DEAR DR. FOX: I'm having a problem with my barn cat. This cat, Samson, moved into my barn last spring. I had him neutered, and he has his shots.
Samson became so aggressive with my other barn cats that I moved them to my house. Samson now attacks me when I walk away from the barn. I thought that he needed more attention, but that only seems to make the situation worse. Sometimes I pull a string so he attacks it instead. Today he attacked me with teeth and nails, and I had a difficult time getting him to stop. What do I do? -- S.S., Potomac, Maryland
DEAR S.S.: I understand why you had to move your other cats indoors after this domineering interloper took over and became such a bully. This must have been a stressful adjustment for them as well as you.
Changing Samson's name to Sammy won't make him more of a gentleman, just as neutering a cat later in life won't erase domineering and aggressive behavior patterns and some aspects of sexual behavior. Neutering before sexual maturity and experience does make a big difference, according to early behavioral research by the late Dr. Lester Aronson, whose research on cat sexual behavior was extremely controversial from an animal welfare and ethics perspective.
Many cats play ambush games and bat at your legs as you are walking by. This is their invitation to play and often comes from a life of boredom, which, to some degree, can be alleviated by playing chase and other interactive games. Samson's behavior is in another category since he is showing uninhibited attack or predation behavior toward you.
I would say goodbye to Samson for the greater good of your barn cat colony and your own peace of mind -- and health. Cat bites can mean hospitalization for blood poisoning (Pasteurella bacterial sepsis), and cat-scratch fever can develop from infected claws, with painful lymph node swelling misdiagnosed in more than one instance by human doctors unfamiliar with zoonotic diseases (animal-to-human transmitted infections) as lymphatic cancer!
An expert feline behavioral therapist might rehabilitate Samson once any possible underlying disease is ruled out, notably hyperthyroidism, which can make some cats more aggressive.
DEAR DR. FOX: Four weeks ago, I added a new member to my family: a 9-week-old rough-coat collie.
He gets 1/2 cup of dry dog food in the morning and again in the evening. The problem is that he does not chew his food, he inhales it -- it is gone in a few seconds. I have gone online, called the vet, have had an in-home instructor, but nothing helps. I have a divider in his food bowl, but it doesn't work. I put his food in a ball with a hole in the side that drops it out a piece at a time.
I am aware collies are prone to bloat, so I'm trying to fix this problem now. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. -- C.C., Springfield, Missouri
DEAR C.C.: I urge you to read up about proper puppy care and feeding, because two half-cups of dry dog food (and you do not indicate what brand and if it is formulated for puppies) is not enough. He most likely "inhales" his food because he is ravenous.
He should be fed at least four small meals daily. Give him 1/2 cup of dry, canned or home-prepared food at each meal. He needs high-quality protein and fat, with balanced calcium and other mineral and vitamin supplements. Be sure that a stool sample is checked for worms, which often infest pups and rob the animal of essential nutrients.
DEAR DR. FOX: I would like to get a small adult dog. I am handicapped and use a walker to walk, and I live in an apartment. I hope to be able to train the dog to go to the bathroom on a paper pad.
Some members of my family insist that I should not get a dog. They think that I will not be able to care for a dog because I will not be able to take the dog outside in the winter for walks (I live in northern Minnesota). I feel that a dog will be fine because I have plenty of room in my apartment to exercise and play games. Is it OK to have a dog in these circumstances? I would really appreciate your advice. -- J.C., Duluth, Minnesota
DEAR J.C.: Putting the best interests of the dog before yours, ask yourself why you want a dog? If it is animal companionship, adopt a cat if you are not allergic. Cats do not need to go outdoors, are 95 percent easier to train to evacuate indoors in a litter box and with all the interactive toys available, you can engage in stimulating games with the cat from the sofa or wheelchair. Dogs need to get out and run around, even in winter.
While you consider the best animal companion for you, think adoption first; also, consider getting two cats. Two cats will care for each other and give you hours of entertainment and devotion.
(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.)