Dear Dr. Fox:
I am a rather good singer, and I was even a finalist on “American Idol.” My beautiful 5-year-old female Himalayan cat, Cleopatra, goes crazy whenever I sing.
If she’s out of the room while I’m singing, she comes running to me, jumps up next to me and cries or starts pawing at my face and arms. It is cute, but in all of my experience and reading about felines, I’ve never seen this behavior addressed.
Does she like my singing or does she hate it? I can’t tell. She has a cute look on her face when pawing at me, similar to when she reacts to catnip.
DF: Your letter will amuse many readers, and some will have their own stories, which I would like them to share with me, about how cats respond to us when we sing or play musical instruments.
Some cats like to walk on and “play” pianos; others come running when they hear a harmonica or whistle. Cats are quite vocal and can have a significant repertoire of sounds that might be accidentally mimicked when you sing and when certain notes are struck on musical instruments. Some sounds might mimic mating or distress calls, or even sounds of various prey that trigger the hunting instinct.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have an 8-year-old schipperke dog who is in good health. However, he has an “attack” every five or six months.
I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but he starts licking everything. He gets extremely restless and then starts to chew on and swallow any material he can find. He has chewed clothing, rugs, plastic bags, etc. It is as though he is obsessed.
I can’t distract him. I am really concerned, because he has had two attacks in the past three days.
I feed him Authority dog food: one-half cup in the morning with a sprinkling of Himalayan salt and one-half cup at night with a fish oil capsule. For the past few months, I have been giving him three or four green beans at each meal.
What can I do to help my little guy? He is so distressed when he is in these episodes.
A.N., Naples, Florida
DF: I am glad that you wrote to me, because your dog is showing a sudden change in normal behavior, and that means one thing: You need to make an immediate appointment with a veterinarian.
What you might be interpreting as a benign, neurotic or obsessive-compulsive behavior could actually be a symptom of a deep abdominal, internal organ pain or disease. Dogs with cancer or liver disease or irritable bowel syndrome and other maladies sometimes behave like your dog, and such behavior calls for a thorough veterinary examination.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I am writing in response to your frequent mention of the benefits of having two cats in a household.
We have a 3-year-old tabby that we adopted from a shelter when she was about 8 months old. She is very people-oriented: She greets us at the door and often sits on our laps. She is also very playful. She gallops around the house, plays with toys and plays hide-and-seek with me. To us, she is the perfect companion cat.
I am wondering why you think she would be happier with another cat around, and why, in a recent column, you stated that a cat was probably too attached to its owners. We think things are great just as they are.
DF: Your seemingly happy, playful cat always greets you when you come home, but have you asked yourself what she does all day when she is alone?
Long naps for cats are normal, but they need and enjoy some stimulation during the day. Pets that live without any contact with their own species (cats, dogs, rabbits, parrots, etc.) naturally develop varying degrees of human attachment.
This can become abnormal, behaviorally, including over-attachment and misdirected sexual behavior, and it is a common cause of separation anxiety and abnormal self-comforting behaviors, such as excessive grooming.
I do not question the love and care of people with a single animal companion such as yourself. But what I am saying is that we must first consider these matters as best we can from the animal’s point of view.
I applaud the April issue of the National Geographic magazine’s cover, which focused on “Wild Pets: The Debate Over Owning Exotic Animals.” Whatever animals we take into our homes and hearts, we must consider their needs first, especially their social and emotional needs.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My 16-year-old cat has understandably slowed down and sleeps a lot, but otherwise seems fine.
However, beginning a couple of months ago, every week or so he will make a hissing sound (not directed at anyone or anything) and drool or empty his bladder on the floor. Each episode lasts about 30 to 60 seconds. Afterward, he reverts to normal behavior.
Could he be having a seizure of some kind? My vet says his blood work is normal for a cat his age.
V.B., Montgomery County
DF: Your diagnosis of your cat’s bizarre behavior could well be correct.
Cats can have brief, silent “seizures,” quite unlike the more violent, falling-over, limb-trembling seizures seen in dogs and humans. Older cats can also suffer from dementia.
Considering your cat’s relatively advanced age, some degree of brain deterioration is probable, especially if his diet has been deficient in certain essential fatty acids and other nutrients, a common problem with many manufactured foods, dry or moist. As noted in my review (posted at www.drfoxvet.com), neurological abnormalities can develop in cats when fed thiamine-deficient cat foods.
You should first have your veterinarian check your cat for cystitis, a painful bladder condition, and for urinary calculi, stones or sand, all of which can make urination difficult and painful. This could make your cat hiss out of fear because of the pain.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Please help me; I am at my wits’ end: My 9-year-old shepherd and Rottweiler mix, Max, has a very bad skin condition.
His skin is raw, but he won’t stop scratching and biting. I have taken Max to the veterinarian and spent more than $800, not including what I spent for new food ($48 per bag) and shampoo ($25). His hindquarters and legs are all chewed up.
The vet has run skin tests that indicate there are no parasites and that it is not mange.
I can’t stand to see my baby like this. He is a great boy, and I am now near penniless. I drive a school bus, and with holidays and snow days, there has been little work.
B.B., Walden, N.Y.
DF: I trust that the veterinarian has also ruled out the possibility of fleabite hypersensitivity while also checking for mange.
Various ingredients in many manufactured dog foods can trigger allergic reactions or hypersensitivity. Symptoms can include severe scratching, redness, hair loss and chronic diarrhea.
One possible solution might be to prepare your own dog food from the recipe on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com. You can then take control of the ingredients and find out which kinds of meat or poultry and a few grains your dog does best with.
Some dogs fare best on a “rotation” diet — chicken one week, beef the next and so forth. A week on a diet using lentils as the main protein works well for some dogs.
Add a few drops of fish oil or flaxseed oil to each meal. Commercially available dog foods, such as AvoDerm, and diets based mainly on whitefish and potato, have helped many dogs.
Be sure to give your dog a cotton sheet to sleep on, laundering it with fragrance-free detergent every three to five days. Having him wear a tight T-shirt secured with Velcro strips around his chest and flanks might help reduce the itch.
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.