DEAR DR. FOX: My shorthair calico cat will be 11 years old this spring. I adopted her from a man in a van in the Petco parking lot who had trapped her and several other barn kittens. Immediately after adopting her, I took her to my vet. We believe that she was less than 6 weeks old.
She is a petite cat, although she is a vigorous eater. She is a lap cat, always wanting to be near or on me. I love this cat dearly, but she has an annoying habit: She jumps on dressers and tables and knocks things to the floor. This usually occurs while my husband and I are trying to sleep, but she also does this at night while I am watching TV.
She naps and eats all day and then gets crazy at night. She tries to attack me, and she also bites, occasionally breaking the skin. She is an indoor/outdoor cat, but she does not stray far from the house. When I put her out when she is acting crazy, she stays by the front door or jumps on the back deck to let me know she wants in again.
My husband is threatening to take her to the animal shelter. Because of her antics, I have been sleeping in a downstairs bedroom, and she has been sleeping on the bed with me. But just the other night, she woke up and went upstairs and knocked over something on my dresser. I thought she was doing this to get my attention, but I was asleep downstairs.
I am at my wits' end. I spoke to my vet, who gave me some treats that are supposed to calm her, but she doesn't like soft treats. The vet says there was nothing else she could prescribe, and that this is the nature of calico cats. Is this true? Do you have any suggestions? -- S.L., Alexandria, Va.
DEAR S.L.: I sympathize with your situation. You are not alone when it comes to the kind of stress a cat can bring into the home and into relationships.
That your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat is, I believe, part of the problem. This can affect her biorhythms, making her more active in the early morning and evening. Indoor-only cats generally synchronize their normally crepuscular (dusk to dawn) natural activity cycle to those of their human companions. They expect to be fed after you get up and before bedtime (with two to three snacks during the day) and enjoy interactive games early in the evening, especially with another cat. This is one of the reasons why I advise people to have two cats rather than one, and also to never let them become indoor/outdoor animals, as you have inadvertently done with yours.
Your cat is possibly too old to accept a new cat in her environment, but I urge you to engage with her during her evening crazies with various interactive games such as chasing a laser light or a lure on the end of a string tied to a cane. Her playful attacks on you are not a signal for you to put her outdoors, but to learn how to playfully interact with her. To live with cats, you must "become" a cat.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 7-year-old black-and-tan miniature pinscher who, within the past six weeks, has turned mainly brown. The fur has also gone from short and smooth to more of a fuzzy texture. He has also lost about 4 pounds since November, even though he is eating the same amount of food.
Our vet ran a blood test, and everything came back normal, even his thyroid levels. Do you have any idea what could have caused this? -- E.H., Chaptico, Md.
DEAR E.H.: Some animals have genes that change the amount of pigment in their fur, which is linked to changes in ambient temperature or amount of daily sunlight. Some dogs develop a seasonal alopecia (hair loss) that may be due to lack of sunlight while living indoors during winter months. This may be what is going on with your dog.
Almost all living beings are light-sensitive. One of the regulatory hormones, also found in plants, is melatonin. Since your veterinarian has ruled out possible thyroid disease (and hopefully Cushing's disease of the adrenal glands), my intuition leads me to suggest giving your dog 2 milligrams of melatonin late in the evening. Also, get him outdoors as often and as long as you can during daylight hours. Let me know if his coat color returns to its former shades.
DEAR DR. FOX: What is your opinion of NexGard, the new oral medication for killing fleas and ticks? Do you consider it safer for the dog than Frontline Plus? -- S.B., Washington, D.C.
DEAR S.B.: This new oral product, approved by the Food and Drug Administration and produced by the manufacturers of Frontline Plus, supposedly kills fleas and ticks for up to 30 days after the drug -- afoxolaner -- has been given. The company states, "NexGard is for use in dogs only. The most frequently reported adverse reactions include vomiting, dry/flaky skin, diarrhea, lethargy, and lack of appetite. The safe use of NexGard in pregnant, breeding or lactating dogs has not been evaluated. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures."
I would not use this on my dogs. Check my website, DrFoxVet.com, for safe methods of flea and tick control.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)