DEAR DR. FOX: I recently read your column regarding the cat with a feline hyperesthesia syndrome.
When my cat was 9 months old, he developed the syndrome suddenly. He was completely normal one day, and then it happened in the middle of the night. After countless traditional and holistic vet visits and numerous hours of research, my husband and I realized the trigger, changed his diet and it's been over 18 months since he's had an episode.
I was feeding him a poultry-based diet with supplemental canned fish. After much research, I completely took him off all feathered foods and put him on a raw diet. I'm currently feeding him Primal Raw Beef and Salmon, with canned fish and beef on occasion. I buy freeze-dried treats, and I keep Origen Regional Red dry food on hand if I need it in a pinch.
My take on feline hyperesthesia syndrome is that it's not triggered by just one thing; rather, it's a combination of mind, body and environmental components. In my experience, there were triggers that set him off, specifically sensitivity on the body itself, especially his paws. He had no injuries, but I noticed they were sensitive. In addition, a fabric softener smell triggered him. Once he was at the point of a rolling back and twitching, I gave him a massage to calm him down, which helped, and gave him a treat as a sort of reset.
Sometimes he became fixated on overgrooming, and I would stimulate him by playing with him several times a day. After taking this into account, both my husband and I agreed that another cat could help, and we were willing to give it a shot. We sought a cat who was a little younger than he, and after looking for almost two months, we found a perfect match.
Our cat's last episode was in the summer of 2013. I'm delighted to say that here we are living a healthy and happy life all together. -- T.L., St. Louis
DEAR T.L.: Same with one of my cats! It was fish that set him off. Still, he has sudden episodes even after a change in diet, and I, too, find that gentle grooming, massage therapy, redirection with interactive games or time outdoors on our cat-secure open deck gets him out of his compulsive self-grooming. Underlying thyroid issues must be considered, and for many cats who live alone, boredom and lack of stimulation may be significant triggers, as is anxiety, which can trigger more serious self-mutilation.
This is a far more complex feline disorder than generally perceived. One complication can be cats ingesting harmful chemicals from contact with floors and countertops cleaned with quaternary ammonium compounds, as in Swiffer's WetJet antibacterial cleaner.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have a 1-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel, who we have had since she was 8 weeks old. She is adorable, playful and affectionate, but she has some issues that we aren't sure how to deal with. She has always seemed prone to nervousness and anxiety, but things have escalated recently.
She growls or whines when certain new things are brought in the house, she growls at reflections on the wall, and now she has become fearful of eating out of her food bowl. This started shortly after she returned from spending several days with a dog sitter who has other dogs in the house. I have tried other plates, bowls, etc., but she will only eat off a paper towel on the floor. Since she eats dry food, it is not an issue to feed her this way. Lately, she becomes anxious when I take her to some new places for walks. I took her to a new place the other day, and she whined and cried so much that I finally turned around. I try to give her as much exercise as I can -- she is walked at least three miles a day, has a fenced-in yard to play in and I play fetch with her daily. She has a lot of energy, and if she is not exercised, she is very restless. She has always been a good sleeper at night, thankfully.
The vet suggested we try giving her the herbal pill Anxitane, and she's been taking it for three months. I think it helps somewhat. We wanted to try this before we tried Prozac or another type of pharmaceutical for anxiety.
We would prefer not to spend a small fortune on hiring a behaviorist, so I wanted to see if you had any suggestions. We love her dearly, but we would like to have a more relaxed dog if possible. We are open to Prozac and are willing to go that route if it would help her.
We have had other dogs before (including a Cavalier) and have never had these kinds of issues before. -- L.R., Cabin John, Maryland
DEAR L.R.: You letter clearly indicates that you are an informed and caring canine caregiver and for whatever reason have the burden of a young dog with ever-increasing behavioral problems.
Knowing something about genetic and developmental abnormalities in purebred dogs, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel in particular, most veterinarians would consider your dog's abnormal behavior as the first possible signs of a brain disease prevalent in this breed called caudal occipital malformation syndrome. This is a congenital abnormality at the base of the skull that, as the dog matures, results in compression on the rear part of the brain. This abnormality is usually combined with syringohydromyelia, which is the result of blockage of circulating cerebrospinal fluid.
This condition may be just beginning to show up in your dog as pain around the neck region, which could trigger anxiety and conditioned fear reactions to certain stimuli. More serious neurological symptoms may soon develop, including an unsteady gait and seizures.
This condition is treatable and should be ruled out as a possible reason for your dog's evident distress and abnormal behaviors before trying a short course of treatment with an anxiety-relieving drug.
(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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