DEAR DR. FOX: I took three feral cats with very distinct personalities into my home in August 2011. All were neutered in January 2012. Two of them went to new forever homes a year later.
The remaining cat, Sox, adjusted to the loss of his brother and sister within six months. The first few times he went into heat were tolerable. But earlier this week, he went into heat again, and his personality changed; he became very aggressive. He jumps up and grabs my husband's leg with all four paws, drawing blood. And one day, as my husband was coming into the house, Sox ran out the door. My husband tried to catch him, but one hand was carrying mail; he lost his balance and ended up falling on our porch, hitting his head and scraping an elbow. My husband is 75 and could not get up. I am 65, and even though hubby is small, I am unable to get him up and on his feet because of back problems.
I know in a few days Sox will be out of heat and (hopefully) return to normal, but is there anything I can do when he becomes aggressive like this? -- T.R., St. Louis
DEAR T.R.: Sorry to hear about your husband's bad fall. Cats can be an in-home hazard and trip people up with their deliberate habit of running across one's path or suddenly rolling over at one's feet to get attention.
Neutered male cats do not go into "heat." Most likely, these are ambush games that cats engage in, especially early in the evening -- their most active hunting time in the wild.
Since he no longer has other cats to play with, the best remedy for this issue is to engage in interactive play. Use a fishing lure-type toy to get him to run and jump and expel energy.
WHY CATS & DOGS ROLL OVER
Rolling over onto one side is a canine and feline display, but it doesn't always have the same meaning or intent. Some books state cats roll over to display submission, but only dogs do that (and sometimes also urinate). Scold a dog, and he or she will roll over, while a cat will usually run away.
Both species roll over to solicit attention, and cats also do it to seek contact and play, and to display trust. Some cats enjoy having their tummies petted, while others will act capriciously and suddenly claw or bite -- and not always in an inhibited, playful way. Cats also roll over when cornered as a defensive posture, with their claws ready to slash and parry.
Cats rolling over onto one side right in one's path, especially when they are hungry or want attention, calls for mindfulness and anticipation to avoid stepping on or tripping over the cat. Both the tripped and the tripper can sustain injuries. So, please, cat caregivers, be on the alert.
Dog owners should not be embarrassed when their dogs roll over when greeting visitors and never punish a young dog for submissive urination. That will only make matters worse. Most dogs grow out of this behavior. Dogs also like to roll and squirm on the ground to cover themselves with some scent, such as dead fish, while female cats roll and squirm when they are in heat, as do cats when they are given catnip herb.
For more details about the body language of these two species, see my books "Cat Body, Cat Mind" and "Dog Body, Dog Mind."
Pet owners are increasingly choosing to have ailing animals euthanized at home by a veterinarian. The directory at inhomepeteuthanasia.com lists hundreds of veterinarians who offer in-home euthanasia, which reduces the trauma of going to the animal hospital for both the animals and their caregivers. Thanks to Dr. Kathleen Cooney, founder and owner of Home to Heaven, a mobile pet hospice and euthanasia service based in northern Colorado, for setting up this website resource.
(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.net.)