DEAR DR. FOX: My 2-year-old cat, Purrlie, who, along with her brother was orphaned at five days old and raised by a foster mom, decides every once in a while to stand up in the cat box and pee over the edge in a spraying position.
Lately, she has been doing this more often, and I'm worried about the area around the box becoming permanently "perfumed." I can't figure out what might be triggering this behavior. How clean I keep the box seems to have no impact. There doesn't seem to be an obvious motivating factor. She does not regularly go out, but was outside a little in good weather last summer. I never saw her spray on those outings. -- M.T., Lexington Park, Md.
DEAR M.T.: Spraying, a deliberate territorial marking behavior, is unusual in neutered cats. They do, however, quite often start to spray as a territorial marker when upset by the presence of a prowling cat around the house or having met or scented one while outdoors. But she may actually be having difficulty in urinating or be in pain, indicative of bladder inflammation or cystitis and possibly urinary calculi. Corn in the diet can be a contributing factor. A veterinary checkup may be useful to rule out a physical or medical cause. Older cats sometimes miss the box because they are in pain from arthritis and cannot assume the normal posture to evacuate.
In the interim, get a second, larger tray with high sides to help contain her sprayed urine. Feliway is an effective cat pheromone product (available in spray or plug-in dispenser) that may have a calming effect on your cat's psyche when used in the area you have the litter box. A couple of drops of essential oil of lavender on the edge of the box may also help.
DEAR DR. FOX: Your recent column about weighing a dog on the bathroom scale will only work if you can lift the dog. The 2-year-old chocolate Lab is most likely way too heavy for 99 percent of people to lift. Most people would find it impossible once a dog weighs 25 to 30 pounds or more. Do you think your regular vet would let you weigh the dog for free? Since an office visit could cost $50 or more, most people will wait until their dog's next visit. Also, most dogs are never enthusiastic about a vet visit. Given the probable cost and the dog's lack of enthusiasm, most of us would decide not to make a monthly weigh-in visit. -- C.R.M., Washington, D.C.
DEAR C.R.M.: I appreciate your point of correction! Yes, indeed -- dogs over 40 pounds would be a challenge for many people to lift and stay still on the scales. However, I cannot imagine any veterinarian or animal clinic staff not allowing a regular client to stop by for a free weigh-in. But I would advise telephoning first to set the day and time, because just dropping by anytime could be problematic when they are very busy or have an emergency. Any "regular vet" who doesn't let a client weigh his animals at no charge and any that does demand a fee, I would happily tar and feather and deliver to the Better Business Bureau.
As for putting any dog on a diet, that should begin only after a veterinary appointment and appropriate evaluation and guidance.
HEADS UP FOR UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA'S COLLEGE OF VETERINARY MEDICINE
Staff at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine have started VETouch -- Veterinary Treatment Outreach for Urban Community Health -- in response to the current economic crisis affecting many pet owners who have been surrendering their animals to animal shelters because they could no longer afford their care. Free clinics are held monthly at a city church, where veterinary students provide vaccinations, routine care, referrals for more advanced treatment and pet food. I hope that other veterinary colleges have similar outreach services for those in need in their communities, and are collaborating with local animal shelters and protection organizations.
DOG BRAINS ARE SIMILAR TO HUMAN BRAINS
Neural responses to certain social stimuli are similar in dogs and humans, according to research conducted involving dogs in Hungary. The animals, who were trained to remain still during MRI, were exposed to sounds associated with emotion, such as crying, laughing and playful barking. The dogs' brain scans were compared to MRI brain scans of people exposed to the same sounds.
"It establishes a foundation of a new branch of comparative neuroscience, because until now, it was not possible to measure the brain activities of a non-primate and the primate brain in a single experiment," said researcher Dr. Attila Andics.
(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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