DEAR DR. FOX: You asked if others have cats with creative play habits.
Our black and brown tabby has always played fetch. She often initiates the game by bringing my husband and me one of her mouse toys, which we call her “babies.” She has several in a small basket, and when she wants to play, she drops one near our feet and yowls -- in her youth, she merely chirped -- to let us know it’s time to play. Her favorite fetching activity is for us to throw it down the stairs. I used to call her “acro-cat” because she twisted and turned in the air as she chased her babies!
At almost 19, she is no longer acro-cat, but she still initiates play and chases her babies a few times down the stairs before lying down to rest. When she was younger, I think her record was a dozen trips up and down the stairs before stopping to rest!
Thanks for letting me sing the praises of Medora Grace. She’s been a wonderful gift to us. -- R.W., Fargo, North Dakota
DEAR R.W.: Thanks for sharing the game your cat has taught you to play.
Over the years, I have found that when people let go of all expectations about what their animals might enjoy doing, and simply try one game or activity after another, the animals will tell them what sparks their interest. They may even invent their own games.
This can take on a ritualistic nature, as with our part-Australian red heeler dog, Kota, rescued from the local shelter. She flatly refuses to play ball or retrieve anything, but waits for her chewy treat to be thrown for her so she can make a big deal about repeatedly pouncing on it before she eventually chomps down.
As part of their personality, animals will sometimes develop unique games or playful ways of interacting. Kota does a rather disconcerting snap at your face when she is in a playful mood. A rescued dog from an earlier time in our lives, Lizzie, would desperately run around to find a toy whenever we had a visitor.
Years ago, my Siamese cat, Igor, who was a great retriever, elaborated his own ambush game with me at night. He would arch his back in a threatening way as he approached me, then I would bend down and he would leap on my back and go for a ride around the apartment! He would always touch my nose in bed to wake me up just before the alarm went off, and if I refused to get up, would knock off whatever was on my bedroom dresser to get my attention.
DEAR DR. FOX: My precious 10-year-old papillon dog died suddenly last Friday.
I took her to the 24-hour vet at 4 a.m. because she was in distress. They told me she had a heart murmur, and she died minutes later. The evening before was completely normal: She ate her dinner, was playful and went to bed as usual, but woke up later, unable to settle down.
As I looked back over the last couple of weeks, I remember a time when my alpha dog was lagging behind during our walk. I didn’t think anything about it at the time. Also, I had noticed a slight cough a few times, and thought I should mention it to the vet on her next visit. Then a couple of days before she died, I saw her panting when there was no reason.
I wish I had known these things were an indication she had a heart issue. Apparently a heart murmur can occur at any time. Her death was such a shock, both to me and to her vet. I was assured that nothing could have been done to help her, but I wish I would have been more prepared for her death. She will be in my heart forever!
Please let other pet owners know to be aware of the subtle changes to watch for. -- J.M.A., Ballwin, Missouri
DEAR J.M.A.: You have my deepest sympathy over this sudden and unexpected loss of your beloved canine companion.
Your veterinarian was as surprised as you, and this is the challenge dealing with animals who cannot speak to us; their symptoms may not be evident prior to an acute, sudden-onset instance of heart failure. No one is to blame, least of all you.
PET FOOD AND TREAT ISSUES
-- The J.M. Smucker Company announced a limited, voluntary recall of specific lots of two varieties of Milo’s Kitchen dog treats, distributed nationally, because the products potentially contain elevated levels of beef thyroid hormone. Dogs consuming high levels of beef thyroid hormone may exhibit symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, weight loss, increased heart rate and restlessness.
-- Consumers in Minnesota, California and Florida are suing Champion Pet Food (Acana and Orijen) for false advertising, violations of “feed law” and numerous other charges. The lawsuit includes results of heavy-metal testing and data that this dry dog food contains BPA: a chemical typically not associated with dry/kibble pet foods. (More info at truthaboutpetfood.com.)
-- After news broke that nine Australian police dogs became ill with a rare disease -- megaesophagus, possibly triggered by urea/carbamide in the food -- consumers began reporting pets were suffering the same illness, linked to the same dog food: Advance Dermocare manufactured by Mars Petcare AU. The Australian pet food has been recalled.
(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.)