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Animal Doctor: Cats say more than just ‘meow’

Dear Dr. Fox:

This letter is to share my cats’ vocalizations and to ask advice about my older cat.

Both my cats, 17-year-old Simon and 10-year-old Schatze, are orange tabbies.

Schatze followed me home one day when I was out walking. Of the many cats we’ve had over the years, Schatze is the most delightful, interactive companion. He loves people. He greets everyone at the front door.

Schatze has an extensive vocabulary. He talks to us in staccato sounds of chirps, grunts, squeaks, squawks and even little meows. He responds in conversation with us. Schatze is happy as long as he is being petted or hugged.

Simon rarely made a sound for 16 years, but since he developed a tumor behind one eye that caused blindness, he has stopped eating dry food. He is extremely thin.

I feed him canned food now, of which he will eat only the pate, from which he licks all the moisture. We sometimes add beef or chicken broth, and he licks it right up. He sits in the kitchen and yowls loudly. I have to sit with him while he eats, which he does for only a couple of minutes at a time.

He has always drunk a lot of water but has never been a good eater. I know he doesn’t have much time left, but he doesn’t seem to have pain, and he still cuddles and purrs. I don’t understand why he can’t eat enough at a time to be done for a while.

L.H., Saylorsburg, Pa.

DF: Thanks for the account of Schatze’s vocal repertoire. It can be difficult finding the right descriptive names for their various sounds, but behavioral scientists have identified many, including complex mixed sounds.

One of our cats always gives an accordion-like purr-squeak whenever he jumps from one of his many perches, as though to announce he’s coming. Our other cat gives contentment grunts, and sometimes when he’s sleeping, he emits the most pathetic little cries, no doubt reliving his terrible Minnesota winter survival challenges as a feral cat.

Cats with a chronic degenerative disease such as poor Simon must be kept hydrated, and it is excellent that he drinks plenty of water. His lack of appetite might be the result of nausea rather than pain, and it could be part of the somatic shutdown process, in which metabolism is disrupted and energy and nutrients get taken from the muscles, causing the animal to waste away. This could be compounded by thyroid disease.

Try feeding him small amounts of Gerber baby foods many times a day. Stick to the meat, poultry and fish varieties that are highly nutritious and palatable for cats.

If hospice care is available in your area, that might be a good service to help him through his final days. Check my Web site,, for a review of this relatively new, compassionate service for people and their pets.


Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a 10-year-old dachshund named Abigail. She had what appeared to be a rash with dried, scaly scabs for more than two years. She licked herself constantly.

We tried various foods, narrowing them down to individual proteins rather than food with several meat products. Our vet suggested we try making her homemade food and treats for dogs with allergies.

We eliminated beef and chicken and replaced them with fish and veal. We started trying different high-quality pet foods, mixing dry with moist food. The vet ordered several tests, including thyroid activity. Nothing showed up.

Abigail was put on multiple rounds of antibiotics, anti- fungal medications and prednisone. We shampooed her two or three times a week using prescription shampoo, and we also tried medicated oatmeal shampoo, Selsun Blue medicated shampoo and Head & Shoulders shampoo, all to no avail.

Finally, we decided to have her tested for the type of allergies she may have. The test cost about $300, but it was worth it. Abigail is allergic to several things. However, the test that shot through the roof was food mites. The vet explained that some stores keep dog food on their shelves until it sells, rather than until its expiration date. Abigail is also allergic to dust mites.

We moved all the old rugs and even had hardwood floors put down in the den and hallway (something we were planning anyway, but this result expedited the change). The few rooms with carpet, which she does not go into often, were shampooed and sprayed for allergens. We threw away her old bedding, and all bedding and blankets are now washed weekly with hot water.

Abigail was placed on another round of antibiotics, anti-fungal medication and prednisone. We switched her food to a Blue Health Holistic Fish and Sweet Potato (dry and wet). Abigail had no signs of rash or scaly scabs within three months. It has been more than year and a half without any signs of a breakout.

It has been a long and trying road to relieve her of her condition, but we consider our pets part of our family, and we would do anything to take away her discomfort.

I hope this information will help others.

E.R.P., Kernersville, N.C.

DF: I have noted several instances of food mite contamination of dry pet foods over the years. The bugs multiply inside the sealed, contaminated bags, so the older the bag, the greater the number of mites.

Always check the expiration date on the bag, and think twice about buying discounted dog and cat foods past their expiration dates. Also, the older the food, the more nutrients are lost through oxidation.

Dust mites in the home are a significant allergen for dogs and cats. These mites eat the dead skin cells humans shed and the dander that dogs and cats shed.

Thorough vacuuming every five to seven days is a routine hygienic practice for all homes. You should also launder any animal bedding at the same intervals.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, 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.

2012 United Feature Syndicate


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