Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a problem with my 2-year-old mixed hound dog, Lucky. She seems to like to chew on the throw rugs and towels that I use to wipe off her paws when it rains. I've done everything I know to make her stop -- scolded her, punished her -- and still she seems to enjoy this ugly habit.
I have another dog, Biscuit, and give them both plenty of toys to play with. Biscuit, unlike Lucky, does not chew on anything other than her toys. I asked my vet what could be the problem, and he doesn't seem to know the answer. I haven't changed any routines that would throw Lucky into a stressful situation, and I show both dogs plenty of love every day. Can you help me?
Chewing things may help alleviate boredom in some dogs, while others may engage in this behavior to relieve anxiety -- especially separation-anxiety.
Your dog may be experiencing both boredom and separation-anxiety while you're away at work, in spite of having a canine companion in the house with her.
In some instances, compulsive chewing may be a response to inflammation of the gums or tonsils and therefore a physical exam by a veterinarian is called for. (You say you "asked your vet" so I assume that this was only over the telephone.) When underlying physical causes are ruled out, compulsive chewing can be dealt with in various ways. If Lucky simply chews and maybe sucks and nibbles on a towel, but does not swallow pieces of it, she is not at risk, so give her an old towel as a comforter.
Also, sprinkle fine white pepper or chili powder around the edges of your throw rugs for a few days as a deterrent.
Alternatively, talk with your veterinarian about giving Lucky a course of treatment with a mood-altering medication like Prozac -- which often helps in this kind of problem.
Dear Dr. Fox:
When my 6-year-old Lab was about 9 months old, we learned that he had elbow dysplasia in both shoulders. We had the surgery done, but now for the past two years, the pad on his left paw bleeds for no apparent reason. It will start with a small pin-type hole and sometimes bleed very heavily all over the carpet and floors.
We've taken him to a dermatologist and to a veterinarian, but they can't find out why this happens.
Have you any insights into this problem or advice to offer?
E.M., Dearborn, Mich.
I doubt very much if there is any connection between your dog's elbow dysplasia, the surgical correction for the same, and the abnormal pad condition. I would first suspect a foreign body deep in the pad. But if more than one pad is affected and bleeding occurs for no apparent reason, there may be a blood vessel abnormality in the deeper tissues of the paw. An angiogram would be worth taking and may be done at a veterinary specialist's or university's facility. If such an abnormality is diagnosed, or a vascular tumor identified, corrective surgery would be in order. Otherwise, a very cautious surgical exploration under one of the afflicted pads would be advisable and some of the blood vessels ligated or a biopsy of tissue taken to check for cancer.
Dear Dr. Fox:
One of my cats, a 4-year-old neutered male, has developed a strange habit since moving into our new home a few months ago. After everyone goes to sleep for the night, he goes into our children's playroom and drags one of our daughter's dolls out to the kitchen.
He drops the doll on the floor, meows at it, then leaves it. Once in awhile he'll return and meow at it again -- sometimes even two or three times. Can you give me some clues as to why he does this?
I.H., Fort Myers, Fla.
There are several possible explanations for your cat's behavior. His "doll fetish," first and foremost, is a consequence of his domesticated (i.e., nature-deprived) existence. Some of his basic instincts, such as hunting, killing, playing and courting with his own species, and carrying prey have no natural outlet. Hence, he, and many cats and dogs, will use dolls and stuffed toys as substitute prey/play objects and as offspring to nurture.
Normally, I recommend getting a second cat in cases like this, but you indicate that you already have one. I must conclude, then, that cat number one may be feeling somewhat confused (and insecure) as a result of your recent move. Moving from one home to another can be quite traumatic for our animal companions. This could have prompted him to get himself a prey/play object.
Certainly, you should not discourage your cat from doing his thing. He may be going back a few times to look at his doll because he's confused as to what to do next, since the doll is nonresponsive and his natural instincts are being thwarted and distorted. But there's no cause for worry.
Dr. Michael Fox, author of many 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. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
(c)2002, United Feature Syndicate Inc.