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Animal Doctor: Putting a cat at ease with a sitter

Dear Dr. Fox:

I enjoyed your article about the 78-year-old woman who recently adopted a cat. I, too, adopted a cat, and I am 76.

The cat is very comforting to me and an excellent companion. My wife passed away two years ago. Anyone who has gone through this stressful experience understands what it is like. You get very lonely. At times, you don’t know whether you will get through another day without your significant other.

I’ll be away for a week soon. I’m thinking about leaving the cat downstairs rather than letting him roam the entire home while I’m gone. The downstairs area is large and provides enough space for the cat, his litter box and food. Is this a good idea? I have a pet sitter who will come in once a day to feed him.

P.E., Port Republic

DF: You have my condolences regarding the loss of your wife. I trust that other readers will consider, as you did, adopting animals because of their healing powers and the fact that they need good homes.

Have your pet sitter come in at least twice a day to clean out the litter box, feed, water, sit with, and pet and groom the cat. Maybe set up a routine to switch on a television or radio so the cat feels less alone.

If your cat is used to having access to the entire house, confining him to the basement while you are gone could be extremely traumatic, so I’d say no to that. Have the pet sitter come visit as often as possible while you are still there so your cat will be less afraid of a relative stranger when you are gone.

I advise in-home cat sitting rather than boarding a cat. I am shocked by what seem to be the standard cat boarding facility cage and “condo” dimensions.

Dog is hard to figure

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 15-year-old longhaired dachshund that does a strange thing in the yard. He has a figure eight worn into the grass, and he walks it constantly. He is losing weight from all the walking. He’s always hungry but seems fine for a 15-year-old dog. Do you have an explanation for his behavior?

J.W., St. Charles, Mo.

DF: What you describe is an obsessive-compulsive behavior more commonly seen in caged zoo animals and breeding sows in pig factories confined in narrow crates their entire lives. It is called stereotypic behavior.

Repetitive movements might be self-comforting and result in the production of natural opiates in the body, which, in turn, give the activity an addictive element. The underlying cause in your dog could be some discomfort that he is trying to relieve. This discomfort could be physical, as from chronic bowel inflammation or a brain tumor, or from increased anxiety.

A full veterinary check-up is called for, and if your dog is in good physical health — and I would not advise costly tests, considering his age — a very light dose of alprazolam (such as Xanax) to see whether it is anxiety-related might be the best treatment option.

You can also give him a higher fat and protein diet with supplements to help improve his physical condition, if his kidney function is good.

Cost-effective care

Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted a darling yellow tiger kitten that weighs about five pounds. The shelter suggested she should have kitten food for a year.

The food I selected for her, Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Green Pea and Chicken, is for kittens and cats, and it gives the amount to feed by weight. The store employees said kittens should be free-fed to encourage weight gain, so I have given her more than the recommended two-thirds cup, seeing as she seems to be starving all the time.

I really want to feed her right, but I need advice. I am not up to home-cooking her food, though.

When she was spayed, the price was supposed to be included in the adoption fee. When my husband went to pick her up, she’d had all sorts of additional shots and procedures.

When I called Animal Medical Services, where the spaying had taken place, they said these things were presented to my husband as a matter of choice, but he says they were presented to him as imperative. When I called my husband to see how she was, my first reaction was, “I don’t want her filled with all of those chemicals!” But when I saw the bill, I was even angrier.

I know veterinarians have to make a living. I also know that a fairly new building and many employees must be paid for. But I doubt that this kitten’s paws had ever touched the outside ground before we got her, and I can guarantee that they will not in the future. She is strictly an indoor cat.

I believe North Carolina state law requires an annual rabies shot, but beyond that, what does an inside cat need?

L.E., Mount Airy, N.C.

DF: Active young cats need several (four to six) small meals a day, ideally canned or raw-frozen, and a lesser amount of grain-free dry cat food. For readers who are interested in a home-prepared recipe and recommended commercial cat foods, go to

Some pet food companies donate their cat and dog foods to shelters and provide free samples for people to take with them when they adopt an animal. This makes marketing sense, but it does not mean that the animals would fare best when fed such foods for the rest of their lives.

Thank you for sending me your itemized veterinary bill. The charges seem reasonable to me. The spay operation was free, but charges were made for protective electrolytes and blood screening. The treatment for worms and fleas was also free. I would question only the need for a feline leukemia vaccination for an indoor cat.

Surprisingly, you were not charged for the feline viral leukemia tests, which can cost more than the entire bill that your husband paid. The other vaccinations that were given (at a very reasonable charge) are necessary.

You should count your blessings in this regard, and consider adopting another cat and taking it to the same veterinary facility.

Beagle has glaucoma

Dear Dr. Fox:

My otherwise healthy 6-year-old beagle, Kady, has recently had glaucoma diagnosed. I took her in because of her glowing greenish-looking eyes and the fact that she bumped into a few things.

The vet said that Kady probably had glaucoma from a young age and that it was genetic. She is on latanoprost drops twice a day to stabilize the pressure in her eyes.

Have you found these drops to help the situation? I was told that when her pressure gets too high and when she becomes uncomfortable, I might need to have her eyes removed.

I am sick about this possible scenario.

S.G., St. Louis

DF: I am glad that this condition was diagnosed and that treatment was immediately instigated, if it is not too late, that is, to save your dog’s eyesight. Glaucoma — increased fluid and pressure buildup inside the eye — can lead to detachment of the lens, ulceration of the cornea and blindness.

It is common in some breeds, such as the cocker spaniel, wirehaired fox terrier, Great Dane, poodle, miniature schnauzer and Alaskan malamute. Initial signs include excessive blinking and/or rubbing of eyes, reddening around the eyes and dilated pupils.

Your attending veterinarian might also consider treatment with a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor, such as methazolamide, especially if one or both lenses are detached. So-called gonioimplants (aqueous humor shunts) to drain out the fluid inside the eye might be a surgical option, but I am afraid that the prognosis is poor and that your dog might well go blind. It’s also true that she might need to have the eyes removed.

With patient and loving support, many dogs adapt surprisingly well to loss of vision, and your beagle still has her nose and ears on her side.

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.

2013 United Feature Syndicate


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