Dear Dr. Fox:
I am writing in response to a letter in your column about a hypersensitive cat in Fort Worth.
My 3-year-old female longhaired cat is an indoor cat. She longs to spend time outside, which we supervise. The only time she allows me to brush her is when she is sitting on my legs outside. As long as she is outdoors, I can brush her as long as I want.
DF: Cats are curious creatures that react differently depending on where they are.
This place-determining trait is indicative of their awareness and sensitivity to certain stimuli to which we might be insensitive but that provide some insight into the way cats behave.
Outdoors, where your cat is apparently more relaxed, she might not feel threatened by the intense stimulation of being groomed by you. This is an invasive experience for cats, and time and patience are needed before a cat enjoys being groomed and managed. Indoors, your cat no doubt feels confined, and she might therefore resist holding and brushing.
You should also consider static electricity being generated indoors while grooming your cat, which can be discomfiting. Grooming and brushing on a cotton sheet or towel rather than on a synthetic material that quickly generates static electricity might be worth a try. You could also use a moistened brush.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have an adorable 9-year-old dachshund named Max. We give him dry food mixed with some moist commercial food, as well as carrots or string beans.
Lately, he has been having diarrhea once or twice a week. My son also gives him half a slice of American or Swiss cheese. Could that cause his problem?
To curb his diarrhea, I give him some raw chicken with rice for a day or two, but the problem comes back.
DF: If your dog has an episode of diarrhea within a few hours of being given cheese, then that is the logical cause of his digestive upset. Many dogs are allergic or hypersensitive to casein (a milk protein) in dairy products.
The yellow coloring agent used in many cheeses is called annatto, and it comes from a tree called the lipstick tree. A small piece of yellow cheese will make some dogs have a seizure.
You should read the labels on the manufactured dog foods you feed him and eliminate those containing any dairy products.
If his periodic episodes of diarrhea persist, he could be reacting adversely to other ingredients, such as beef, eggs, wheat or soy. Consider a balanced rice-and-lamb-only diet, or prepare your own dog food from known ingredients, as detailed in my book “Dog Body, Dog Mind,” or on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com.
Dear Dr. Fox:
You might have addressed this in your column already, but I think that it bears repeating: Xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as a low-calorie sweetener, is deadly to dogs.
I know this from firsthand experience. Luckily, our dog pulled through, but it was because of fast action.
Late one night last August, as we were getting ready for bed, one of our shelties, Buddy, got into a pack of sugar-free Tic Tacs. Within 10 minutes, he vomited, couldn’t stand up and was shaking.
I called our animal emergency clinic and rushed him there. They said his blood sugar was dangerously low, so they administered two IVs, one of glucose and one of saline. They kept him at the clinic for 48 hours. His liver enzymes were checked again, and they had dropped from more than 900 to 204. We will be checking them regularly.
Please put a warning for your readers in your column from time to time. People react by saying, “Really? Tic Tacs did that?” Xylitol is in most sugar-free chewing gums, too.
J.M., Cedar Hill, Mo.
DF: Many readers will appreciate your letter of warning regarding the highly toxic effects of widely used artificial sweeteners when ingested by dogs.
Xylitol triggers acute lowering of blood sugar by stimulating the release of insulin from the pancreas. Doses in excess of one gram per four to five pounds of body weight cause liver damage.
Gastric lavage (stomach pumping) might be helpful if the dog has recently swallowed xylitol-containing confections or chewing gum.
Xylitol in baked goods remains toxic to dogs because it is not deactivated by heat.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I know how hard it is to try to diagnose an animal without physical examination, but I really need an opinion, however general.
I cannot afford to take my cat to a veterinarian, because I am 76 and living on a fixed income. My problem is a cat that belonged to my granddaughter. I have kept the cat for many years, because she couldn’t keep him. He is an indoor cat, always healthy and sleek, with a good appetite.
I noticed during the winter that his water bowl would be almost empty, abnormally so. He wasn’t overly fond of wet food, and he ate a lot of dry. Things have lately reversed. He is craving wet food and seems ravenous for any kind of food, including my dinner.
He jumps up to where I am eating and tries to lick my plate, which has odd foods that he never tried before and that a cat wouldn’t normally like, such as salad oil and spaghetti.
He jumps on the covered garbage pail and knocks it over because he smells scraps. I now feed him wet food twice a day, and I always keep a bowl of dry food available for him. As much as he eats, he is losing weight. Over the past three weeks, it is very noticeable how thin he is getting.
He doesn’t seem to be in any pain. He sleeps a lot, purrs and is still active, jumping on the sofa. I am tempted to just let nature and age take its course, as long as he isn’t vomiting or bleeding. He could have diabetes. If he were an outside cat, I would think it might be a tapeworm, but I examine his stools, and they look normal.
L.W., Asbury Park, N.J.
DF: You and your cat have my sympathy. Such ravenous appetite and weight loss can be caused by a number of disorders appearing in middle-age and older cats.
A hyperactive thyroid gland, often combined with diabetes and possibly kidney disease, and one form of cancer or another are the kinds of diseases a veterinarian would first check for in your cat, and the diagnostics and probably treatment would not be cheap.
If your community has an animal shelter or humane society, call and see what kind of financial support might be available. Some veterinarians offer discounts and set up installment payments for services.
The alternative is to make life as comfortable as possible for your cat: Make big batches of my home-prepared cat food (on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com), and give several very small meals of moist food and all the dry food he wants. Also, give him pinches of organic cat nip, available in pet stores, which most cats enjoy immensely. In the evening, give him one milligram of melatonin, available over the counter in drug and health stores.
A veterinary checkup of his stools to rule out parasites and bacterial infection or chronic pancreatitis would be prudent if this has not yet been done.
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.