Q: Our two cats are constantly chewing and eating pieces of plastic grocery bags, and sometimes they swallow other inedible objects. Thank goodness the (plastic) pieces pass after a day or two. The cats crave plastic. We haven't made a trip to the vet yet, because of this, but we worry that it's just a matter of time before we wake up to find one or both cats dead. Any suggestions? -- K.L., Cyberspace
A: You have good reason to become a freakishly neat housekeeper. Of course, prevention helps. Avoid plastic bags by shopping with cloth bags. You'll be more environmentally friendly, too.
Whatever the explanation, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz, of St. Louis, MO, suggests: "Offer the cats a chance to forage. Feed them (at least a portion of their food) from food-dispensing toys instead of from food bowls. Hide food in different places around the house. Offer a kitty garden; many cats do like to chew and cat grasses are safe."
Consider asking your veterinarian about CET dental chews, or for a sample of canine dental food (which some cats will eat and others may not, so try a sample first). The products will be beneficial to your cats' teeth, and will also give them an opportunity to chew.
Q: We're reluctant to give our 3-year-old Shih Tzu heartworm medication because of all those side effects. We're thinking of stopping it. We live in the city and don't visit the park; our dog spends a lot of time in our yard. What do you think? -- K.J., Cyberspace
A: "Absolutely, this is wrong," begins Dr. Ernie Ward, of Calabash, NC. "The benefits of heartworm preventatives far outweigh any potential chance of an adverse affect. And if there are side effects, which again are rare, most often it's diarrhea or vomiting, which go away. If a pet gets heartworm, the disease doesn't just go away. The treatment (for heartworm) is no fun and has the potential for side effects. And treatment is expensive. Prevention is best."
Mosquitoes transmit heartworm, so where there are mosquitoes, there's likely heartworm. Whether you live in the big city or not doesn't matter; mosquitoes like urban life, too. And with your dog spending lots of time in the yard, it seems your dog is even more susceptible to mosquitoes.
Q: I have a 95-pound black Labrador mix and two cats, and I'm struggling to find an apartment. This is an awful place to be in. I don't want to give my family away. Any advice? -- M.O., Cyberspace
A: I hope you don't give your family away. Sometimes it takes a bit of detective work to uncover an apartment in a neighborhood that makes sense for you, particularly to accommodate a large dog. In some cases, it may help to write a "resume" for your dog, include any training the dog has had, and perhaps that your pet passed the Canine Good Citizen test (a standardized test offered by trainers around the country).
Ask around. People with dogs all live somewhere. Some so-called pet-friendly places do allow dogs, but are otherwise pretty unfriendly, forcing dog owners to jump through hoops and pay an extra, non-refundable security deposit. Be careful about not jumping in too fast.
There are many national online services, including http://www.apartmentguide.com, http://www.rent.com, and http://www.rentsocial.com, which all list pet-friendly apartments. In larger communities, there are bricks-and-mortar apartment finding agencies, which include pet-friendly listings.
Q: We adopted Misty, a Pomeranian mix, because a neighbor was going to take her to the pound. He mentioned that Misty was afraid of big trucks. He didn't mention that she was afraid of all loud noises, inside and outdoors. If I drop something in the house, Misty runs and hides. If she hears a loud noise outside, she won't go potty outside and relieves herself in our bathroom instead. I'm so frustrated I'm nearly in tears. Our vet suggested a doggie psychiatrist. Any advice? -- E.S., Seminole, FL
A: I imagine by "doggie psychiatrist," your veterinarian meant a veterinary behaviorist, and a consultation would be a good idea.
Offering general advice is Chicago veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi. What likely happened is that the dog was afraid of one or two noises, but began to generalize about any loud noises, he notes. Anticipating the noise, your poor dog's world has become more and more narrow and scary.
Ciribassi, an editor of the upcoming book "Decoding Your Dog," by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (and myself as contributing editor), from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (New York, NY, 2014; $27), says, "For a dog this bad off, it's impossible to change the emotional response without help. An anti-anxiety medication will allow Misty's system to relax so she's not literally in panic mode all the time. Once the medication is working, you can go about dealing with life as Misty knows it -- gradually."
Outside, begin by controlling the time of day you take Misty for walks, or the location (away from loud noises). Indoors, you can drop things on purpose many rooms away and behind closed doors, gradually moving the noise closer to Misty, offering treats or games as distractions.
Consult a veterinary behaviorist at http://www.dacvb.org.
(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.)