DEAR DR. FOX: I enjoyed reading your article on the 78-year-old woman who recently adopted a cat. I, too, adopted a cat, and I am 76 years old.
The cat is very comforting to me, and he is an excellent companion. My wife passed away two years ago, and anyone who goes through this stressful experience understands what it is all about. You get very lonely and at times don't know if you will get through another day without your significant other.
I will be away for one week soon, and I am thinking about leaving the cat downstairs rather than letting him roam the entire home while I'm gone. The downstairs area is large and provides enough space for the cat, his litter box and food. Is this a good idea? I have a pet sitter who will come in once a day to feed him.
Any thoughts you may have will be appreciated. Thank you. -- P.E., Port Republic, Md.
DEAR P.E.: You have my condolences regarding the loss of your wife, and I trust that other readers will consider, as you did, adopting animal companions because of their phenomenal healing powers and the fact that they need good homes.
But always consider the animal's age -- your cat might outlive you. What provisions have you made in your will? Adopting an older animal who will probably not outlive you might be more humane.
Have your pet sitter come in at least twice a day to clean out the litter box, feed, water, sit with and pet/groom the cat. Maybe set up a routine to switch the TV or radio on so the cat feels less alone. If your cat is used to having access to the entire house, confining him to the basement while you are gone could be extremely traumatic, so I'd say no to that. Have the pet sitter come visit as often as possible while you are still there so your cat will be less afraid of a relative stranger when you are gone.
I advise in-home cat sitting rather than boarding a cat. I am in total shock at what seem to be the standard cat boarding facility cage and "condo" dimensions. These range from 3 by 4 feet to 4 by 6 feet floor space with heights varying from 3 to 4 feet. I found only two places in the area where I live (Minneapolis) where I would ever consider boarding a cat -- the better ones have windows and lots of space, including stand-up room for a human. I wonder why such small spaces are considered acceptable for cats but not for dogs?
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 15-year-old black and tan longhaired dachshund who does this strange thing out in the yard. He has a figure eight worn into the grass, and he walks it constantly. He is losing weight from all this walking. He's always hungry, but seems fine for a 15-year-old dog. Do you have an explanation for his behavior? I would love to hear what you think. -- J.W., St. Charles, Mo.
Dear J.W., What you describe is an obsessive-compulsive behavior more commonly seen in caged zoo animals and breeding sows in pig factories confined in narrow crates their entire lives; it is called stereotypic behavior.
Repetitive movements may be self-comforting and result in the production of natural opiates in the body, which, in turn, give the activity an addictive element. The underlying cause in your dog could be some discomfort, which he is trying to relieve. This discomfort could be physical, as from chronic bowel inflammation or a brain tumor, or from increased anxiety.
A full veterinary check-up is called for, and if he is in good physical health -- and I would not advise costly tests considering his advanced age -- a very light dose of alprazolam (like Xanax) to see if it is anxiety-related may be the best treatment option. You can also give him a higher fat and protein diet with supplements to help improve his physical condition -- provided his kidney function is good.
(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.
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