Dear Dr. Fox:

My 16-year-old female Persian cat started defecating everywhere. I gave her a new litter box, but it did not help. One day, I hid her litter box under a big desk and put a cover over the entrance. Now she uses the litter box exclusively. Who knew she wanted privacy.

S.E.B., Norfolk

DF: There are many reasons cats defecate outside their litter boxes. The most common is chronic constipation, especially in older cats.

Some cats like privacy, and I always advise putting litter boxes in low-traffic spots in the home. It is natural for animals to feel vulnerable when defecating.

Getting old, losing eyesight and hearing and painful arthritis in the back can make cats have difficulties evacuating. Give your cat a few drops of fish oil in her food every day, and give her a good evening massage along her back and around her abdomen.

safer dental care

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 4-year-old Chihuahua has terrible breath. I know she needs her teeth cleaned, but I am deathly afraid of something happening to her when she is anesthetized. I know that not cleaning her teeth is unhealthy.

I brush her teeth almost daily with Petrodex Dental Care toothpaste and use PetzLife Oral Care spray. This seems to help her breath, but I don’t know if it is enough. Is there another method for cleaning teeth?

L.F., Wentzville, Mo.

DF: Your dog might need professional dental care, especially if she has infected and loose teeth, a common problem in toy breeds. A veterinary checkup is called for.

Using the PetzLife Oral Care products as directed, coupled with the daily brushing, will help reduce the risks of complications from bacterial infection and oral inflammatory substances if dental surgery is necessary.

In many instances, following a daily regimen of oral health care treatments, veterinarians can safely and effectively remove scale or tartar by having an assistant restrain the dog, rather than giving a general anesthetic, which is never a risk-free procedure.


Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a 5-year-old bichon frise we adopted three years ago. He idolizes my wife and has from day one. We think that in his previous home, a male mistreated him, as he has always been wary of me, if not downright aggressive. He has gradually warmed up to me, but he still isn’t as close to me as he is to my wife.

We have a new grandson who lives out of town. When my wife went to visit him, we began having problems with the dog, which has slept in our bed with us from the beginning. He has become territorial to the point that if I get up in the middle of the night and get back into bed, he growls or lunges at me. Now, even when my wife is in bed with him, he will do the same thing, sometimes if I am only walking by the bed.

The problem is intermittent, and we can’t figure out what triggers it. During the day, when I am working at home and my wife is at work, he is affectionate. But the nighttime attacks are getting wearisome and more frequent.

D.S., St. Louis

DF: You have my sympathy having to share the bed with this territorially aggressive canine upstart! He is exhibiting location-specific dominance-aggression.

Behavioral therapists would suggest basic obedience school to teach your dog to sit and stay and to establish you as the top dog giving the orders. Buy a dog-training clicker or use a can of coins to condition your dog so that with one click or shake, he gets a reward. Do this first in the living room, and once he’s conditioned, do it when he’s on the bed. This will re-motivate and redirect his behavior from threatening to expecting reward.

What is your wife doing? If she is the boss, she should order the dog off the bed. Shunning is a potent form of canine discipline.

You might also try re-motivation using a squeaky toy, inviting your dog to play and catch the toy rather than attack you. A short term of treatment with melatonin or a psychotropic medication such as Prozac, under veterinary supervision, may be your final solution.

lost affection

Dear Dr. Fox:

Two years ago, my son brought home a homeless kitty. Lucy was so affectionate, especially toward my son, that we fell in love with her.

My son went abroad for a year, and since his return, Lucy has become aggressive toward him. She swats his feet when he walks near her and hisses at him when he talks endearingly to her.

Why the change in attitude toward my son? And what can he do to gain Lucy’s affection again?

B.C., St. Louis

DF: Lucy has become accustomed to living in your home without the scent, sight and sound of your son. All those unfamiliar stimuli can trigger fear or sudden defensive aggression.

Your son shouldn’t force contact with Lucy; let her come to him. If she likes to be brushed, he should do so, and he should be the one to set out her food and clean out the litter box.

Lucy’s ambush attacks could be attention-seeking play behavior rather than pure aggression. At times she is most active, have your son engage in interactive play using a long cane with a fluffy toy tied to a string.

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