Dear Dr. Fox:

I adopted two sweet sister cats nine years ago: Chase and Chochi. They had not had any major health problems until recently. They are indoor cats, although they are allowed to go out on our deck with us.

More than a year ago, I noticed that Chase had lost some fur on her lower abdomen. Shortly after that, we embarked on a home renovation project that was loud and dusty and that forced us to leave our Maryland home for several months and move into a vacation home in West Virginia. I found a vet there who said Chase was overgrooming because of a flea saliva allergy. She recommended Comfortis.

The vet also noticed that Chochi was overgrooming the same area, so both cats began the drug. Neither one improved, so we went back to the vet, who found that Chase, in particular, had redness and a possible staph overgrowth.

Blood work on Chase was normal. Both cats received antibiotic injections. Chochi improved, but Chase began removing more fur. She got a shot of steroids and two laser treatments. The vet also recommended resuming the Comfortis, and the redness went away.

We moved back to Maryland, and Chase continued to overgroom. Her thighs, abdomen and upper chest look bare. Two weeks ago, I took her to a vet, who said Chase had no noticeable irritation and diagnosed “psychogenic alopecia.” She recommended continuing the flea treatment and starting a homeopathic remedy. It seemed to have had no effect. The next recommendation was Prozac.

Because they are essentially indoor cats, I have wondered about the accuracy of the flea allergy diagnosis and treatment. I have never seen a flea, although at the start of the treatment ordeal, the vet did observe some possible flea casings in Chase’s fur. The deck in West Virginia occasionally gets mouse and squirrel visits. The Maryland deck has only birds.

Both cats threw up shortly after the last two injections of Comfortis. In looking at other options, I was recommended Frontline or Revolution. Both vets thought the symptoms were inconsistent with ringworm.

P.H., Silver Spring

DF: Fleas leave telltale feces, not casings, in animals’ fur. Because you make no mention of your cats having been tested for hyperthyroidism, meaning it was not considered by the veterinarians, I would seek a third opinion.

Considering your cats’ ages and symptoms, hyperthyroidism is the first possible cause to consider and rule out before considering a specific allergy. Excessive grooming in our formerly feral cat was quickly resolved when salmon was removed from his diet.

Let me know whether thyroid disease is the problem, and inform the veterinarians, who should have considered this possibility from the start.

Steps toward health

Dear Dr. Fox:

One of my dogs had chronically loose stools. I made one simple change that has totally resolved the issue.

We adopted the dog, a Labradoodle, as a 1-year-old and have had him for three years. He is lean and otherwise healthy. I feed all three of my dogs a mixture of wet and dry Wellness food and some fish oil.

For the Labradoodle, I tried all sorts of added ingredients, including sweet potato, psyllium flakes and yogurt. Each helped at first, but the benefit did not last. The owner of his littermate said his dog had the same issue, so I thought it must be a trait of this particular breed.

My dogs had free access to a large back yard in which they could romp around at will, although most of the activity involved charging out to bark at a squirrel or a neighbor’s dog. They also got 30 minutes off-leash every day at a dog park.

We recently moved to a house in the hills with no yard. This requires giving the dogs regular scheduled walks on a variety of routes. It’s not even for very long, sometimes just a brisk 20 minutes twice a day, if that’s all I can fit in. Every few days, we have a two-hour off-leash hike, during which they can go full speed up and down the trails. That was the only change.

With this routine, the Labradoodle’s stools are now healthy, and the other male dog has stopped marking inside, although that might be the result of less stimulation from other dogs walking past the house.

I just want to reinforce to your readers the importance of brisk and routinely scheduled walks.

G.W., Topanga, Calif.

DF: Brisk, routinely scheduled walks and off-leash romps in safe and dog-sanctioned open space are all part of holistic canine health care.

Experienced veterinarians always determine such lifestyle factors in making a diagnosis and in recommending appropriate treatment for a variety of health problems.

A strict activity routine before meals helps prime the dog’s appetite and digestive system before going home and anticipating food. This mimics the dog’s natural hunting and gathering behavior — physical activity to various degrees of strenuousness before eating two or three small meals daily. One big meal can mean bloating, vomiting and indigestion.

Two dogs with OCD

Dear Dr. Fox:

Recently, I adopted a stray dog from the Humane Society. He is 8 years old and is part Lhasa apso and part poodle. He’s very sweet and bright.

He has the strange habit of licking the sofa cushion and barking constantly. I’m sure this isn’t healthy, but according to the veterinarian, it’s just a habit. I don’t agree. Is there something that can be done to cure him?

D.M.W., Naples, Fla.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Two months ago, I took in a 12-year-old female shih tzu. She had a yeast infection. I changed her dog food, and she seems to be over the infection. But she is constantly licking her face, dog bed and the rugs.

Why is she doing this?

G.S., Mount Airy, N.C.

DF: Excessive licking is an obsessive-compulsive behavior and is quite common in toy and miniature breeds.

I caution against jumping to a psychological diagnosis before ruling out possible physical causes.

A thorough veterinary evaluation is called for to check for a possible source of chronic inflammation: conjunctivitis, gingivitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, contact dermatitis, a possible food allergy or hypersensitivity, and even impacted anal glands.

You should also consider boredom, lack of physical and mental activities and anxiety as a cause for this behavior.

When physical and rectifiable psychological causes are ruled out, a trial with a psychotropic medication such as Prozac might prove beneficial.

But the best cure might lie in adopting another dog of similar size and friendly temperament.

Don’t blame yourself

Dear Dr. Fox:

I lost my diabetic cat some time ago. He had a stroke and became blind and confused. I took him to the vet, who had to put my cat down. I was in such a state that I failed to ask what caused the stroke.

For more than 12 years, I kept my cat alive by giving him insulin shots and taking him to the vet for blood tests. Is there something I didn’t do right? Did I do something to cause the stroke? I have not gotten over this feeling that I might have. I still miss him very much.

P.D., Washington, Mo.

DF: Many diabetic cats develop various complications, just as humans with this disease do. These complications are often compounded by liver and kidney problems.

Blood clots and burst blood vessels from high blood pressure can cause strokes, partial paralysis and blindness. These complications are no fault of yours, and you could have done nothing to prevent them.

One consolation is that your cat did not suffer long, and he enjoyed the security and pleasure of your loving care.

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