DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 3-year-old female cat that was formerly feral, and still is to everyone but me. She sleeps with me every night, and is perfectly normal except for when I return from short trips (three or four days away). My neighbor looks after her -- makes sure she has food and water, lets her in and out if she wants to stay in the house -- so it isn't as if I abandon her, but the day I get back, she takes off. The last time, she was gone for 30 days.
Is it possible that she is trying to punish me for leaving? I have had cats all my life and never had anything like this happen before. -- R.S.K., Reeds Spring, Missouri
DEAR R.S.K.: I doubt that your cat is punishing you -- more likely she is just upset by change. Unlike dogs, who are essentially open books when it comes to their emotional reactions and social relationships, cats can be enigmatic and unpredictable -- the traits of a super-predator.
When cats hide or run away, like those who stay alone in the basement and rarely come out, or stay outdoors for days on end, it is as though their "flight" behavior takes over and blocks them from coming close to anyone. The article on my website entitled "Cat Behavior: Cognitive Disassociation and Social Disruption" documents this seemingly bizarre behavior in my formerly feral cats after one, and later the other, accidentally got outdoors.
My advice is to no longer let your cat outdoors. Make life indoors as stimulating as possible with elevated perches, walkways and cat condos, and install padded window ledges looking out on bird feeders.
Also, adopt a healthy, easy-going and well-socialized cat for companionship. Two cats are generally happier and healthier than those who live alone. There are several important steps to introducing a new cat into a home with one or more existing cats, which I detail on my website, DrFoxVet.net.
DEAR DR. FOX: I currently own and care for two dogs. My question is about my 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever and my lawn. I have an invisible fence to allow her freedom to roam with safe boundaries. Our yard backs up to woods, as well, giving her additional room. Unfortunately, every time she eliminates, she uses her rear legs and digs into the yard, removing large clumps of grass (with the dirt still attached). Even when I take her for a walk outside of our yard, she will exhibit the same behavior, kicking up leaves or whatever is near after she eliminates.
I have tried pulling on the leash and firmly telling her "no" when this occurs. What can I do to correct this behavior? -- P.W., Clifton, Virginia
DEAR P.W.: Your dog is engaging in marking behavior after urinating, an action more common in males of the canine species. She is leaving visual cues on the ground along with scent from her footpads that "point" to where she has urinated.
I would not try to correct this behavior by discipline or negative reinforcement, since that could increase her anxiety and motivate her to mark even more. Instead, try to redirect or remotivate her: Use a clicker or squeaky toy as soon as she has urinated, and then after the sound, give her a treat. If she were my dog, I would let her do her own thing and just plant some wild and hardy grasses and bushes where she likes to dog-mark. Lawns are an environmental abomination anyway!
Angell Animal Medical Center veterinarians in Massachusetts report a 220 percent increase in canine tick-borne disease cases this fall and winter compared with a year prior. Warmer winter days with less snow kept ticks, people and pets in closer proximity, and new tick species are migrating north, bringing diseases such as monocytic ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and southern tick-associated rash illness with them.
Most veterinarians recommend that owners use year-round tick prevention, check pets (and people) for ticks after spending time outside, keep yards clear of debris that attracts ticks and know the signs of disease. I advise extreme caution when using most anti-flea and tick products.
(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.)