DEAR DR. FOX: In a few months, we will be moving with our two indoor-only cats, Dudley, age 15, and Bunny, age 11.
Dudley has a heart condition, a murmur and enlarged chamber, for which he takes daily Plavix and enalapril.
Bunny was diagnosed with impaired kidney function in May 2015. We started her on subcutaneous fluids at that time, tapering off the frequency (because she hated it) until we were doing it once a week. Her results from a blood test last week show that her values have held steady over the last six months.
Because stress is bad for any cat and because these two are high-risk given their history, I have two questions for you:
1. They will be subjected to an 8-hour car ride, in separate cars, to the new house. I had planned to sedate them with a low dose of Valium. Do you have any concerns over this approach, or would you recommend an alternative?
2. What can I do to make the cats feel safe and comfortable in the new house? It is a big house, so I will keep them in one room for a while so they don't get overwhelmed. We will be bringing familiar pieces of furniture, blankets, scratching posts, toys, etc. to place around the house. Any other suggestions?
No other cats have lived in this house, although dogs visited occasionally -- it doesn't smell doggy. -- D.P., Fairfax Station, Virginia
DEAR D.P.: I am sure your cats appreciate your concerned attention with regard to moving them to a new home.
I would not give Valium or any other sedative to the cats because they can become disoriented and more fearful in response to the medication. A pinch or two of catnip just before the road trip may give them some mild relaxation if they enjoy this herb on a regular basis.
I would get the cats used to being in whatever crate or container they will be in during the car ride, and also get them used to short rides in the car. This will help them adapt to the journey and to what would otherwise be the unexpected.
In the new home, make sure all outside-leading doors and windows are secure. Let the cats out to explore the house under your watchful eye once everything is moved in and furniture is put in place, keeping them together in one quiet room with food, water and litter boxes until then. Familiar music or TV voices may help your cats feel less dissonance in the new environment, along with regular routine attention, feeding times and familiar-smelling furniture and rugs.
I hope your new home does not have new fitted carpets. I don't want to alarm you, but to alert you on this issue: The chemicals in most such carpets are toxic and good for no one, especially cats, who have constant contact and exposure. More than 90 percent of dust samples taken from homes in 14 states contained potentially toxic substances, including phenols, phthalates, flame retardants and more, according to a report by Dr. Ami Zota and associates at George Washington University, published in Environmental Science and Technology. Furthermore, synthetic petrochemical materials used in the manufacture of carpets, upholstery, clothing, plastic bags and bottles are not biodegradable, but break down into micro-plastic particles. These are a serious contaminant of waterways, rivers and oceans, absorbing toxic chemicals such as PCBs that sicken aquatic life and those who consume them.
DEAR DR. FOX: My 2-year-old goldendoodle was fine walking on a leash until about two months ago, when she started barking and lunging at dogs we pass. Usually, it is unprovoked, like the other dog walks past oblivious or sometimes briefly glances at her. She is fierce with her barking when she gets started.
She is friendly with other dogs off her leash, and she plays with all sizes and ages of dogs at the dog park just fine. We can also pass dogs she knows well, and she is comfortable, wagging her tail and play bowing. If I make her sit and I stand between her and the other dog with a treat before she starts barking, I can keep her focus on me and she might look at them but not bark. But if I don't head her off in advance, it is difficult to stop her once she starts.
If I drop the leash, she will sometimes switch into play mode and stop barking, but not always. However, dropping the leash is bad dog-owner manners where I live, so I don't do that unless I know the other owner well. My dad suggested spritzing her face with water, which I am willing to try, but would rather come up with a solution that doesn't involve me carrying extra equipment on all our walks.
Do you have some advice for stopping her barking on the leash? -- L.M., Reston, Virginia
DEAR L.M.: You have one of the more common and frustrating dog behaviors to deal with that comes with age -- some dogs become more assertive around full maturity, and being on a leash can make them feel more vulnerable or motivate them to be defensive of you, especially if you are pulling on the leash and expressing some fear, anxiety or annoyance, which your dog will sense.
Play it cool. Do not ever let go of the leash. Stop walking, and put your dog in the sit-on-command position; speak in a low, reassuring voice and reward with verbal praise and a freeze-dried treat for being still while the other dog walks by. Alternatively, put your dog into the heel position on a short leash with you between your dog and the other dog (a Gentle Leader over the muzzle may give you better control), and walk quickly past the other dog and walker saying "Hi" as you pass. Spritzing her face is not advisable, since it could make her more aggressive.
Continue to enjoy the dog park -- it's important to have a safe off-leash area where your dog can run and play with other dogs.
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