DEAR DR. FOX: We have a sweet, slightly elderly cat who has starting crying incessantly lately. Our boy is about 15 years old -- but could even be a bit older -- and is in relatively good health for his age. He does have thyroid issues and receives methimazole every day.
Over the past week or so, he's started crying quite a lot, especially at night. He's always been very affectionate, and the crying seems like he wants attention, but sometimes he continues to cry even when he's in the same room with the family. The crying has become an issue because it's keeping us awake at night, and we're worried that there is something wrong with him other than simply feeling needy. Nothing in his food or routine has changed. Any thoughts? -- J.B., Washington, D.C.
DEAR J.B.: This is a common problem with older cats, and I have addressed it many times over the years in this column. Generally, the following measures help, keeping in mind the possibility of dementia/brain degeneration, like Alzheimer's disease, and chronic pain from arthritis.
With the latter, a few drops of fish oil in the food daily may help; you can also try a good chondroitin and glucosamine supplement, which you should discuss with your veterinarian first. My book on massage therapy, "The Healing Touch for Cats," should help overall.
A warm place to sleep would be beneficial. Have the vet check for dental problems, another source of chronic pain and inflammation in cats.
To help with anxiety and chronic pain, there are other medications that may help your cat. Your vet can tell you about selegiline for possible dementia. If your cat likes catnip, I would advise a pinch or two later in the evening and giving some melatonin before you go to bed. I take it myself; it is a super antioxidant as well as a natural sleep aid.
DEAR Dr. FOX: I just reread your book "Understanding Your Cat." In it, you talked about domestic cats not swimming. Yes, most domestic cats do not like water, but I was truly blessed to experience a swimmer.
Several years ago, my neighbors had an above-ground pool with a nice deck around it. Their cat, Samantha, would sleep on the deck -- if no one was splashing her. I swam alone often, so I saw her there a lot.
One day, she got up, walked over to the pool ladder, put her feet in the water, jumped into the pool, swam a lap, got out of the pool, shook herself and laid back down. I was so stunned! I got out of the pool, banged on my neighbors' door and said, "I just saw Samantha swim across the pool!"
They told me that she does that every once in a while. Wow! -- D.B., St Louis
DEAR D.B.: Thanks for your swimming cat story. This is indeed rare, but some cats do take to the water. However, I do not advise people throwing their cats into the pool this summer!
Cats sometimes amaze us. My journalist friend in St. Louis was shocked when she told her cat to straighten up the pages of her manuscript that the cat had pushed off her desk and onto the floor -- and the cat did just that, pawing around the pages to try to put them together!
Only yesterday, one of our cats, Pinto Bean, used the litter box in the bathroom, and I saw that his urine had not been covered with litter. I called out to my wife, "Pinto has not covered his pee." No sooner had I said that than Pinto Bean came running in and fastidiously covered his deposit!
HORSES DO BETTER HOUSED TOGETHER
Horses may do better with access to others of their kind, according to a study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior that found higher levels of corticosterone, a stress hormone, in horses housed in individual stalls than those housed in communal situations.
The greater the isolation, the higher the stress, the study found, which the team noted could lead to illness. "Group housing provides horses with an environment where they are able to display natural behavior and allows contact, improving overall welfare," said Kelly Yarnell, a Nottingham Trent University (U.K.) equine welfare expert.
(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.)