Dear Dr. Fox:

A few months ago, we adopted a nice cat named Maggie. We thought it might help Maddie to have a little sister for companionship and stimulation. But Maddie was not impressed.

She was under the assumption that she was an only child, and she liked it that way. She hid under low chairs for weeks, coming out only to eat and drink. We finally got that situation under control, but there’s another problem.

Maddie was always very proud. She cleaned and preened herself meticulously. But when she spent that time under the low-lying furniture, she matted up terribly. It looks awful, and she won’t let us help her. I think that if we were able to rid her of the mats, she would go back to her hygienic ways.

We’ve thought about taking her to a groomer or a vet, but a letter in your column scared us. It was about someone with a similar situation who took the cat to be groomed. The cat was traumatized, had a heart attack and died.

What can we try? My only guess is to have her sedated and then groomed.

L.Y., Cumberland, Md.

DF: The trauma of having uncomfortable mats of fur removed (which is essential for Maddie’s physical health) and then coming home to face the intruder Maggie could be very harmful to your old cat.

I would put Maggie in a boarding facility for a few days. Coax Maddie from her hiding place and have a groomer, veterinarian or veterinary technician come to your home and, while you restrain Maddie, have her carefully clipped to remove the fur mats.

If you’re not confident about effectively restraining her, arrange for a helper to come and hold her. I have single-handedly cut off terrible mats from the back of our feral cat. There is rarely any justification for anesthetizing a cat for such a procedure.

Give Maddie full freedom of the house for two or three days, then go through the steps detailed on my Web site,, on how to introduce a new cat, essentially starting from scratch with Maggie.

cough, cough, sneeze

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 1-year-old miniature poodle has developed episodes of coughing and sneezing, from which some matter emerges from her nose. My regular vet had me try allergy medication and then Dramamine, which was slightly more effective.

I took her to two more vets. The first put her on Temaril P tablets and an antibiotic. The second X-rayed her and ordered more Temaril P.

After going through that routine for two months, I decided to stop all medicine except for an occasional multivitamin. The coughing and sneezing episodes have lessened but still happen occasionally.

What do you suggest?

B.J.C., St. Charles, Mo.

DF: Because your dog’s problem has not yet cleared up after seeing three veterinarians, more sleuthing is warranted.

First, chronic bronchitis and periodontal disease, both common in older breeds, need to be ruled out. Then, she should be tested for a possible food allergy or some allergen in your home. The volatile organic compounds in synthetic fragrances in many household products can cause havoc to the immune system. But some natural essential oils can, when inhaled, fight infection and inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses.

Put your dog in a carrying cage and cover it with a sheet to make a tent. To a bowl of boiled water, add three to four drops each of thyme, eucalyptus and lavender essential oils. Place the bowl close to the front of the crate under the tent, and let your dog inhale the oils for five to 10 minutes.

Do this three times daily for a week, increasing the inhalation time to 15 minutes. Use fewer drops if your dog shows discomfort. Most likely, she will get used to this inhalation therapy and experience considerable relief.

costly care

Dear Dr. Fox:

My husband and I have three dogs, and we treat them like family. We never leave the vet without a bill of more than $100.

Our little stray got cancer on his tummy, and it cost more than $1,000, including a teeth cleaning. He also needed an annual shot. They said that it would be $55 for a shot and tags. The Humane Society said $125. My husband found a vet who gave our dog the shot and tags for $19.95.

I don’t mind a vet making money, but something is wrong with cheating your customers. There needs to be some kind of veterinary regulatory procedures.

J. and E.K., Chesterfield, Mo.

DF: Thank you for sounding off on the question of health-care costs for animals and the lack of consistency in charges for products and services.

Some procedures, especially those including anesthesia (notably for dental work), are unavoidably costly, as is diagnosing types of cancer and other diseases.

Get a cost estimate that includes line items rather than bundling. With that information, coupled with details about the animal’s condition, you can seek a second opinion and price quote, if the animal doesn’t need immediate treatment.

Many veterinarians are open to discussing fees and to clients seeking some kind of deferred payment or other arrangement in cases of financial hardship and limited income.

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