DEAR DR. FOX: I have two 10-year-old Cornish rex brothers. After I returned from a 10-day vacation, which I take two times a year, I noticed that they both started urinating on chairs, counters and tables as well as using the litter box. I used my regular cat sitter while I was gone.
They don't have any physical problems. I've tried using different litters, and I've used the Feliway pheromone dispensers. They're on antidepressants. I'm trying Royal Canin Calm cat food now. I clean the boxes daily. I've moved litter boxes into the areas they are marking, but they use them and then go to another part of the house and spray. There are three open boxes and one covered.
It seems strange that they are both doing this. Is one copying the other? They are very close and only fight now and then. They are extremely affectionate cats, and I love them dearly. Any suggestions would be appreciated. -- G.W., St. Louis
DEAR G.W.: I sympathize with your difficulties. Whatever insecurity made your cats feel the need to mark around the house, they have developed the equivalent of a habit-fixation, continuing to soil after your return even though everything is the same as before you went on vacation.
There is a remote chance that there is an outdoor cat prowling, spraying and yowling, which may have set off your cats while you were away.
You need to confine the cats to one room to break the cycle. Spend as much time with them as you can for seven to 10 days. Get them back onto their regular cat food and off the antidepressant. Offer them a little dried catnip every other day. Clean all soiled areas with a liquid enzymatic cleaner like Nature's Miracle. Do not put litter boxes out except in the places they went before the problem started. When you let them out after their de-conditioning isolation, be very calm and go about your normal daily routine. A little lightly cooked turkey, which contains the calming amino acid tryptophan, would be as good as anything to help calm them down. Tie a cotton strip with a few drops of lavender oil around their necks, and hang a similarly prepared strip in the room, which you can replenish every 24 hours.
ANIMALS CAN DIE SUDDENLY FROM GRIEF
Theo, a bomb-sniffing Springer spaniel who died in Afghanistan on the day his soldier partner was killed, was posthumously honored with the Dickin Medal, Britain's highest award for bravery by animals. He worked alongside Royal Army Corps Lance Cpl. Liam Tasker searching for roadside bombs. Tasker was killed in a firefight with insurgents in March 2011, and Theo suffered a fatal seizure hours later. Tasker's mother, Jane Duffy, says the pair were inseparable. She's convinced Theo died of a broken heart.
Viewers of the popular PBS series "Downton Abbey" may recognize the estate as the former home of Lord Carnarvon, who died in Cairo on April 5, 1923. His terrier, whom he left at home, howled and died around the same time as his beloved master.
I would like to hear from readers with similar experiences. An earlier letter described how an old horse collapsed and died beside her companion horse who had just died in the field. Another letter described a grieving dog who convulsed and died soon after his human soul mate died in the hospital. For more details about animal grief and empathy, visit my website, DrFoxVet.com.
Since 1943, the Dickin Medal has recognized gallantry by animals serving with the military, police or rescue services. It is awarded by the animal charity the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals and named for its founder, Maria Dickin.
I would like to see a similar monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., honoring all the dogs, horses, mules, pigeons, dolphins and other animals who have been used in war. We should also honor the pigs, monkeys, apes and other species used to test various military weapons. We surely owe them no less.
(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.)