DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 14-year-old male rescue cat and have had him for 10 years. Recently, when I am asleep or get up to use the bathroom, he has started to violently attack and bite me. Sometimes when I am sound asleep, he bites my face, legs and arms.
I am wondering why he is doing this. My retired husband, who is always home, may be away for a while. Could the cat be mad that he is gone? Also, are cat bites as bad as dog bites? Should I be seeking medical treatment for them? -- B.L., Fairfield, Connecticut
DEAR B.L.: Your very disturbed cat needs to be put in a carrier and taken to a veterinarian immediately for a full evaluation. That is, if he is not simply biting you gently to get your undivided attention for petting or play. You may need help doing this, so call your nearest veterinary hospital and discuss the situation with people there.
I am not clear from your communication if the cat suddenly began reacting this way when your husband left you alone with him. If so, the cat may have bonded with him and is now fearful in his absence. Surely, he has a strong bond of affection for you after all these years, so I suspect, considering his age, this could be a sign of dementia or another physical condition causing fear or anxiety.
Has the cat been allowed outdoors? If so, the worst-case scenario is rabies. In that case, the cat should be quarantined for observation rather than killed to determine if his brain has the virus, which you may develop if any of his bites penetrated your skin. When was your cat's last anti-rabies vaccination?
A rabies surveillance in the United States published last month in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that of the 21,187 cats submitted for rabies testing in 2017, 276 (1.3 percent) were confirmed rabid, a 7.4 percent increase from 2016. Most cats were infected with a rabies strain carried by raccoons, while a few others were infected with the strain carried by skunks.
Most infections reported in humans come from bites by infected bats, raccoons and dogs. If your skin has been broken, you should go to the hospital for treatment.
Good luck and keep me posted.
DEAR DR. FOX: My son's dog, Charlie, a 5-year-old golden retriever, attacks my daughter and me when we visit. He will come over to us all of a sudden and start "humping." My son yells at Charlie when he does this and makes him stay in his cage.
Charlie does not do this with those who live with him, only visitors. I am 83 years old and handicapped. I use a walker and am afraid of being knocked over and hurt. Any advice would be appreciated. -- H.S., Boynton Beach, Florida
DEAR H.S.: Yelling at a dog who is excited when there are visitors and then putting him in a cage is no solution. This will only increase his anxiety and general excitement, which should have been nipped in the bud at an early age with proper socialization and education. Like most young dogs, Charlie should have been taught how to behave around visitors and exercise self-control.
I am sure you feel like you are being attacked, but this is normal, playful, non-aggressive canine behavior, which will wane once he gets over the excitement of your arrival and that of other visitors. Your son should not yell and cage Charlie, but at least make an effort to leash-train him to sit and stay, and to have him restrained on the leash when visitors come, until his excitement subsides. Such over-arousal makes me wonder how much attention, physical activity and stimulation Charlie gets on a regular basis. If he is confined much of the time, then that issue needs to be addressed.
Alternatively, he could be a "perpetual puppy" who wants to play with exciting new people whenever the opportunity arises. This can be blamed on both genetics and overly permissive treatment when he was a pup, where he never learned to respect boundaries and to not jump up or engage in playful humping. This can also have an element of social dominance or sexual arousal in some dogs; a certified canine behavioral therapist could help your son achieve better control of Charlie.
FEEDING CATS PROPERLY
Serious health and behavioral problems can arise when cats living in one-cat or multiple-cat homes are not fed with an understanding of how to minimize stress and overeating while still getting adequate nutrition.
These are all-too-common issues, an understanding of which is essential for optimal feline well-being. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has produced a consensus statement and excellent brochure on this subject. Cat caregivers and veterinarians alike will find this material most informative, and it may help many cats enjoy better lives. Go to catvets.com/howtofeedcats.
(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.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)