Dear Dr. Fox:
The other day, my husband was reading your column. When he finished, he threw down the paper and started to cry. He looked at me and said, “Well, it’s pertinent.” I picked it up and read it, and then I began to cry. The subject you wrote about was happening to us right then.
Our beloved 16-year-old cat, Gracie, was terminal, and it was only a matter of time until she would be gone. Your column dealt with a man who had two cats and lost one. The surviving cat suffered with grief for a long time, so when the situation arose again, he took the surviving cat with him when the dying cat was to be euthanized.
After reading this advice in your column, we decided to take our Koko with us when Gracie was euthanized. Koko had been through this several years ago, when his brother, Kiki, died. Koko was depressed afterward, and we made sure we touched, petted and played with him more than usual to help him get over the loss — and to help us, too.
Koko did not like being there, but after we got home, he went into a basket that was always Gracie’s. As soon as Gracie took it over, Koko never went into it until she was gone. It’s been only four days now, but he is taking over some other things that were Gracie’s alone. We are heartsick that we lost our very special kitty, even though she had been lucky — she had an ectopic ureter that was diagnosed when she was 2. She dealt with it very well, and so did we, so to have had 16 years with her was amazing.
D.H. and J.H., Estero, Fla.
DF: You have my sympathy; I understand how devastating the loss of an animal companion can be. I am very glad that one of the issues in my newspaper column coincided with your situation and that you found it helpful.
Koko’s behavior is interesting, in that he clearly accommodated or deferred to Gracie when she was alive. Being conscious that she is now gone, he is essentially filling in some of the spaces that she formerly occupied, both physically and psychologically.
Behavioral and neurological sciences have helped advance our understanding and appreciation of animals’ consciousness and emotions, showing that warm-blooded animals are more like us than they are different. Such evidence forces us out of anthropocentrism to face the realities of animal use and abuse around the world. For instance, consider the suffering of billions of animals raised for human consumption and used for experiments to find cures for human disease.
For the views of some of history’s deepest thinkers and social reformers, I would highly recommend a book by an old colleague and dear friend in Germany, Johanna Wothke. She is the founder and director of Pro Animale, an organization that has set up 25 animal shelters across Europe and Turkey and that has rescued thousands of dogs, cats, horses, and abused and neglected farm animals. Her philosophy is captured in the book’s title, “Memento,” a derivative of the Latin “memento mori,” which suggests being mindful of your death. Such mindfulness, she contends, can move us all to examine how we live in relation to the lives and eventual deaths of others.
Two veterinarians in Taiwan have documented the benefits of an exercise regimen, in addition to standard prednisolone treatment, in small-breed dogs living a sedentary life and suffering from chronic diarrhea. This was after other dietary treatments (hydrolyzed and hypoallergenic elimination diets) and various supplements either failed or only partially improved their inflammatory bowel disease.
Although this was a small study inspired, in part, by the clinical improvement in human patients suffering from IBD who are able to participate in a regular exercise program, it offers a safe and potentially effective additional therapeutic approach to this all-too-common canine condition.
Living a sedentary life and often being trained to evacuate inside, especially when living in high-rise apartments, could lead to longer retention times of fecal material before evacuation. This might cause inflammation of the bowels, exacerbated by various dietary ingredients and their metabolites, with further possible health problems caused by bacterial endotoxins. Physical activity might help improve circulation and help alleviate and prevent lymphangiectasia, the accumulation of lymph in the bowels seen in some forms of canine IBD.
Mental arousal with physical activity might increase peristaltic tonus of the bowel’s smooth muscles. which might become flaccid with a placid temperament and an unstimulating indoor environment. Megacolon and fecal impaction, commonly seen in under-stimulated and under-active indoor cats, might also be related to a lack of arousal and physical activity.
So walk more with your dogs, and play more with your cats. Some cats might also enjoy outdoor walks in a harness or on a leash.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My 2-year-old cat has spent most of her life indoors. She makes the usual chattering noise when she sees a bird, is very interested in watching squirrels, goes from window to window to watch a bunny hopping by, and doesn’t care much about dogs sniffing around. She rarely mews — she chirps.
My son and I were astounded when, while looking out the window, she spotted a cat and started howling and hissing. So, here’s the question: How did she know it was a cat and that howling was the way to go?
J.S., Moorhead, Minn.
DF: You seem to be asking how your cat knows that it was a cat outside and not some other creature. Animals have self-awareness, and one cat seeing another outside most often perceives the other cat as a threatening invader of its territory, but would not have that reaction to a rabbit or dog.
Your cat, like most, has a significant repertoire of vocal sounds for different situations to express her emotional states and cognition. When you live with more than one cat, you may find that one does most of the “talking” and that some varieties, such as Siamese, are very vocal, indeed.
You might also see how cats do recognize and respond to one another’s different vocal sounds. One of my cats would generally ignore the other, who was twittering and chirping at birds and squirrels on the other side of the window, but would come running to see when a low growl-yowl was given at a free-roaming cat, or a less intense vocalization at a raccoon or groundhog.
Your cat could have heard the other cat giving threatening calls and smelled the cat’s spray, which free-roaming cats often do around the homes of other cats. This can be very distressing for in-home cats and, in many instances, can make them start to spray indoors, become house-soilers and even attack each other.
Pet ownership is up, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey. It reports 68 percent of American households now own a pet, accounting for 84.6 million pet-owning households, up from 79.7 million pet-owning households in 2015.
Millennial pet ownership surpassed that of baby boomers by 3 percentage points, and the younger segment includes more than 50 percent of reptile, small-animal and saltwater-fish owners.
I would urge people of all ages not to buy reptiles or other exotic warm-blooded animals that cannot be provided a proper habitat in unstimulating environments. Like many wild-bird species, these exotic reptiles are part of a lucrative worldwide industry that causes many to die before they get into the pet stores for uninformed consumers to buy on impulse.
©Michael W. Fox is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.