DEAR DR. FOX: What is your opinion about the new "smart collars" being marketed for dogs and cats? They link to a smartphone, track location with GPS and can monitor the animal's activity and well-being (heart rate, respiration etc.). -- B.K., Washington, D.C.
DEAR B.K.: I am, in principle, opposed to such devices. They are no substitute for close personal observation and attention, and could be used as an excuse to let cats wander outdoors.
My primary concern about the use of such devices on animals relates to the potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic field generation and nonionizing radiation, especially around the neck -- close to the animals' brains and over the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Every living body, whether plant or animal, has a bioelectrical field, which could be disrupted by anthropogenic sources of electricity. Decades of research have revealed that almost every cell in the body has a tiny voltage. Sparks of electricity help with the development of embryos by controlling the placement of eyes and limbs.
For details, see the recently published study "Bioelectricity of non-excitable cells and multicellular pattern memories: Biophysical modeling" by J. Cervera, M. Levin and S. Mafe (Physics Reports, March 2023). Another notable and relevant study is "Low-level EMF effects on wildlife and plants: What research tells us about an ecosystem approach" by B. Blake Levitt, Henry C. Lai and Albert M. Manville (Public Health, November 2022).
The abstract of the latter study provides a good overview:
"There is enough evidence to indicate we may be damaging nonhuman species at ecosystem and biosphere levels, across all taxa, from rising background levels of anthropogenic nonionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF). ... The focus of this Perspective paper is on the unique physiology of nonhuman species, their extraordinary sensitivity to both natural and anthropogenic EMF, and the likelihood that artificial EMF in the static, extremely low frequency and radiofrequency ranges of the nonionizing electromagnetic spectrum are capable, at very low intensities, of adversely affecting both fauna and flora in all species studied. Any existing exposure standards are for humans only; wildlife is unprotected, including within the safety margins of existing guidelines, which are inappropriate for trans-species sensitivities and different nonhuman physiology."
DEAR DR. FOX: I care for an 11-year-old tuxedo cat named Cosmo. He found me when he was 4 or 5 weeks old and is obviously of feral stock. He is healthy except that he has Horner syndrome, which was triggered when we had roofing work done three years ago. (He is a very sensitive cat, and everything terrifies him.)
He has recovered for the most part, but still shakes his head and rubs his right ear frequently. He will go a couple days without shaking his head, then have several days of periodic shaking and rubbing. We have had him examined twice for possible ear infections with negative results. His ears are clean, and the issue is only on his right, which was the side that showed symptoms of Horner syndrome.
I have researched how to manage it, but the literature is silent on this issue. Would you please give me some insight as to how to manage this? -- B.R., Naples, Florida
DEAR B.R.: The cardinal signs of Horner syndrome are: a drooping eyelid; the eyeball set deeper in the socket; the third eyelid coming over part of the eye; a slightly smaller pupil. All these are signs of damage to the sympathetic nerve deep in the neck. This nerve is sometimes damaged when surgery is done to remove a cancerous thyroid gland or when a tumor, such as a schwannoma, develops around the nerve. In some cases, a deep ear infection could be the cause.
In Cosmo's case, the nerve could have been damaged by him running hard into a solid object while frightened from the noise of your roof repair. As a timid cat, he may have had no protective instinct to just go and hide or come to you for comfort and security. Alternatively, Cosmo could have had a stroke.
Whatever the cause, given the long duration of his neurologic problem, he is sadly unlikely to recover. A low daily maintenance dose of gabapentin and/or L-theanine may help reduce his anxiety when he has his head-shaking spells. Discuss this with your veterinarian. Also, a therapeutic massage session morning and evening, as per my book "The Healing Touch for Cats," should help.
From personal experience with this condition after a near-fatal car accident, I would add "dry eye" and "dry ear" to the list of symptoms. You may find your cat is more comfortable after having long-acting eye drops put in twice daily. Every other day, put a few drops of organic olive oil in the affected ear using a dropper or a soaked cotton ball.
Cat owners should learn from Cosmo's reactions to find a safe, quiet place to put their timid cats when strangers come into the home -- or work outdoors -- and make a lot of noise. Simply staying with such cats in the quietest room in the home, with music playing as a buffer for any sudden sounds, can help. If the noise will continue for a considerable time, consider boarding the cat away from home. However, boarding can be very stressful for such cats, so it is a toss-up.
(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 DrFoxOneHealth.com.)