Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a sweet, loving, 2-year-old Lhasa apso. While walking her, she will bite and growl at my feet and ankles. This is the only time she displays this aggressive behavior. Why does she do this, and how can I correct it?
W.L., Harrisburg, Pa.
Your feisty young dog wants to play -- to chase, wrestle and engage in fun "fights" with you and others of her own kind. She's not being aggressive, but her behavior may be too intense because she never gets to really "cut loose"; your feet and ankles are thus irresistible to her.
I'll bet she never gets much real playtime or a good off-leash romp, which, sadly, is the fate of too many dogs today. Without ample opportunity for play, such animals become obese, depressed and prematurely old. So learn how to play with your dog and find her a playgroup, just as you would for a child.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My small, 8-year-old spayed, mixed-breed cat, Chrissie, has a thick coat of fine, semi-long fur that she keeps meticulously clean. Consequently, every two or three days she vomits a two-inch fur ball (along with her other stomach contents) on the living room carpet or whatever piece of furniture she is sitting or sleeping on at the time. I have seen her suddenly wake up and vomit a large fur ball right then and there. Combing and brushing are no help, as her fur is too fine. Our vet proposed giving her phenobarbital, but I didn't agree to that. Can you suggest a solution?
Vomiting up "sausages" or "cigars" of swallowed, compacted fur is so common in cats that it has led some cat food manufacturers to produce special diets to ostensibly prevent this problem.
Regular grooming on a daily basis is called for; using a moist sponge over your cat's fur may make it easier to collect loose fur in a fine comb or brush. The less loose fur, the less your cat will swallow.
Adding more roughage or fiber to her diet may help, too, such as a tablespoonful of chopped wheatgrass, sprouted greens or cooked rolled oats. A few drops of fish oil or a half-teaspoon of flaxseed oil in her food every day will also help improve her coat.
I would never give your cat a drug like phenobarbital, which could knock her out so much that she wouldn't groom herself. Besides, prolonged use can cause liver damage.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I took my 12-year-old cat to the ASPCA for a rabies vaccination. They insisted that I apply flea preventive for dogs on my cat. I did, and I've never seen such a bad reaction in an animal: He lost most of his fur, cried for weeks, and was in pain and could hardly eat.
I ended up taking him to a veterinary hospital, where I was made to buy a case of food I knew he wouldn't eat. They did all kinds of tests and (over $300 later) they told me he had thyroid trouble. They prescribed medication, but it costs about $50 a week. After the first month I couldn't afford it anymore.
It took three months for my cat to get his fur back. He's thin, but he eats well. I'm told he still needs his rabies shot, but he's strictly an indoor cat. Should I take him in for his shot?
R.O.R., Virginia Beach
First, your indoor cat does not need a rabies vaccination unless one is mandated by local law. People whose pets have had adverse reactions to a rabies vaccine should be given a note by the attending veterinarian stating that the required vaccination was not given for health reasons. Otherwise, the canarypox-vectored Purevax by Merial, a 1-year rabies vaccine for cats, is considered the safest by feline specialists.
Second, the veterinarian who allegedly advised putting a flea-preventive medication for dogs on your cat in conjunction with a rabies vaccination should be held responsible for all your subsequent veterinary costs. Such mistreatment caused your poor cat unnecessary suffering and may have triggered the hyperthyroidism.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a longhaired male cat who's almost 2 years old. For about nine months he has been "scooting." He was checked for worms and is okay. He also had his anal glands removed, but that didn't stop it. What else could be causing him to do this, and what do I do to help him?
C.S., Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Since your cat has no problem with worms or his anal glands, check and see if he's getting litter from his litter box stuck on his rear-end. Also, check his stools (which your vet should have done); he may have a sore anus because of chronic constipation, and there could be blood in his stools -- a telltale sign of rectal damage and irritation.
He might also have irritable bowel syndrome, which should be considered if his stools are often loose and he's losing weight and vitality. Cats suffering from urethral or bladder irritation due to infection or calculi ("stones") may also scoot, so this possible problem should be checked out, too.
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) 2004, United Feature Syndicate Inc.