Dark pigmentation in cat's mouth likely a harmless sign of aging

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Q: Tigger, my 13-year-old cat, now has black pigment just inside the lower part of his mouth. Also, there's a clump of hair on his back; it's like gum stuck there, but I know that's not the case. I tried to wash the area, but that didn't help. What's going on? -- B.S., St. Paul, MN

A: "As cats age, a dark pigment in the mouth is normal, as long as it's flat," says Dr. Sheldon Rubin of Chicago. As for the lumpy area on Tigger's back, assuming something sticky hasn't dripped on the cat, it's either matted fur or possibly a ruptured cyst or tumor. Definitely, see your veterinarian, suggests Rubin.

Q: We adopted a 1-1/2-year-old Labrador from a local shelter. He's a high-strung dog and very active. We're concerned because he poops 4-5 times most days. His stool is formed, but sometimes like pudding. We've tried two different diets, but no change. For about 10 days, we added pumpkin and Metamucil to the diet, but still no change. This dog is very anxious, and moves from room to with me. Can dogs develop IBS (inflammatory bowel syndrome)? -- C.V., Cyberspace

A: "Dogs do certainly get inflamed bowels and colitis," says Dr. Jeff Werber, of Los Angeles, CA. Just as anxiety can cause bowel issues in people, the same is true for nervous dogs. With your veterinarian, first determine if your dog is truly anxious. (Many dogs shadow their people from room to room.)

If your dog seems more restless than most, Werber suggests asking your veterinarian about a supplement called Anxitane (L-theanine), which can help calm edgy pets, and an Adaptil collar (which emits a copy of a soothing pheromone). There's no downside to trying these products.

Werber says it possible your dog could be like a kid with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and Benadryl might encourage snoozing. Simultaneously, Werber suggests asking your veterinarian about a probiotic supplement; there are several for dogs, including FortiFlora. Meanwhile, don't give up on the pumpkin and Metamucil; it may take a bit more time to help.

While your dog is active, he may also benefit from an organized outlet for pent-up energy, such as a positive and fun dog training class, or one of the dog sports, such as nose sports (dogs learn to sniff out scents).

Werber says a dog having 4-5 bowel movements daily, particularly if they include loose stools, is not normal. If the advice given here doesn't help, there may be a medical problem, so contacting an internal medicine specialist makes sense.

Q: Babe, our 10-year-old cat, sometimes has loose bowels and her droppings are always stinky. Sometimes, she refuses to go in her large, clean litter box; instead, she'll go on the floor just outside the box. She does urinate in the box. Our veterinarian says there's nothing wrong. When we changed Babe's food, she didn't like the taste, so we returned to her original food.

This problem has been going on for two years. Recently, we lost two of our cats, including a 25-year-old tortie. Now, Babe is all alone and seems unhappy. Is there anything I can add to her food to help with the stool problem, or anything else you might suggest? -- M.F.S., Largo, FL

A: Dr. Vicki Thayer, president of the Winn Feline Foundation (a non-profit which funds cat health studies), says you could try adding a probiotic supplement called FortiFlora (available through veterinarians), or a human probiotic product called Culturelle (available at drug stores and online) to your cat's diet, or some all bran (about a teaspoon a day). Some cats benefit by adding some skinless chicken to their diet; the protein seems to regulate the tummy.

If you see a big improvement after using a supplement, great. Otherwise, understand that frequent tummy upset is as abnormal in cats as it is in people, so a visit to a veterinary internal medicine specialist might be a good idea.

As for those accidents outside the litter box, your cat's upset tummy may be the cause, says Thayer, of Lebanon, OR. If it hurts to defecate in the box, Babe may have learned to associate the box with pain. Generally, though, when cats do their business next to the litter box, they may be suggesting an aversion to the box itself (most cats prefer an uncovered box), the type of litter, or the fact that the box isn't being cleaned often enough.

Some cats spontaneously -- for reasons only they know -- decide to piddle in one litter box and want another box nearby to poop in. However, Thayer suspects your cat's litter box issues are related in some way to her gastrointestinal problems.

As for her loneliness, sometime down the road, you may want to adopt another cat.

Q: My 8-1/2-year-old Great Dane has started to chatter her teeth. Also, she's developed a strange quivering behavior and has started chewing the nails on her back feet. Over time, this behavior has intensified. Blood tests and x-rays showed nothing abnormal. Our veterinarians believe the problem is neurological. We give the dog pain medication for where she's chewing her nails. I don't think I can afford a referral to the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, which was suggested. Do you have any insights? -- C.V., via cyberspace

A: Chicago, IL-based veterinary neurologist Dr. Michael Podell suggested that your dog's problems may, indeed, point to a neurological issue called degenerative neuropathy.

"The congenital illness is somewhat common in some older giant-breed dogs, causing weakness, muscle wasting, weight loss and the type of chewing on paws you described," Podell says. Unfortunately, there's no real cure, but supportive care could potentially enhance your dog's quality of life. Ask your veterinarian about vitamin B-12 injections, and supplementation with human vitamin B complex, vitamin E and Coenzyme tabs.

It's important that you not jump to this diagnosis on your own; certainly other illnesses may be responsible for these symptoms, so please see your veterinarian again with the possibilities described here in mind.

(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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