Dear Dr. Fox:

My boyfriend and I adopted a 4-year-old male tabby cat a little more than a year ago. He is sweet, personable and playful, and he seems well adjusted to us and to our apartment. Unfortunately, we have a couple of problems.

He has a chronic ear infection — he had one when we adopted him — that three different prescriptions have failed to clear. Although the prescriptions seemed to help during treatment, the brown gunk comes back as soon as the drops run out. The vet ruled out mites on the first visit.

Our cat shakes his head and scratches at his ears constantly, and it’s heartbreaking. Is surgery an option?

Also, he keeps waking us up hours before his breakfast time. We feed him moist food twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. This worked fine for a while, but he is now waking up at 6:30 a.m., and he misbehaves and makes noise until we get up to feed him. The sleep deprivation is taking a toll.

J.P.H., Brooklyn

DF: Your cat might have ear mites that did not show up on the initial examination.

Thoroughly clean his ears and then use a cat-safe insecticide in the ear canal. Have your veterinarian prescribe Zymogen, which will help reduce inflammation and possible bacterial and/or fungal infection.

You are not feeding your cat frequently enough. Dogs do fine, as most humans do, on two meals per day, but many cat owners are unaware that it is better to give cats three to six small meals a day. Weigh your cat and keep a note on weight gain or loss, adjusting the amount of his meals.

Bad breeding

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 61 / 2-pound Yorkie. He’s a sweetheart. About three years ago, I found out he has an enlarged heart and a closed trachea. He loves to play, but when he does, he gets out of breath and tries to suck in air with his tongue. When I see him do that, I get tears in my eyes.

He takes pills twice a day. I’ve asked our vet whether anything else can be done. He shrugs and puts his hands in the air.

J.P.V., Naples, Fla.

DF: These sorts of developmental disorders are all too common in toy breeds. Such health problems, and a host of others, have a genetic basis.

This places the burden of responsibility on the breeders to help eliminate these problems by not breeding dogs whose puppies inherit such disorders. This is called progeny testing. I would think twice about advising anyone to buy a purebred dog without some form of health guarantee.

I regret that there are no cures for your dog. Monitor his weight and keep him trim. Take him for slow walks so he gets some mental stimulation. He should wear only a harness and never a collar. Toy breeds prone to tracheal collapse should never be walked on a collar. Engage in short play bouts, followed by grooming or a calming massage.

Seizures and diet

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a 3-year-old tricolor Australian shepherd named Coach. He has suffered from seizures for two years.

In February 2011, he began having episodes in which he would jump as though someone had poked him with an electrical prod. These seizures occurred every eight to 10 days through that June. He would jump or spasm every 45 to 60 seconds for 45 minutes to an hour.

We took him to a vet, but by the time we got there, the seizure was finished. The vet checked him, did blood work — and found nothing.

We videotaped one of these seizures and took the video to the vet. At that point, the vet recommended that we see a dog neurologist. She did a more thorough exam and ran a battery of tests, all negative. We decided against an MRI.

That July, Coach had his first grand mal seizure. The neurologist prescribed zonisamide but said it was up to us to decide whether to start the pills. She advised that we should start them when his quality of life (or ours) suffered.

He had six more grand mal seizures over the next eight weeks. At that point, we started the pills. He gets two 100-milligram pills in the morning and two at night. He takes his pills with some peanut butter or soft cheese. He went for six weeks with no seizures but began having them again, about once a week. His follow-up blood tests showed nothing irregular.

The neurologist prescribed a second drug, Keppra, in addition to the zonisamide.

At this time, a friend who is a dog trainer gave us some advice about his diet. We removed all foods that have red dye, wheat gluten and corn. This seemed to help; the seizures happened about once a month, so we did not give him any of the Keppra. However, the seizures are starting up again.

Coach has a loving, fun personality that has not changed since the seizures. He gets a good amount of exercise. He walks and plays with neighborhood dogs daily, gets good rest and naps every day.

I make most of his food. He gets Iams dry food, but very little of it. I usually have to add some shredded cheese to get him to eat it. He loves fish, especially tuna and salmon, but I am not sure whether fish is safe for dogs, and how much is too much.

P. & R.B., Machipongo, Va.

DF: It seems from your letter that you have thoroughly considered the diet-related aspects of epilepsy.

I would avoid tuna for many reasons. Canned mackerel or wild salmon is preferable. I would suggest a pragmatic trial-and-test approach, including a twice-daily dose of melatonin, two tablespoons of coconut oil in his food daily and a teaspoon of fish oil for dogs daily.

Discuss potassium bromide with your veterinarian as an alternative medication. Put a few drops of lavender oil on a bandanna around his neck mornings and evening because of its calming properties. Try to get Coach to drink a calming chamomile or valerian tea. An ice pack on the lower and middle parts of his back might shorten the seizure duration and intensity.

Try my dog food recipe (at and avoid all manufactured pet foods — what the labels say might not be in the can or bag. Keep me posted on Coach’s progress.


Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted a 1-year-old Siamese-mix cat from the SPCA two years ago. He is very skittish but affectionate.

Several months ago, he stopped cleaning his anal area. This is causing a lot of problems, because he resists any type of help and runs when we try to approach him. He is on Prozac because he was urinating in the dining room instead of his litter box, and the medication seems to work for that problem.

He weighs 12 pounds. We feed him Purina Indoor Formula dry food and a half-can of Friskies moist food daily. He has no problem reaching his anal area, but he won’t clean himself. We are at our wit’s end.

E.H., Virginia Beach

DF: Have you ruled out chronic cystitis rather than an emotional distress factor as the root of your cat’s house-soiling behavior, even though the Prozac seems to help?

The type of cat litter you are using, how often you clean out his box (it should be at least three times daily) and the location of the box all play a part in determining a cat’s litter box behavior.

I am not clear from your letter why your cat’s posterior needs to be cleaned regularly. Certainly, longhaired, obese and older cats might need cleaning when debris from the litter box, urine and fecal matter adhere to the hindquarters. If your cat is dribbling urine or has fecal incontinence or blocked, painful anal glands, litter box aversion and house soiling can result.

If that’s the case, your cat needs to see a veterinarian who can offer more than the Prozac. Also, your cat might benefit from a change in diet. Some food ingredients can cause bladder inflammation and associated incontinence. For details, go to

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