DEAR DR. FOX: I have two rescue cats, Emmy and Oscar, both about 6 years old. Every now and then, Oscar stands over his water bowl and hisses at it. He'll hiss for a bit, sometimes hold up his paw and eventually walk up to it and begin drinking.
The cats have water in a large bowl in the kitchen and also in a small glass upstairs in the bedroom, and they drink from both. I've seen Oscar hiss at the bowl and the glass on different days. It happens only occasionally, and with long spans in between, but I can never determine why he's doing it. I'm hoping it isn't a medical issue. Do you know what the reason could be? -- E.S., Herndon, Virginia
DEAR E.S.: Cats hiss when they are afraid. I doubt that Oscar is seeing his reflection in the water and reacting as though there is another cat!
The most likely explanation is that your cat has received static electricity shocks when his whiskers connect with the edge of the bowl or with the water. This is very likely with a metal bowl on a synthetic fiber carpet or mat. Try a rubber mat and ceramic water bowl if you aren't using those.
Another possibility is pain associated with drinking because of a broken or infected tooth or gums. Have this possibility evaluated at his next wellness checkup.
DEAR DR. FOX: Our sibling cats, now about 9 years old, have been with us since they were a few months old. They have been healthy since the beginning. Recently, our only son (who gave them lots of affection) left for college, and the cats' behavior has changed.
The female, Milkie, who normally was pretty quiet and reserved, has started to meow and cry loudly and often, for no apparent reason other than wanting attention. The male, Waffle, comes to our bedroom door first thing in the morning, and meows until we open the door. The thing is, Waffle's meow is very high pitched at times, sounding like a squeaky mouse instead of a cat. It's so weird-sounding! What could be the reason for this new squeak? -- R.B., Hopewell Junction, New York
DEAR R.B.: Your cats are grieving the loss of your son in their lives. This sometimes happens when one member of the family goes off to college. The most dramatic instance reported to me was of a cat who began excessive self-licking to the point of self-mutilation when the girl in the home went off to college; the cat recovered when the daughter came home during a mid-semester break.
If your son were to come home soon, this might help the cats understand that he was simply gone away but not gone forever.
This kind of separation can be stressful for human-attached felines, leading to cystitis, anorexia, fearfulness, anxiety and depression. So give them lots of attention, and if your son can't come home soon, have him mail a couple of T-shirts he's worn for a few days so they have the comfort of his familiar scent. This does seem to help animals suffering from separation, and I have advised the same practice to prison inmates who have contacted me, worried about how being apart from their cats and dogs could upset their animals.
PARENTS & PET OWNERS BEWARE: STUDY REVEALS SOURCES OF CANCER IN CHILDREN
"Residential Exposure to Pesticide During Childhood and Childhood Cancers: A Meta-Analysis," an analysis of childhood exposure to pesticides written by Dr. Mei Chen and associates and published in the online journal Pediatrics, is a wakeup call for both parents and those with dogs, cats and other animals in and around their homes who could also be at risk.
The scientists found that childhood exposure to indoor -- but not outdoor -- residential insecticides was associated with a significant increase in risk of childhood leukemia and childhood lymphomas. A significant increase in the risk of leukemia was also associated with herbicide exposure. Also observed was a positive, but not statistically significant, association between childhood home pesticide or herbicide exposure and childhood brain tumors. The authors urge, as I have done repeatedly in this column for pets' sake, that preventive measures should be considered to reduce children's exposure to pesticides at home.
BOOK REVIEW: "ANIMAL BEHAVIOR FOR SHELTER VETERINARIANS AND STAFF"
"Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff" is a collection of related topics edited by Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Stephen Zawistowski, the sum of which should inspire and guide improved treatment and well-being of dogs and cats placed in shelters -- and enhance their chances of being adopted.
The tacit acceptance of releasing shelter cats considered unadoptable to live outdoors permanently (trap-neuter-release and return-to-field) without any conditions or criteria is a serious omission in my opinion. (See my analysis of this practice at DrFoxVet.net.) Even so, this textbook will inspire and endow greater professional competence and understanding in all who do the challenging and often heartbreaking work of caring for animals in shelters, and help improve the well-being of surrendered, stray, lost and abandoned cats and dogs under their care. But TNR and RTF should not become a crutch for seeking to achieve the laudable goals of reducing the estimated 7 million dogs and cats passing through shelters every year, up to one-third of whom may be euthanized.
This book should be read and shared in every animal shelter and used for training and discussion purposes chapter by chapter.
(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.net.)