated pet food. Cats are especially prone to developing urethral blockage when fed dry food with a high cereal content. It is indeed an emergency.

Dear Dr. Fox:

In a previous column, you stated that to keep one's dog from eating his feces, give the animal a teaspoon of yogurt. My 4-year-old sheltie does not go along with this, and I was wondering if you had any other suggestions.

-- J.S.


If eating feces isn't a vice or confusion about cleaning up after himself, a nutritional deficiency may be the cause.

Yogurt contains probiotics that can help the digestive process and absorption of nutrients. Some dogs improve after being given probiotic pills, meat-tenderizer enzyme or brewer's yeast. Others are cured with a small piece of raw or lightly cooked beef liver.

If readers have any other ideas, please let me know.

Dear Dr. Fox:

One of my co-workers is keeping a dog at her home for a relative, allegedly an animal technician, and this relative told her to keep the dog in a garage to prevent mosquito bites. We are in Houston, which is often very hot and humid, and I am concerned about the health and well-being of the dog, which is locked away day and night with only a few minutes to relieve itself.

I have tried to discuss this issue with her, but she is adamant that this is proper treatment and uses the fact that her relative works for a vet as proof.

Could you please discuss this with the public so I might pass your views on to my co-worker to give the dog some relief?

-- L.R.M.


Sometimes, it seems that the more "qualified" people are as animal experts, the less common sense they have.

Is the garage air-conditioned? And how can mosquitoes not get in? What does the poor dog do all day? This dog is all alone, bored, socially deprived -- a pack animal suffering, no doubt, from separation anxiety, blighted by these empathy-challenged people who think there is nothing wrong in keeping a dog alone for hours on end.

Dogs are often kept in small cages or crates and forced to hold urine and feces for hours without anyone to at least take them for a walk in the middle of the day. More than one caged dog has suffered zinc poisoning from licking and chewing on galvanized cage fittings.

This mistreatment by prolonged caging, or being shut up in a room or garage all day or tied outdoors on a chain for hours, is widespread, and it is deplorable. People who treat dogs in such ways say they love their dogs and could not live without them, but I say love is not enough when that love is so bloody selfish.

At the very least, your co-worker should make sure the garage is air-conditioned (why can't the dog be in the house?) and have a dog walker come at least once a day during the workweek to take the dog for a good long walk and give it lots of TLC.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 2-year-old calico shorthair chews on painted wooden molding. She's not undernourished (12 pounds), and is very muscular and active. Her diet is Iams canned food, with Purina natural dry food for snacks.

What can she be lacking that drives her to chew the molding? She will also chew on almost anything that presents itself: a corner of a cloth pillow, a magazine or book or a piece of potpourri.

The behavior appeared about two months ago, and we cannot think of any change that may have prompted it.

-- H.C.

Fishkill, N.Y.

Some cats start chewing things because they are bored or lack fiber in their diets, in which case 1 tablespoon daily of chopped wheatgrass in her food or a box of sprouts for her to nibble on may do the trick.

Chewing can become a vice, especially in Siamese cats, so you must be sure that what is being chewed is safe and that there is no lead in the paint.

There are medical reasons why cats and dogs develop pica (the chewing and often swallowing of non-nutritive substances), including diabetes, thyroid disease and lymphatic cancer, so a full health checkup is also called for. If there is a medical problem, it might be nipped in the bud before there are more serious complications.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Six months ago, I lost my pug of 10 years. It had Evans syndrome. I have other pugs and am concerned. I have tried to find information on this disease and have come up with nothing.

-- S.T.

St. Louis

Evans syndrome is a combination of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (the red blood cells fragment) and immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, in which the blood-coagulating cells don't function properly, so there can be episodes of bleeding, especially internally and from the nose and mouth.

We don't know what causes the disease. Heredity may be a factor, or it could be an adverse reaction to vaccinations. If your pugs are related to the one that died, don't breed them.

Dear Dr. Fox:

What are your views on dogs eating grass?

-- M.B.

Boulder, Colo.

My three dogs look like grazing sheep when the spring grass grows. They relish a particular type of grass called fescue, commonly called "dog grass." They do not always vomit it up. I have chewed on the leaves, and they evoke immediate salivation and gastric contractions when I swallow the juice.

My wolf Tiny gave me my theory about grass eating. Soon after eating it on her morning walks, she would vomit up the grass with lots of bile. Or else, within five to 10 minutes, she would evacuate the grass in her stools, a very rapid passage, indeed. I could hear her tummy and intestine-growling muscle contractions.

I believe that grass eating is instinctive doggy health care, essentially cleaning out the digestive system and stimulating the biliary reflex. Medically, grass may act as a cholecystagogue, a stimulus for the gall bladder to empty. Natural wisdom at work!

Many people say not to let dogs eat grass because it can make them ill, or it means they are ill. I say: All things in moderation. Obsessive grass eating could be a sign of health problems, such as intestinal worms or liver or kidney disease. Sick dogs will swallow all manner of things to induce vomiting, but enjoying a little cleansing grass is okay.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I adopted a 1-year-old female Cavalier King Charles spaniel before I realized that the breed is prone to mitral-valve heart disease.

Can I do anything with her diet to help minimize her chances of becoming ill? My vet suggested a piece of apple every day, which I am doing. I also have her on Hill's Science Diet food.

-- L.M.


It all depends on the severity of the mitral-valve defect, the so-called "regurgitation effect" that makes the heart have to work harder. Because your dog is young and presumably healthy, I would give her regular exercise and monitor her to see whether she gets out of breath. Do not spoil her. Keep her lean and trim.

I doubt there is any real need for Hill's prescription diet or a piece of apple every day. Check my Web site at for tips on holistic health care.

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 in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

Copyright 2007, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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