DEAR DR. FOX: Recently, I adopted a stray dog from the Humane Society. He is 8 years old, and part Lhasa apso, part poodle. He's a very sweet and bright animal.
He has the strange habit of licking the sofa cushion and barking constantly. I am sure this is not healthy, but according to the veterinarian, it's just a habit. I don't agree. Is there something that can be done to cure him? -- D.M.W., Naples, Fla.
DEAR DR. FOX: Two months ago, I took in a 12-year-old female shih tzu. She had a yeast infection. I changed her dog food, and she seems to be over the infection. But she is constantly licking her face, her dog bed and the rugs.
Can you tell me why she is doing this? -- G.S., Mt. Airy, N.C.
DEAR D.M.W. and G.S.: This excessive licking is an obsessive-compulsive behavior, and it is quite common in toy and miniature breeds. As one of the founding fathers of applied animal ethology/veterinary behavioral therapy, I caution against immediately jumping to a psychological diagnosis before ruling out possible physical causes.
A thorough veterinary evaluation is called for to check for a possible source of chronic inflammation: conjunctivitis, gingivitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, contact dermatitis, possible food allergy/hypersensitivity and even impacted anal glands.
You should also consider boredom, lack of physical and mental activities and anxiety as a cause for this behavior. When physical and rectifiable psychological causes are ruled out, a trial with a psychotropic medication such as Prozac may prove beneficial. But the best cure may lie in adopting another dog of similar size and friendly temperament.
DEAR DR. FOX: Some time ago, I lost my diabetic cat. He had a stroke and became blind and confused. I took him to the vet, and the vet had to put my cat down. I was in such a state that I failed to ask what caused the stroke.
For more than 12 years, I kept my cat alive by giving him his insulin shots and taking him to the vet for blood tests. Is there something I didn't do right, or did I do something to cause the stroke? I have not gotten over this feeling that maybe I did something that caused the stroke. I still miss him very much. -- P.D., Washington, Mo.
DEAR P.D.: I sympathize with you over the loss of your poor cat who was afflicted by diabetes.
Many diabetic cats develop various complications, just as human sufferers of this disease do. These complications are often compounded by liver and kidney problems.
Blood clots and burst blood vessels from high blood pressure can cause strokes, partial paralysis and blindness. These complications are no fault of yours, and you could have done nothing to prevent them -- it's just the luck of the draw. The only consolation is that your cat did not suffer long, and he enjoyed the security and pleasure of your loving care.
CANINE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS RECOGNIZED AS DISORDER
Veterinarians and dog handlers who work with and train combat canines at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas believe dogs are susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterinarian Walter Burghardt Jr. estimates that at least 10 percent of dogs returning from active duty have the disorder, which is characterized by sudden attitude changes and the inability to perform tasks that were previously routine. Many of the dogs can be rehabilitated with treatment ranging from behavioral training to medication, but some must be retired from military work.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)