Dear Dr. Fox:
Over the years, we’ve had several cats. Because I usually took care of their needs, they were always more affectionate with me. They didn’t snuggle with my husband very much, and that was okay with him. But the cat we have now is very different.
This cat started out as a stray. Our neighbor took him in and kept him in her garage. The neighbor had him checked by a vet, got all his necessary shots and gave him to us a few months ago.
He’s basically an indoor cat. although he sometimes goes out on the porch for a little while, and he has the run of the house.
Lately, he has become extremely affectionate toward my husband. He sits in the chair with my husband, wants to be petted and sometimes sleeps on top of his shoes. He even yowls if he’s not getting attention.
It might sound funny, but my husband’s arms are quite hairy, and it seems as though the cat is grooming him! He’ll alternately lick himself and then my husband, to the point where we have to tell him to stop.
I’ve never seen this kind of cat behavior. Can you explain it?
M.D., Scott Township, Pa.
DF: Cats are unpredictable and idiosyncratic in many ways. Pheromones can play a big role in their social behavior and emotional bonds.
It is quite possible that your husband’s hirsute arms are a stimulus to the cat to engage in affectionate social grooming. But all things in moderation! Cats can become clingy, so try to remotivate and redirect the cat’s attention by engaging in interactive play with a lure on a string or a laser light to chase.
The cat might enjoy a regular brushing and massage, as I describe in my book “The Healing Touch for Cats.” But beware: Some cats become touch-aholics!
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a mixed-breed hound. We think he’s part Rhodesian ridgeback. We have had him since he was 2 months old. He has never been abused or neglected. He is very loving and docile with us, but he is aggressive toward everyone else.
Whenever someone comes onto our property, he barks madly at them, and he scares people who come inside with his vicious attitude. He is also aggressive with people on walks, although he has no problem with other dogs. He can no longer be boarded at a pet hotel because he was being very fear-aggressive with the staff.
He is 1
M.H., Ellicott City
DF: It is natural for young dogs to show some aggression toward strangers entering their home territories when they are of a protective breed or temperament. It can be aggravated by how the handler or caregiver responds to the dog the first time such behavior is manifested.
Tugging on the leash, hitting the dog or verbally scolding him might simply arouse the dog’s fear and anxiety level, leading to more intense defensive aggression the next time. This is where a professionally certified animal behavioral therapist might help. Impulse control through behavior modification might be the solution.
Veterinarian W. Jean Dodds (author of “Canine Nutrigenomics”) has identified acute thyroid dysfunction in many young-adult dogs showing aggressive behavior that is difficult to control. Your veterinarian should consider this as a possibility.
In the meantime, have your dog wear a muzzle when people might be at risk. This will make you more relaxed, and that would be good for the dog.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a mixed-breed pound dog we adopted a couple of years ago. She might be a Sheltie; she weighs about 30 pounds. She’s a good girl, and we truly love her. The weird thing is, she’s an awful car traveler. She’s fine at all other times, but I’ve never seen a dog behave the way she does.
She will eagerly jump into the car, but once it starts, it’s a different story — she cries constantly and hyperventilates. She won’t sit still; we have to hold her the entire time the car is moving.
We have tried to get her accustomed to the car, but this seems to be a deep-seated neurosis. We tried putting her in a kennel in the car, but that doesn’t help; in fact, it seems worse than just holding her.
Is there anything we can give her (such as Valium) to calm her down?
DF: A recent study published by an animal behaviorist in Britain showed significant benefits from spraying the inside of a car with a mist of water shaken with a few drops of lavender oil just before the ride. An occasional spritz on the dog might also help during a long journey.
Trying to desensitize your dog might be worth a try. This essentially entails sitting in the car with the dog for increasing periods of time with engine off, then with the engine running, then going on longer and longer drives. Give your dog treats sporadically to associate being in the car with a food reward.
She might travel better and prefer the security of a dog crate, or you can secure her in a harness tethered to a back seat.
Treatment with Valium or its parent herb, valerian, 30 minutes before a ride might help. After a few treatments, many dogs settle down and can be weaned off the medication.
For dogs that develop nausea while riding, a small piece of ginger root in a ball of cream cheese can work wonders as a “calmative.” Some dogs readily eat crystallized ginger, which also calms the stomach.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My daughter and her family have a border collie that they adopted from a pet rescue. He is sweet, smart and lovable. They think he is about 5 years old.
When I was visiting recently, I noticed that he seemed to be snapping at something in the air, as though he were seeing flies. None of the rest of us saw flies, so his behavior seemed a little strange.
I’m wondering whether he has “floaters” in his eyes, causing him to see spots. My daughter thinks he is seeing small bugs that we don’t see.
M.E., St. Paul, Minn.
DF: This kind of behavior is not usually associated with any eye abnormality, but that would be worth evaluating, especially considering the breed of dog your daughter has.
This is most likely an obsessive-compulsive behavior. It might be associated with previous trauma or stress. It was reported in some dogs during World War II in Britain, and was attributed to bombing and sirens near where they lived. A flood in Pavlov’s laboratory in Russia, which apparently terrified the caged dogs, resulted in some engaging in this behavior after the water subsided.
Your veterinarian might prescribe a mild tranquilizer. Regular exercise and interactive play outdoors are essential for this working breed. A bandanna around the dog’s neck with a few drops of lavender oil may help calm the dog. Also try the herbal product @-Eaze from PetzLife. Consider giving him a small amount of over-the-counter melatonin before bedtime.
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. Send letters to email@example.com or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.