DEAR DR. FOX: My 12-year-old cat eats grass -- I mean like a sheep eats grass! She eats it for about 15 minutes every day when I take her out in our enclosed backyard.
She always ate some grass, but seems to do so constantly now. A hairball shows up every third day or so. I've tried hairball products, but she hates them so much that she spits them out or vomits them up almost immediately. Do you have any advice on this? -- S.N., Washington, D.C.
DEAR S.N.: Your cat is displaying her biological wisdom, consuming a small amount of "cat tonic" grass, and I wish that more cats had such opportunity. A few pots of sprouting wheatgrass for indoor cats can be a daily delight.
Like dogs and other animals, cats will eat grass and various herbs when they feel the urge, which may be stomach or intestinal irritation from a hairball or parasites, or nausea from chronic liver, kidney or other health issues. Such behavior may be innate and reinforced by the animal feeling better after consuming the selected plant. I have also seen puppies and kittens engaging in observational learning, trying out eating grass after seeing their mothers or an older animal munching away.
This behavior calls for caution: Cats nibbling on lilies and other potentially harmful plants put themselves at risk, possibly because they want to eat something green like grass, which is safe. As for manufactured cat foods and treats that are supposed to help rid the cat of hairballs in the stomach, I would go for the grass instead. For some cats, a teaspoon of fresh catnip or cat mint herb will evoke vomiting. For cats with a hairball problem, this can be a good weekly purging if the sprouted grass does not trigger emesis (vomiting).
DEAR DR. FOX: We lost our beloved 17-year-old cat just before Thanksgiving. Now that the holidays are over, we are thinking of adding to the family again.
We are a family of four with two children ages 3 and 9. The cat that passed away was an “only child” from the time she came home, but we have read that two kittens can adapt better than one. What do you recommend? -- L.T., Fargo, North Dakota
DEAR L.T.: I strongly urge that people keep two cats rather than just one cat, who is likely to be alone in the home all day, becoming bored, depressed, obese, anxious and stressed by becoming hypervigilant in the empty place.
Ideally, adopt kitten littermates. They will already be bonded. Otherwise, adopt one young cat and then introduce the second following the steps posted on my website article “Introducing a New Cat” (in your case, a second cat).
I urge all people with just one cat to consider doing this. Socially bonded cats care for each other, grooming and playing and being generally more active and healthier than those who live just with people.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have a situation that you have probably seen before, but we haven't.
We adopted a 7-year-old poodle from an animal shelter about a year ago. He is a joy to have, well behaved, friendly -- we love him. We have worked with him on housebreaking and have found out he was in the shelter because he wouldn't potty-train for his former owners.
When we are gone, and even when we are home, he goes into the carpeted bedroom and urinates. We take him out often and reward him for good behavior. Sometime he gives a signal that he wants to go out, but most of the time he sneaks into the carpeted bedroom and does his thing.
We won’t give up on this little guy; however, we would like to solve this problem. -- B.P., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR B.P.: This is a place-fixation habit that is not easy to break. Your dog may be choosing the bedroom carpet to mark as a way of affirming his bond with you, just as a dog will often urinate over the urine mark of a buddy dog. Such "marking over," as I call it, is a way of giving a signal to other dogs that "we are together." Some degree of anxiety or insecurity may be an additional motivating factor.
If making your bedroom inaccessible to the dog during the day or laying down a sheet of plastic to try to break the habit does not work, discuss with your veterinarian -- after ruling out any question of cystitis and chronic kidney disease -- about prescribing a short course of treatment with Prozac.
But first, I would try the natural supplement called @-Eaze, which can help take the edge off an anxiety condition with elements of compulsive behavior and help calm your dog. For details, visit petzlife.com -- and keep me posted on your results!
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.)