Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a mixed Lab, about 8 years old. He adopted us at our local shelter when he was a little more than a year old. He looks like a Lab from head to tail but weighs only 50 pounds.

His only problem is that he seems to think he is part cat. He licks his paws and then washes his face. He lies on the sofa and reaches his front paws out for attention. He would rather play with his Frisbees and balls in the yard by himself, not with us.

I know it is impossible for his mother to be a cat, but he certainly acts like one. Do you think he might have been raised with cats?

D.S., Rockville

DF: It is certainly possible that your dog lived with a cat or cats and, through observational learning, picked up the catlike face-cleaning with a licked, wet paw.

It is also possible that this trait is inborn, because some dogs wash their faces to some degree, like more fastidious cats do. Your dog's preference to play alone probably means he had limited, if any, playful interaction with humans earlier in life.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I have been trying to follow your suggestion for my orange tabby, Peaches, by switching from standard dry food to Evo no-grain dry food. Peaches refuses to eat it. Do you have any suggestions regarding a technique to convince Peaches that no-grain dry food is good for her?

R.F., Gaithersburg

DF: Many cat owners encounter problems when switching their animals to better diets, canned and dry. With our two feral rescued cats, I mixed just a little of the new food with what they were initially fed when being attracted and baited outdoors. Evo has two varieties of dry cat food: turkey/chicken and chicken/herring/salmon. Wellness makes a good, grain-free dry cat food that my felines enjoy. We then added more of the new and less of the old each day, being strict about putting out only small servings four to five times a day and picking up the serving after 15 to 20 minutes, which is sufficient time for a hungry cat to eat.

A cat that is not hungry and used to snacking all day (as from a food dispenser) will be difficult to switch to a preferred diet. Always provide pure, filtered drinking water rather than municipal tap water, especially if your cat refuses to eat moist food.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My neutered corgi mix has been constantly licking her anal area. When she is groomed every seven to eight weeks, the groomer expresses her anal glands.

It is so bad that when she is on my lap, she sometimes leaks. I'm a retired nurse and could probably express the glands myself, but don't think she would let me. Her feces are usually firm.

Is there such a thing as surgical removal? Are there medications that would dry or lessen the secretions?

J.G., West Palm Beach

DF: Anal glands become hyperactive with chronic infection, and repeated manual expression of the glands can aggravate the malady. The veterinarian should irrigate the anal sacs with antibiotics and put your dog on a high-fiber diet, or give one teaspoon daily of psyllium husks or human-grade bone-meal supplement to bulk up the stools.

Many dogs with chronic anal gland problems turn out to be suffering from a food allergy (also a common cause of chronic ear infections and inflammation). This might be worth considering and testing your dog, under veterinary supervision, or with an elimination diet. Soy, corn, beef, eggs and dairy products are frequently the culprits in diet-associated canine allergies.

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, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.