Dear Dr. Fox:

Years ago, when I lived in Collingswood, N.J., my 15-month-old dachshund started throwing up and having diarrhea. Home remedies did not work. I took her to the veterinarian, who admitted her.

Two or three days later, she was deemed fine and released. This happened twice. The third time that I dropped her off for the same problem, I noticed as I was leaving that the staff was removing her flea collar. I stopped in my tracks and asked, “Have you removed the flea collar every time she was admitted?” A staff member said yes, always. I took her home and trashed the flea collar. She has never had the problem again.

I was upset with the veterinary staff for not considering this, and I found another vet. She was allergic to the flea collar. It cost me several hundred dollars to figure that out!

P.K., Naples, Fla.

DF: I wrote about problems with flea collars and spot-on anti-flea and tick drugs in an earlier column.

I hope that all readers will take note of your costly — and distressing — experience, and adopt the integrated flea control program detailed on my Web site,

Readers can also try the new, safe spray from PetzLife, Complete Coat.

It is ridiculous to give potentially hazardous insecticides to cats and dogs to prevent flea infestation. That’s like taking antibiotics to prevent infection. It’s not real prevention, but it is really profitable for the drug companies.

GOING Outside the box

Dear Dr. Fox:

My two cats are 10-year-old Cornish rex brothers. After I returned from a 10-day vacation, which I take two times a year, I noticed that they both had started urinating on chairs, counters and tables, while continuing to use the litter box. I employed my regular cat sitter while I was gone.

The cats don’t have any physical problems. I’ve tried using different litters, and I’ve used the Feliway pheromone dispensers. They’re on antidepressants.

I’m trying Royal Canin Calm cat food now. I clean the boxes daily. I’ve moved litter boxes into the areas they are marking, but they use them and then go to another part of the house and spray. There are three open boxes and one that's covered.

It seems strange that they are both doing this. Is one copying the other? They are very close and fight only now and then. They are extremely affectionate cats, and I love them dearly.

G.W., St. Louis

DF: I sympathize with your difficulties. Whatever insecurity made your cats feel the need to mark around the house, they have developed the equivalent of a habit-fixation, continuing to soil after your return even though everything is the same as before you went on vacation.

There is a remote chance that there is an outdoor cat prowling, spraying and yowling, which could have set off your cats while you were away.

You need to confine the cats to one room to break the cycle. Spend as much time with them as you can for seven to 10 days. Get them back onto their regular cat food and off the antidepressant. Offer them a little dried catnip every other day. Clean all soiled areas with a liquid enzymatic cleaner, such as Nature’s Miracle.

Do not put litter boxes out except in the places they went before the problem started. When you let them out after their deconditioning isolation, be very calm and go about your normal daily routine.

A little lightly cooked turkey, which contains the calming amino acid tryptophan, would be as good as anything to help calm them down. Tie a cotton strip with a few drops of lavender oil around their necks, and hang a similarly prepared strip in the room, which you can replenish every 24 hours.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate