Dear Dr. Fox:
My husband and I have observed puzzling, ritualistic behavior in our 3-year-old, neutered, orange male cat, Buttercup. He has a constant supply of dry food from a self-dispensing container and we feed him half a three-ounce can of moist food three to five times a day, depending on his appetite.
Invariably, though not always, he sniffs his food and pretend-buries it by scratching all the surfaces around the dish. He then goes out the cat door and returns within a minute. Then he eats his fill and, if there is anything left over, he scratches again, sniffs and scratches once more.
We thought maybe he didn't like the food so we tried other flavors and brands, but that made no difference. Could he be trying to hide it from predators (real or imagined)? It seems he tries to bury the food, can't and so eats it anyway.
Buttercup is now slightly chubby and I worry that by misreading his hunger signals we compel him to eat more than he wants just so it wouldn't be there for his "rivals" (though we have no other pets).
How would you interpret his odd behavior?
A.S., BethesdaYou need to cut back on the amount of canned food you are putting out for Buttercup. Give him about one-half to one-third of what he now gets, but don't change the feeding frequency.
Cats like to snack, so any leftover food should be removed, otherwise Buttercup will persist in his anxious covering-up behavior, which is a natural instinct. It may be to hide food from "rivals" or to cover up the odor in his living space.
I hope he's not becoming addicted to dry food -- this is a common problem in many cats, who then refuse any and all moist food, which is generally better for them. It may be advisable not to let him have any dry food during the day. Let him get to the dispenser at night -- many people with cats who get hungry and awaken them in the early hours of the morning have found this to be a good solution.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I feed my cats tuna fish, and after reading one of your columns it has been worrying me. Would you please address this?
C.G., HoustonAn occasional weekly teaspoon of tuna (or a gravy made of one teaspoon in spring water to moisten dry cat food) is about all I recommend. Tuna is high in mercury and other poisons (like dioxins and PCBs), and is a hazardous food for people and other animals. Too much tuna can cause fatty liver disease associated with vitamin deficiency in cats, muscular weakness being a chief sign. Neurological problems may also develop because of the high mercury content.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Mocha is a 9-month-old chocolate Lab/German shorthaired pointer mix. He's a neutered, indoor dog, one of three.
Mocha has been very good with housebreaking and rarely has an accident. If he does make a mistake it's usually our fault for not paying attention when he's asking to go out. However, we have this strange problem that I've never had with any of my pets -- he urinates on the bed!
This is not a good thing. He has done this on two different beds, but mainly on just one. He first did this as a small puppy, probably by accident, but now he will go up there and immediately urinate, even when we're watching -- it seems deliberate. I've cleaned the beds as thoroughly as I can to try to remove any scent that he might be attracted to, but nothing has helped so far.
Also, Mocha loves to chew things. Are the rawhide chew bones okay for him? We have to keep him supplied with something or he'll find things to chew that he's not supposed to. What's best for puppies to chew?
K.V., Lamberton, Minn.
Most likely, your young dog is either responding to the surface texture of the beds as though he were outdoors on soft dirt and grass, or else he's actually "marking" -- staking out places in the house in competition with the two other dogs.
First, have him checked for cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), since animals suffering from this condition sometimes deliberately urinate in front of their human companions and caregivers. This is an unlikely possibility, but important to rule out.
This bed soiling could be associated with excitement and submission, so simply ignore him. Do not punish him. Make going up on the beds unpleasant by placing several mousetraps that are set and placed upside down under sheets of newspaper laid out on the beds. The loud snaps they make under the paper will scare him, and he should quickly develop an aversion to getting up on the beds, upon which he should never be allowed for several months.
Young dogs like to chew things, and the safest item is a 3-to-4-inch-long piece of raw (uncooked) beef shank or a marrow or soup bone.
(c) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.