DEAR DR. FOX: Seven years ago, we adopted a 1-year-old rat yerrier. In the last two years, he has started acting strangely.
He will go outside and sit next to our floor-to-ceiling window and bark repeatedly. When we try to get him to come inside, he won't. He does this no matter the weather. In the coldest temperatures, he will sit there and shiver but refuse to come inside. He will also do this while sitting at the front door. When we open the door for him, he cowers and will not move. When we pick him up to bring him inside, he growls. When he does come in, he goes directly out the doggie door and repeats the same behavior.
We've asked our vet, who cannot give us any answers. Any ideas? -- B.H., Washington, D.C.
DEAR B.H.: It is difficult to determine when an animal is having a hallucination, but this is what I suspect is happening.
It can be a precursor to epilepsy. The cause of many neurological conditions can be very difficult and costly to determine, so it is often best to try to treat the symptoms first. Valium to reduce anxiety may be a first step. Feed him a natural, ideally organic, whole-food, additive-free diet, as per my dog food recipe posted on DrFoxVet.net. I would avoid all soy and gluten ingredients, the latter being implicated in some epileptic and seizure conditions in dogs.
DEAR DR. FOX: Can dogs have obsessive-compulsive disorder? It's the only explanation I can think of for my 8-year-old male longhaired dachshund.
In the past week or two, when I bring his food dish to the usual spot to feed him, he runs laps around the dining room table. After a set number -- three or four laps -- he then walks over and eats his food.
He's just started this recently. There haven't been any changes in the house, routine, etc. This just came out of the blue. It's not really a problem, just a little bizarre. What do you think? -- K.K., Odenton, Maryland
DEAR K.K.: Yes, dogs do sometimes suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders, sometimes quite serious and requiring behavioral modification and psycho-pharmaceutical intervention. For details, see my book "Dog Body, Dog Mind." They may be anxiety-driven or pre-seizure repetitive actions, with possible underlying hallucinations -- "fly snapping" behavior being one manifestation.
The repetitive nature of such abnormal behaviors has a ritualistic element that can be confused with relatively normal behaviors associated with excitement and pleasurable anticipation. Many dogs spin and even chase their tails when their caregivers ask them if they are ready to go out for a walk. Your dog has developed his own little ritual before eating, which you can take as a sign that he is delighted and excited in anticipation of a good meal.
DEAR DR. FOX: Since my cat is older, my vet suggested I get a litter box that was lower to the ground, making it easier for my kitty to get in and out. I hadn't realized how high most cat boxes are. I bought new low boxes, and they work beautifully. -- A.O., St Louis
DEAR A.O.: Thanks for the information to help older cats who, especially because of arthritis, may have difficulty in entering a litter box with high sides. But it is also important to treat the arthritis if that is the primary cause of limited agility.
In Praise of the Natural Aboriginal Cat
The black-striped, barred and spotted tabby or alley cat is the prototypical original domestic cat, coming in shades of gray, brown, gold and silver that provide them with excellent camouflage as crepuscular hunters of small prey. Many of these graceful, agile and resourceful felines can be found in free-roaming populations as the predominant phenotype or landrace, possibly descendants from early settlers' cats. They may be in some ways more behaviorally demanding than many less highly vigilant and active purebreds, but overall are probably healthier -- if not more intelligent and interesting.
I wish that more people would adopt such cats and kittens rather than purchase pure breeds, many varieties of which are highly inbred and can be emotionally and financially demanding, with various diseases of hereditary origin. This situation is far worse in purebred dogs, who have been domesticated for thousands of years prior to the cats domesticating themselves. We can all surely save the cat from a similar fate.
(Excerpt from Releasing Cats to Live Outdoors posted on drfoxvet.net.)
(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.)