DEAR DR. FOX: Over the years, we've had several cats. Since I usually took care of their needs, they were always more affectionate with me. They didn't snuggle with my husband very much, and that was OK with him. But the cat we have now is very different.
This cat started out as a stray. Our neighbor took him in and kept him in her garage. The neighbor had him checked by a vet, got all his necessary shots and gave him to us a few months ago.
He's basically an indoor cat (though he sometimes goes out on the porch for a little while), and he has the run of the house. Lately, he has become extremely affectionate toward my husband. He sits in the chair with my husband, wants to be petted and sometimes sleeps on top of his shoes. He even yowls if he's not getting attention. It might sound funny, but my husband's arms are quite hairy, and it seems like the cat is grooming him! He'll alternately lick himself and then my husband, to the point where we have to tell him to stop.
I've never seen this kind of cat behavior. Can you explain it? -- M.D., Scott Township, Pennsylvania
Dear M.D.: Cats are unpredictable and idiosyncratic in many ways. Pheromones can play a big role in their social behavior and emotional bonds.
It is quite possible that your husband's hirsute arms are a stimulus to the cat to engage in affectionate social grooming. But all things in moderation! Cats can become clingy, so try to remotivate and redirect the cat's attention by engaging in interactive play with a lure on a string or a laser light to chase. The cat may enjoy a regular brushing and massage as I describe in my book "The Healing Touch for Cats." But beware: Some cats become touch-aholics!
DEAR DR. FOX: We have a mixed-breed hound. We think he's part Rhodesian ridgeback. We have had him since he was 2 months old. He has never been abused or neglected. He is very loving and docile with us, but he is aggressive toward everyone else.
Whenever someone comes onto our property, he barks madly at them; he scares people who come inside with his vicious attitude. He is also aggressive with people on walks, though he has no problem with other dogs. He can no longer be boarded at a pet hotel because he was being very fear-aggressive with the staff.
He is 1 1/2, and we were wondering how we can control this aggressive behavior. Do you think it requires a professional trainer? If so, what kind of trainer do you recommend? What questions should we ask the trainer? -- M.H., Ellicott City, Maryland
DEAR M.H.: It is natural for young dogs to show some aggression toward strangers entering their home-territories when they are of a protective breed or temperament. It can be aggravated by how the handler or caregiver responds to the dog the first time such behavior is manifested. Tugging on the leash, hitting the dog or verbally scolding may simply arouse the dog's fear and anxiety level, leading to more intense defensive aggression the next time. This is where a professionally certified animal behavioral therapist can possibly help. Impulse control through behavior modification may be the solution.
Veterinarian Dr. W. Jean Dodds (author of "Canine Nutrigenomics") has identified acute thyroid dysfunction in many young-adult dogs showing aggressive behavior that is difficult to control. Your veterinarian should consider this possibility, and in the interim, have your dog wear a muzzle in situations where people may be at risk. This will make you more relaxed, and that would be good for the dog.
DOGS ABSORB HARMFUL HERBICIDES
Dr. Deborah W. Napp and associates published a report, "Detection of herbicides in the urine of pet dogs following home lawn chemical applications," in Science of the Total Environment. The researchers found, "Chemicals were detected in the urine of dogs in 14 of 25 households before lawn treatment, in 19 of 25 households after lawn treatment and in 4 of 8 untreated households. Chemicals were commonly detected in grass residues from treated lawns, and from untreated lawns suggesting chemical drift from nearby treated areas. Thus, dogs could be exposed to chemicals through contact with their own lawn (treated or contaminated through drift) or through contact with other grassy areas if they travel. The length of time to restrict a dog's access to treated lawns following treatment remains to be defined."
By my definition of common sense, I would say to avoid herbicides and transform ever more lawns (the green, chemical deserts of America) into natural habitats so that our springs will be less silent -- our drinking water and related health would be all the better for it!
(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.
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