DEAR DR. FOX: I have two cats: Maggie, a mellow and sweet English shorthair (age 10), and Simon, a rambunctious part-Burmese (age 7).
I adopted Simon out of concern that Maggie was lonely. What was I thinking? Sadly, my ability to time travel is lacking.
Simon continually instigates conflict with Maggie to get my attention, whether it's because his food, water or litter box are not to his satisfaction, or just to be a pain. This has been going on since Simon joined us as a kitten. However, it's now causing such stress for Maggie that she has licked her belly almost bare of fur. She is always looking warily around for him.
I'm not willing to rehome either one, as they're both so dear to me. I visited the vet this weekend, who prescribed a light dose of Prozac for Maggie to "help take the edge off."
I have been separating them at night so Maggie (and I, for that matter) can get some sleep, and I play with Simon in the hope of wearing him out at bedtime. While I find that Simon is getting marginally better at my verbal commands to leave Maggie alone, I wonder if you have any other suggestions as to how to help calm things down -- to be honest, I'm not wild about medicating the "victim" here.
To the best of my knowledge, they seem to be fine during the day, but then again, I'm at work.
Perhaps I'm the problem? -- L.H., Auburn, California
DEAR L.H.: You wonder if you may be part of the problem, and that is a good question to ask.
Have you read anything about cat behavior and psychology? Check out my DVD and books, posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net, which may give you more insight. My books "Cat Body, Cat Mind" and "Supercat" have helped many cats and people get along better and enjoy life.
Do you spend time engaging in interactive games with the cats? Do you groom them in turn, during which time you can teach them that taking turns and enjoying and receiving equal and fair attention is the rule of the house?
Some cats can be pushy, even bullies, demanding all the attention and pushing the other cat or cats away to get the best spot -- examples of so called "situational dominance." This is when you may effectively intervene and discipline the domineering one with a loud "No" and a tap on the nose or rear end. Most cats are quite trainable; they know what's going on!
Consider the possibility that your older cat is arthritic; it may be painful for her to engage in this kind of rough play. Simon should chase a lure on a string that you can engage him with early in the evening, when cats are often most active. Try massaging Maggie as per my other cat book, "The Healing Touch for Cats." You can also add a few drops of fish oil in her food every day. She may enjoy a pinch of calming catnip or a small amount of melatonin before bedtime.
Her excessive grooming could be stress-related, or it could be a sign of hyperactive thyroid disease or food allergy, so keep the latter possibilities in mind when you see the veterinarian for her next wellness examination.
I know of several situations like yours where introducing a third, younger cat made all the difference, giving the older, stressed and harried cat a break while the more active cat of the pair has a third one to romp and play-fight with!
Keep me posted with your progress!
DEAR DR. FOX: We rescued a male cocker spaniel from our local animal shelter two and a half years ago. He will be 4 years old on March 31.
During his time with the family, he has begun having a series of spasms and seizures on a daily basis. He will sit looking upward and begin a low growl than go to a full bark. After approximately two or three minutes, he will begin to chase his tail area without touching any body parts. This will continue for about three to five minutes and may occur again during the day.
About a month ago, we started him on melatonin with our vet's approval, hoping it would calm him. However, the seizures continue. My wife and I are at our wits' end.
When we rescued him, we knew that he had been caged up to 11 hours per day at a very young age. In the beginning, we thought this was the problem, and it would go away over time.
Based upon what background we have provided, can you help with some relief? -- J.E.M., St. Louis
DEAR J.E.M.: Staring, snapping at nothing, tail-chasing and other obsessive behaviors in dogs can be indicative of epilepsy; many dogs do not actually go into a full grand mal seizure. Sometimes a change in diet can help. A gluten-free diet can stop the so-called epileptoid cramping syndrome in border terriers and probably other breeds and individuals with gluten intolerance.
Let me know if a dietary solution works out before the usual treatment with phenobarbital and other anti-seizure drugs. In my experience, it is regrettable that too many dogs are put on such drugs.
(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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