PHOENIX, AZ -- These reader questions were answered by veterinary experts attending the annual American Animal Hospital Association Conference March 14-17, attended by over 2,100 veterinary professionals. AAHA is the only organization that accredits small animal hospitals throughout the U.S. and Canada. AAHA-accredited hospitals are evaluated regularly on approximately 900 quality-of-care standards defining excellence in veterinary medicine. Learn more at http://www.healthpet.com.
Q: I've begun to notice that our 10-year-old Shih Tzu's leg quivers when she lifts it to go to the bathroom. Is this a warning that something is wrong? -- R.M., Fort Lauderdale, FL
Since your dog isn't likely to replicate this particular behavior at the veterinary clinic, try to capture it on video, suggests Knutson, of Bloomington, MN
If indeed your dog is in pain, the next step, of course, is to determine why, which can only be done with a thorough examination.
Q: We took home a sweet kitten and nursed her back to health. She didn't even have a tail. However, when my grandson brought another kitten home a month later, the "sweet" kitten began attacking people. She became so mean that all the pets in the neighborhood are afraid of her. Could her meanness come from being spayed, or is this just her nature? -- C S., Mechanicsville, VA
A: "It's wonderful you took in these kittens, and spaying is the right thing to do," says feline veterinarian Dr. Ilona Rodan, of Madison, WI, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. "Spaying doesn't cause a cat to become mean. However, pain related or unrelated to the procedure might cause aggression. Some cats just don't like to be held and restrained. And most cats don't like to be forced to anything they don't want to do. Cats prefer to be in control of their environments."
Depending on how the second kitten was added to the household, the first kitten may have taken offense. This first kitten may also be persistently on edge or anxious, leading to the aggressive behavior.
A medical checkup seems prudent, and you may need to consult a cat behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org), a veterinarian interested in behavior (http://www.avsabonline.org), or a veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org) to pinpoint what's going on, or at least hear a more detailed description.
Q: Our 15-year-old Basenji-Labrador mix eats well, and seems lively in the morning, but he becomes sluggish later in the day. I'm also concerned that he's losing gobs of hair. What might be causing this? -- J.M., New Haven, CT
A: "It's hard to say for sure what's going with this dog, but definitely ask your veterinarian about a thyroid panel," says AAHA Board Member Dr. Aman Sukija, of Ormond Beach, FL. "Hypothyroid dogs may lose hair, as you describe, and often do slow down during the day. Other possibilities include diabetes or kidney disease (which blood tests can also help determine). The sluggishness could also be attributed to arthritis and/or cardiac disease.
Q: We got Bunny, our long-haired cat, from a rescue organization. She's not as shy as when we first adopted her (after working with her), and we're proud of that because she was originally found in a home with about 100 other cats. We think her unusual eating habits are the result of being in that environment, as she gorges herself. We've begun to feel her a quarter cup of food twice a day. Any advice about this problem? -- S.B., St. Paul, MIN
A: "You're right, there has always been competition for food," says Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. "Do attempt to slow down her eating."
For starters, if there are other cats in the home, start feeding each one individually. If possible, feed Bunny three to five times a day. Also, speak with your veterinarian about gradually introducing moist food into her diet. At each meal, divide the portion into two or three parts. Place the food on plastic food lids at different locations (above dog level, if there's a dog around). When you feed your cat kibble, put it on a plastic dinner plate (so the food is scattered) or in an egg carton (dropping some kibble into each hole). The idea is to slow down Bunny's eating.
Also, a wide variety of food-dispensing toys are available online and in pet stores. Examples include the Play 'n Treat Ball, Eggsercizer and the Slim Cat.
(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.)