DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 4-year-old male tabby cat named Beau. He is loving and friendly to everyone. About a year ago, he surprised me by sneaking up and biting me on the back of my leg. Since then, it has become a weekly event.
I find myself walking backward so I can keep an eye on him. After he bites me, he gets in a crouch position and has a vicious look on his face. The bites are serious -- they bleed and look infected. I have a strong antibiotic that I use on them.
Beau lets me pick him up, he naps on my lap and he purrs. When I have guests, he will come and sit with us. Yesterday, I fell asleep and woke to him charging up the couch and biting my arm. I have tried walking around with a water bottle ready to squirt, but that isn't always handy.
I was thinking of having his teeth removed. Everyone scoffs at this idea until they see my scars. It was so bad one time that I took pictures of the wounds. I truly believe if a vet saw them, he would agree to the dental surgery.
There is no pattern to the attacks, and he doesn't do it when he is hungry or after I have rubbed his belly (which he loves). It is always when I am walking freely throughout the house.
I love this guy, but I am so very frustrated. Can you give me insights as to why and what to do? -- M.O., Naples, Florida
DEAR M.O.: You have a problem cat indeed. This is common in many one-cat homes, which could have been prevented by having another cat so they can play-fight together.
You need to change your relationship in regards to your fear and the cat's uninhibited biting.
Removing the teeth is not the best solution, nor is removing the claws of those who scratch. Cats can learn not to bite hard or scratch.
What you need to do is to get some cat toys and to play with your cat, especially early in the evening when cats are most active. Have Beau chase a laser pointer and a fluffy or feathery lure on the end of a string tied to a cane. Play with him as long as he is receptive, then groom him with a long-handled brush. Also set up a cat condo so he can get up and look down on you and feel secure. Making his environment more stimulating and redirecting his play-fighting behavior with suitable interactive games are steps worth taking before all else.
DEAR DR. FOX: I acquired a two-year old Afghan hound from a breeder who deemed him not to be of show quality and did not want him to breed. He said that neutering would spoil his coat, and instead gave him a vasectomy. This worked very well; he remained a gorgeous dog and was much admired.
Every three weeks I took him to the breeder for grooming, and one day my dog came home very unhappy. He moaned and cried, and he wouldn't eat his food. I couldn't imagine what was wrong. After a week of this, I called the breeder to ask if anything had gone amiss on his visit. He laughed and explained: A female had been sent to him to be bred, and she was present while my dog was there for grooming. He had fallen in love (!) and was pining for her. The breeder said that the mating had been unsuccessful and, compassionately, said, "Bring him back." I did so, and my lucky, infertile dog was able to spend a happy weekend with his lady love before she was sent home. He came back smiling. -- G.J., Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR G.J.: Your experiences with your vasectomized dog will enlighten and amuse many readers of my column.
There is a reconsideration of routinely neutering male and female dogs because, especially in some breeds, there are significant health benefits of them retaining their ovaries and testicles and related natural hormone levels, according to health surveys by veterinarian Dr. Benjamin Hart and associates at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Removing these glands can disrupt the regulatory functions of other endocrine glands.
Dogs do "fall in love," and I have seen this in dogs who have been neutered and are members of the same sex; my Indian pariah dog Batman screamed with joy when he met with the canine love of his life, a neutered male sheltie, in our local park. They would engage in sex-play, much to the consternation of his owner, who called my dog a pervert!
Some years ago, I read about male dogs in Denmark or Sweden spending time at kennels where there were female dogs in heat, but who were surgically altered so they would not get pregnant (hysterectomy), and the dogs could satisfy their sex drives. But America, with its puppy play groups and doggy day care centers, may not be quite ready for such indulgent canine prostitution.
(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.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)