The Animal Doctor

Lawsuit Filed Against Petland

DEAR READERS: As noted in an earlier column, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a class-action lawsuit this past July against Petland, claiming that it defrauded customers by “guaranteeing” the health of puppies it knew were prone to illnesses and other defects. Now Petland’s puppies, according to officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have passed on a bacterial infection to people.

Campylobacter, a common cause of diarrheal illness that can spread through contact with dog feces, has been contracted by people in Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Campylobacter infections were reported between September 2016 and August 2017 in 12 patients who were Petland employees, while anther 27 had come in contact with a Petland puppy. Nine people have been hospitalized since last September, but no deaths have been reported. More than 200 cities and counties now have laws that ban pet shops from selling so-called “puppy mill puppies,” Petland being the only major national chain selling dogs from commercial breeders.

DEAR DR. FOX: Thirteen years ago, we rescued a young female cat who had apparently been dumped. She was in poor shape, starving and full of fleas.

We took her to a vet for complete care and spaying. The vet suspected the cat’s mother may have been malnourished when pregnant with her.

At home, we fed her well, but she remained obsessed with food, especially fats. She would watch as we unpacked groceries and steal away with butter or cheese and eat it. At the same time, she was given to sudden bursts of violent behavior, as though having flashbacks. We assumed that she had been abused. Without warning, her pupils would dilate and she would launch herself at one of us, often aiming for the face. I warded her off many times by holding a pillow at arm’s length, which she ended up clinging to. Legs were a target, also; seven months after taking her in, we reluctantly had her declawed.

Gradually, she became socialized and settled into being a sweet kitty, and remained so for years. However, now she is reverting to violence. There are still no children or other animals inside, or even nearby, to trigger aggression. All will seem well, then suddenly she attacks and bites, drawing blood and, in one case, causing an infected wound. The attacks are increasing.

We are at a loss to explain this reversion to hostile behavior and don’t know how to handle the situation. Any guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated. -- C.K., Fredericksburg, Virginia

DEAR C.K.: The saga of your poor cat, and you, is indeed distressing.

You did follow my first principle of responsible companion animal care: Any time there is a change in behavior, consult with your veterinarian. It is regrettable, but understandable, that the only treatment was to remove your cat’s claws. This mutilation can make cats feel more vulnerable, and then they are more likely to bite.

I agree with you that her sudden aggressive behavior when you first adopted her was possibly related to earlier traumatic experiences, a case of post-traumatic stress disorder indeed. But where there is sudden and unpredictable aggression with biting, in a cat or any animal brought into the home who has been outdoors, possible contact with a rabid animal must be considered. Certainly the attending veterinarian would have ruled out this possibility when you took your cat in for treatment after rescuing her.

The craving for fat is very curious indeed. Cats do need animal fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids, and many cat foods, especially dry kibble, are deficient. They are essential for several organ and system functions, including the brain.

I would give her a sardine or two a day (canned, in water), for a start. Also, since some dogs with low levels of brain serotonin can have attacks of psychotic rage, a supplement like PetzLife’s @-Eaze to elevate your cat’s serotonin may also help.

Second, odors can trigger cats to attack. One woman was cornered in her bathroom by her Siamese cat after she put on a new perfume (which contained the anal gland secretions of Ethiopian civet cats, held in captivity in small cages and subjected to repeated anal gland curettage). Perhaps you have a new deodorant or other toiletry product with a scent that disturbs your cat. A room diffuser dispensing organic essential oil of lavender may help calm all of you. Fresh or dried organic catnip has a tranquillizing effect on some cats, and your cat may enjoy a pinch in the early evening.

It is possible that her thyroid gland is hyperactive, which can also account for sudden aggression. This should be checked. If that is not the issue, and sardines and other suggestions do not help her enjoy a normal life without having these almost seizurelike episodes, discuss trying psychotropic medication with your veterinarian to reduce anxiety and possible brain seizure activity. Older cats do develop dementia, and chronically painful conditions like arthritis can bring on aggression, but rarely to the intensity shown by your cat.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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