DEAR DR. FOX: I have a question regarding the nature and characteristics of cats. Over the years, I have noticed that cats will lie down by a dangerous snake and seem to be tantalized by the reptile. I assume this behavior has something to do with the cat's survival, but I'm not certain. -- J.W., Norman, Oklahoma
DEAR J.W.: I know firsthand how wolves will instinctively avoid getting close to a snake when they see, hear or sense it. Domesticated animals, lacking such instinctual avoidance, can get into difficulties.
Your interpretation of the cat's behavior may be close to the mark. Your naive cat was probably fascinated and attracted by the movement of the reptile. The truism "curiosity killed the cat" probably has its origin in such behavioral reactions.
DEAR DR. FOX: As a retired volunteer coordinator for an animal rescue group, I know that many animals are dying for foster homes. Often, the rescue groups will provide the needed vaccinations, blood tests and neutering and find temporary housing -- just until they can get the animal to an adoption fair, he recovers from surgery, etc. If you don't want to give up the animal, opt for an older or special-needs kitty. A cat who is FIV positive needs a place where that is OK.
As for the vet bills, usually the rescue group will pay the bill if the foster parents will take the pet to the vet and care for it.
I am getting ready to approach senior citizens and lower-income families in my area. Many cannot afford a pet, but have children who really want one. I always supplied training and backup telephone support for our foster parents. This type of cooperation lets folks feel useful and needed. It supplies pets in need of someone to take care of them a little more time to find a forever home. Please keep up the good work! -- D.P., Culpepper, Virginia
DEAR D.P.: Thanks for your words of encouragement and practical suggestions regarding community outreach and engaging volunteers to help the millions of animals still being killed every year in animal shelters (a national tragedy).
All power to you and those of like mind and spirit!
DEAR DR. FOX: We have two brother cats who are 11 years old and indoor only. In about the last six months, one of them has started "marking" the carpet in various places in the living room and downstairs family room. He's not doing a full urination, just spotting. We took him to the vet, and he had very fast thyroid activity, for which we are giving him a pill twice a day. All other tests the vet did came up negative -- no bladder or urinary tract infections. I clean the litter box regularly, and we recently added a second box. I don't know if this is relevant, but I've seen him urinate in the litter box, and he doesn't cover up his urine. Do you have any suggestions on how we can get him to stop? -- L.J., Gaithersburg, Maryland
DEAR L.J.: Spotting is indeed different from spray-marking, and it could mean a weakened bladder or sphincter muscle control. This is not uncommon in older cats, dogs and people, and it may be associated with neutering in companion animals and lower sex hormones in humans. Your veterinarian may want to try a hormone supplement treatment. Another possibility is chronic lower urinary tract irritation or inflammation, which might improve with a change in diet, notably less or no dry foods and no corn and soy in the cat food.
As a routine, the cat's anal glands should be checked; if they're impacted, straining may lead to some urinary incontinence.
Older cats can suffer from arthritis, which can make it difficult and painful for them to get in and out of the litter box and to arch their backs in the usual posture for evacuation. This possibility is worth veterinary evaluation. Massage therapy and fish oil supplements also help many cats with this common affliction. Let me know the outcome.
(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.)