Heat may be to blame for pokey Boxer

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Q: I have a Boxer, who's only 4 and should be up for long walks. But our walks are getting slower and slower, and Gracie just drags, acts lethargic and stops to sniff more and more. We used to walk twice as far in half the time. I know she has me trained. What can I do to train her? -- F.K., Chicago, IL.

A: Chicago and much of the country have suffered record heat throughout most of the summer. Boxers are brachycephalic dog breeds, though they are among the most active of the breeds in this category. Brachycephalic breeds narrow have windpipes; the word comes the from the Greek "brachy" meaning short and "cephalic" which means head -- they all have those flat faces.

Other breeds in this category include the Boston Terrier, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and some pit bull-type mixes. While all dogs are susceptible to overheating in extreme heat, it's especially true for these breeds.

Sure, by using a favorite toy or treat, you can coax your dog to pick up the pace. You can take the dog's meal with you -- and pop dinner, kibble by kibble, into your dog's mouth as you walk. Gracie will be far more motivated to keep up.

However, I am seriously concerned about you doing this if it's over about 85 degrees. Gracie might simply be slowed down by the heat, and forcing her to go fast could cause her to overheat. By the way, high humidity makes matters worse for people, and dogs can suffer just as much.

I also wonder if there's something wrong with Gracie, perhaps an undetected injury or illness. If this behavior continues when the weather eventually cools off, speak with your veterinarian.

Q: There's an island of exotic plants with flowers to knock your eyes out right in the center of my emerald-green lawn. A little gray cat has decided to amuse himself my tossing the island bark on to the grass. I am completely upset about this. I tried a liquid fence spray (to deter the cat) but it works for only one night -- and if it rains, forget about it. Also, it's expensive and stinks up the garden. I don't know if I am smart enough to trap him. Do you know anything that will repel the cat? -- L. B., Las Vegas, NV.

A: Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies (a nonprofit advocacy organization for cats that has a special interest in feral cats and trap, neuter, return programs) says, "Based on your description this is an owned cat -- either lost or an indoor/outdoor cat belonging to some who likely lives nearby. Talk with your neighbors (who in turn will likely tell other neighbors) and see if you can learn whose cat this is. If you do, have a reasonable discussion."

Aside from not being very neighborly (if the cat is owned), little kitty is susceptible to attacks from other cats, coyotes, being hit by a car and long list of other potential hazards.

The problem with trapping a cat -- and I imagine you are smart enough to do so -- is you're gambling with this kitty's future. If the cat is indeed lost, and microchipped and registered, it could be reunited with a grateful family. If the cat is chipped and registered, and a neighbor is letting kitty outdoors, the cat will be returned, but likely to be let outdoors again the next day. If the cat is not chipped and registration is not up to date, the cat may be adopted but statistically even more likely be euthanized.

After all, what's this cat's real offense? Making a mess of your emerald-green lawn?

Here's an inexpensive solution offered by Robinson: Sprinkle used coffee grounds and/or lemon, lime and/or orange peels around the perimeter of the garden. Also take about a dozen chopsticks and break them in half; pound each piece into the soil, allowing about a quarter of an inch to stick up. By making the garden smell unappealing and unwelcoming to walk through, the cat might be dissuaded.

Simultaneously, make somewhere else more appealing. You can offer a bowl of kitty treats away from the island.

If this doesn't do the job, Robinson suggests a sprinkler with a motion sensor called the ScareCrow (available at some big box and hardware stores, and online). Whenever an object crosses the ScareCrow's path, the sprinkler goes on, whether it's a stray cat, a raccoon or any other animal.

Q: Our mutt scratches constantly. He doesn't have fleas. The veterinarian gives him cortisone shots, and then sends us on our way. So far, liver tests have showed the cortisone has done no harm, but the benefits only last a short time. We've tried an antihistamine, which has not helped. We have tried changing his diet, but we're not sure what to give him. We can use advice. -- K. C., Las Vegas, NV.

A: Veterinary dermatologist Dr. Karen Campbell at the University of Illinois, Urbana, says that if indeed a veterinarian has ruled out fleas and mites, then a food allergy might be a consideration. Here's what you do. Your veterinarian will suggest a hydrolyzed diet (a hypoallergenic diet) or a prescribe diet with a protein the dog hasn't likely consumed before (such as kangaroo or venison). You'll need to feed your dog that diet and that diet only (no treats or table food) for about eight weeks. "If that solves the problem, you continue feed the diet," Campbell says.

Another possibility is that your dog has inhalant allergies -- to, well, anything. "A dog can be allergic to all the same things we can," says Campbell,"from mold to even another pet."

Just as different antihistamine brands may work better in some people, the same is true for pets. "I am glad your veterinarian is keeping an eye on your dog's liver if your dog is regularly receiving cortisone," says Campbell. "While dogs can tolerate (the steroid), over the long term, regular cortisone use may cause liver problems or diabetes."

Allergy issues are complex and can be challenging to solve -- however, they typically can be treated with success. If your regular veterinarian is unable to help, a referral to a veterinary dermatologist might be a good idea.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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