DEAR DR. FOX: My old cat is suffering from hyperesthesia syndrome. Are there any home remedies that I can try for him? -- M.K., St. Louis
DEAR M.K.: Hyperesthesia syndrome is as yet a condition of unknown cause and is not uncommon in cats. It is associated with agitation and anxiety, with the skin rippling and the cat becoming hypersensitive to touch during an episode.
In all cases, I would advise the veterinarian to check first for hyperactive thyroid, which can bring on somewhat similar symptoms -- especially when the cat pulls on its fur and engages in self-mutilation.
Wrapping the cat in a towel while comforting and cradling it can help during an episode. Some people have found that giving the cat dried catnip herb can also have a calming effect. An approximate dose of 1/4 teaspoon of dried catnip in the morning and early evening may help, although some cats don't respond to catnip.
At bedtime, I would also give 1 to 3 mg of melatonin. If you have difficulty pilling your cat, crush the tablet in a little canned sardine.
Your veterinarian may wish to prescribe Prozac, which can help alleviate anxiety, or low-dose Gabapentin. Also discuss a nutraceutical supplement to increase brain serotonin, such as tryptophan or L-theanine.
I would also strongly advise feeding your cat a good-quality canned, frozen or freeze-dried cat food that's free of corn and other cereals and of additives, especially coloring agents and preservatives. Or try my home-prepared cat food recipe, found on my website, which has helped improve the health of countless cats over the years. (For more information, go to drfoxvet.net.)
DEAR DR. FOX: I have adopted a cat that's neutered and is said to be about 10 months old. I love him, and he likes to be petted, but at night he goes wild. He races through my apartment, and I have to take all breakable items out of his reach -- even those on high shelves and on my dresser. He will even hide somewhere and then rush out and attack my ankles when I walk by.
Will he grow out of it? Should I spray water on him when he gets wild? I am thinking of taking him back to the shelter if this continues. -- A.M., Fort Myers, Florida
DEAR A.M.: Your young cat will become more sedate and less playful with age and possibly obese with insufficient indoor activity. That is one reason why I advise people to keep two cats so they can play with each other and, like ours, race through the house at night during their "evening crazies."
My first cat, Igor, would ambush me when I bent down and then jump on my back to playfully "kill" me. Your cat needs a cat like Igor!
In the interim, engage in some interactive games with your cat such as chasing a laser light or a feather on a string. Some cats will even chase and retrieve small balls of aluminum foil or string, but be sure all such toys are safe and loose threads or other materials are not swallowed. You can even try playing hide-and-go-seek with your cat.
CURIOUS MECHANIAL ENGINEERS DISCOVER HOW CATS' TONGUES TICK
Cats' tongues have tiny, hollow, hook-shaped papillae that wick saliva into fur, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings, reported by a team of mechanical engineers, could lead to new cleaning methods or ways to apply medicines, says lead researcher Alexis Noel. (From the Associated Press via NBC News, Nov. 19.)
AVMA BOARD CONTINUES TO OPPOSE DEVOCALIZATION, EXCEPT AS LAST RESORT
The AVMA board of directors decided not to update the organization's stance on canine devocalization, which should be performed only "by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative to euthanasia after behavioral modification to correct excessive vocalization has failed and after discussion of potential complications from the procedure with the owner." The AVMA's Animal Welfare Committee recommended reaffirming the policy and developing educational resources for veterinarians and owners of dogs that exhibit undesirable barking. (From JAVMA News, Dec. 12.)
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