DEAR DR. FOX: Here on the East Coast, we have been suffering through excessively high temps and stifling humidity for the last two weeks or so. Due to these weather conditions, my two 5-year-old Havanese, Birdie and Bogey, are offered much shorter, more frequent walks to compensate for the prolonged walks that aren’t currently possible. (The fact that this breed is said to originate from hot, humid Cuba, yet does not tolerate these climatic conditions, borders on the nonsensical.)
The issue I am having is related to the behavior that Bogey has been exhibiting since the onset of these extreme weather conditions: namely, a compulsive need to lick his abdomen. I am wondering if this behavior can be attributable to heat stress.
I have examined the area closely and see no evidence of a rash, fleas or bug bites. There is no loss of hair, no redness. Thinking that this licking may be heat-related stress, I have placed a cold, damp cloth on his abdomen and held Bogey in my arms, inverted, in an effort to comfort him. Regardless, he resumes licking once he is put back on the floor. I have also bathed him a couple times, using a gentle shampoo that has anti-itching properties, which seems to be beneficial but has not remedied the compulsion.
The other odd behavior that he has recently been exhibiting is exaggerated panting -- not during a walk, but hours after he has concluded a gentle walk and has been at rest in an air-conditioned house. The onset of this heavy panting is preceded by a long period of deep sleep. He wakes up in a heavy pant. These dogs live in what I would describe as a stress-free environment.
As for possible allergies, their diet has not changed. I am mindful of the harmful effects caused by lawn pesticides, and am vigilant to minimize their exposure. Neither dog is overweight. Their weight does not fluctuate. Bowls of water are always available. The dogs are free to roam the house at all times to find the most comfortable spot to rest.
Lastly, several months ago, Bogey had a medical emergency that required surgery. When his blood was tested during pre-op procedures, neither pre-diabetes nor diabetes were present. The lab work showed that he was in excellent health. -- T.R., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR T.R.: Dogs will develop compulsive disorders and behaviors when they are in chronic discomfort. Since possible allergies and skin inflammation seem out of the picture, I would have your veterinarian check your dog’s thyroid and adrenal function. He could, for instance, be developing abnormal thyroid activity, Cushing’s disease or another health problem that makes him pant because he feels hot, or because he feels some discomfort that makes him anxious, leading him to pant and lick his tummy. It may also have something to do with post-surgical complications following the medical emergency, which your veterinarian can determine.
Environmental triggers can also be involved in affecting his behavior, such as the sound of a window air conditioner starting up or the sound of you leaving the house, triggering separation anxiety. A cooling pad for him on the floor and a light dose of alprazolam or trazodone prescribed by the attending veterinarian may be the most expedient first step. Keep me posted!
CONFIRMING THE ORIGIN OF THE DOMESTIC CAT
My assertion over 40 years ago in my book “Understanding Your Cat” -- that all our house cats, with the obvious exception of recent wildcat hybrids, are descendants of the North African desert cat, Felis lybica -- has been recently confirmed and refined.
An international team of scientists recently published their analysis of DNA from cats that lived between 8000 B.C. and the 20th century in the Near East, Africa and Europe in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution (2017). Their findings indicate that the first descendants of the now renamed Felis silvestris lybica, a regional subspecies of wildcat, came from two distinct wildcat populations. The first evolved in the Middle East and spread to Europe as early as 4400 B.C. A separate lineage of the domestic cat came out of Egypt, spreading to the Middle East and Europe from the fifth century on. Sedentary agrarian communities welcomed them as natural rodent controllers and crop/harvest protectors.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.
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