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Dog’s obsessive-compulsive licking might be triggered by internal discomfort

De ar Dr. Fox:

Do you remember Minna, the bossy female German shepherd you met at Battery Kemble Park in Washington, D.C., 13 to 15 years ago?

After Minna’s departure, we adopted Markus from Virginia German Shepherd Rescue. He is a very gentle, friendly, beautiful German shepherd. He has a few issues, though, including what we might call obsessive-compulsive disorder: He licks anything around him.

His obsessive licking sometimes turns into a crisis. It is as though his throat is blocked. The motion of his tongue goes faster, and he seems to have trouble swallowing. There are usually a few pots of lemon balm outside, and he finds relief by devouring them. Otherwise, if he is not watched, he goes for the rug at the front entrance.

To prevent this, we offer him a chunk of bread with four drops of Bach Rescue Remedy (a stress reliever for pets), pet him and try to calm him down. In the end, it has worked.

Our holistic veterinarian thinks this situation is related to gastric problems. This, however, has improved since Markus started taking Gastriplex, at the vet’s recommendation.

Markus started licking his rear in spring 2012, and we spotted a bit of dark reddish mucus stuff in his stools on and off. We took him to his regular vet, and his anal glands were checked and drained. His infection was treated with antibiotics.

This situation has been going on for some time, including a visit to a surgeon for a second opinion on his anal glands. The glands were normal during the visit.

We read your column every week and have found it very educational and helpful. We also have fond memories of you, your wife and your dogs at Battery Kemble Park. We would appreciate your opinion regarding Markus.

M. and D.S., the District

DF: I have fond memories of the park, and how we all ran to put our dogs back on their leashes when the police came to ticket us. So much for the freedoms of democracy. Does D.C. have a free dog park yet?

Dog liberation and civil disobedience aside, I think that your veterinarian is correct: It’s an OCD issue associated with internal discomfort.

You might remember our dog Tanza, which we rescued from Tanzania, running with the friendly pack at the park. She also developed OCD when she had a tummy upset. Markus probably has a food allergy or intolerance to one or more ingredients in his diet, which can trigger anal gland inflammation and colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. German shepherds are especially prone. Check my Web site,, for my responses to dogs with these symptoms.

Try my home-prepared diet or put him on a whitefish and potato diet to see how he responds.

A grain-free diet and supplements such as glucosamine, glutamine, probiotics, aloe vera juice, montmorillonite clay or kaolin and pectin might also prove beneficial. Let me know how he progresses.


Dear Dr. Fox:

Although I agree with all the serious issues regarding the problem of outdoor cats decimating the bird and small-mammal populations, and the dangers of being outside, I wish to play devil’s advocate for a moment.

I am concerned about the physical and psychological effects on cats kept inside 24 hours a day. Cats delight in all types of sensation. Indoor cats never feel the sunshine, wind, rain or other aspects of nature. They never feel the earth and its energy under their feet, nor the joy of walking freely outside.

Also, some people live in dwellings that cannot provide any kind of outdoor fencing to accommodate cats’ needs.


DF: I appreciate your sentiment and concern, although you’re somewhat anthropomorphizing cats. We tend to base our feelings on what we enjoy and need. The accuracy of such empathic projection is determined by the science of ethology: the study of animal behavior, choices and preferences.

In my book “Supercat: Raising the Perfect Feline Companion,” I spell out how to make the home environment cat-safe, cat-friendly and cat-stimulating. First of all, have two cats instead of one. Be sure to provide scratching posts and sunning areas, including window-ledge shelf inserts, an enclosed deck or porch, or a window box extension. Also, engage in interactive games. Our two formerly feral cats have all of these, and they have never cried or tried to get outdoors.

I agree with you: Too many indoor cats suffer a solitary, boring and dispiriting existence that, with a little effort, can be easily improved.


Dear Dr. Fox:

Our problem isn’t a huge one, but it drives us crazy.

We have a wonderful 31 / 2-year-old feral cat that adopted us after a blizzard in 2010. Tips is very sweet and is a really good boy, but he has a habit of lying down in his litter box.

He usually lies on his side. Maybe he’s trying to scratch his back? Our vet has never heard of a cat doing this. We get unscented, dust-free litter, but when he jumps out, he is covered and smells like litter. If I catch him, I say, “No!”

He doesn’t do it all the time, mostly when I clean the box and add new litter or if I add a refresher scoop. We clean the box every time he uses it, and he has his own box. We have another, older cat, Boomer, but each has his own food, water and litter boxes.

The cats get along very well. In fact, Tips has been the best thing that has happened to our older cat, who now plays and acts so much younger. Have you ever heard of such a crazy thing? Does he need his back scratched more often?

K.O., Brick, N.J.

DF: Your issue has a comic dimension, but I can empathize fully with having to clean the litter from your cat’s fur.

I have one solution to offer: Try shredded paper or Purina's Yesterday’s News cat litter, made from newspapers. It’s not very absorbent, but it’s at least a recycled product and should not adhere to your litter box-basking feline. He might like the odor and texture of the litter material, so a change might do the trick. I never advise using litter that has chemical fragrances and deodorants added, because these can be a health hazard to cats.

Thanks for reminding readers how a younger, easygoing cat can bring new life to an older one.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 4-month-old kitten who doesn’t meow! Or, at least, not that we can hear. She opens her mouth as though attempting to meow, but nothing comes out.

She does it when she wants to be picked up. She stops running around the house as though she’s crazy and just cuddles when she does the open-mouth thing. She squeaks only occasionally, usually when jumping onto the bed.

I have heard about the “silent meow theory” that says some cats meow in a pitch that humans cannot hear. Is that a real thing?

S.E., Kansas City, Mo.

DF: I am not aware of any research regarding the “silent meow” of cats who purportedly emit a high-frequency sound (as “singing” mice do), and I very much doubt its veracity.

My impression from decades of studying cat behavior is that some cats are simply less vocally articulate and motivated than others. For example, Siamese cats are big “talkers.”

As they mature, some cats develop more voice. Others cats remain relatively silent while living with a more vocal cat that does all the meowing in the house, but become more vocal after the passing of the vocal companion.

Be patient. As your kitten matures, so might her vocal abilities. Because cats are copycat mimics, you might try making cat “meows” and other cat sounds that might motivate your young cat to be more vocally responsive.

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.

2014 United Feature Syndicate


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