Aging, separation anxiety could be factors behind pooch's odd behavior

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ORLANDO, FLA. -- These questions were answered by experts who attended the North American Veterinary Conference here Jan. 18-22:

Q: About two months ago, my 13-year-old Shiba Inu began to paw at one corner in my bedroom; now there's a hole in the carpet. We tried putting rugs over the hole, but she still paws there. Why? How can I stop her? -- P.C., Cyberspace

A: "If this problem is only occurring when you're not home, the cause may be separation anxiety," says Dr. Deborah Bryant, of Sartell, MN. "If that is the case, have a conversation with your veterinarian, and consider contacting a veterinary behaviorist."

Dr. Steve Brammeier, of St. Louis, MO, suggests you consider contacting an exterminator; there may be critters in the walls and/or under the floor boards in the bedroom -- and your dog knows it. Among the possibilities (depending on where you live) are mice and termites. "It really does happen," Brammeier says.

One easy potential solution is to keep your dog out of the bedroom, at least for several months. Perhaps, by the time you allow her back in, she'll have forgotten about her attraction to that corner. However, if something specific continues to draw her there, the problem will recur.

Dr. Bryant says that sometimes older dogs behave in inappropriate or odd ways, which can be an indication of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This condition is much like Alzheimer's disease in humans. If your dog stays awake overnight (perhaps wandering the house or vocalizing), periodically appears confused, forgets her favorite people, or has inexplicable accidents, these are additional clues. Please see your veterinarian.

Q: Our cat lives under our bed and she has diabetes. Our dog sneaks under there and eats the cat's food, which has medicine in it. How can we stop this? -- S.S., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Kate Knutson, Bloomington, MN-based president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says that aside from diabetes, your cat may also have a painful dental issue called tooth resorption (somewhat similar to a cavity).

"If the cat is diabetic, she likely requires insulin and monitoring of her blood sugar," says Knutson, who adds that many cats with diabetes (particularly when the condition is not treated as it should be) develop tooth resorption. Knutson is also concerned because your cat apparently isn't feeling well, which could account for the fact that she hides under the bed. The cat's quality of life has also declined; she's constantly worried that the stinky dog will scarf down her next meal.

For starters, keep your dog out of the bedroom. Encourage the cat to hop onto elevated places, perhaps a window ledge with a view, rather than diving under the bed. This will help her feel more confident. Although the cat would still be restricted to the bedroom, the hope would be that family members (except the dog) would spend more time there.

Plug in a Feliway diffuser in the bedroom, which emits a copy of a calming pheromone.

Once the cat starts eating regularly, appears less fearful, and the diabetes and any other medical issues are under control, start slowly re-introducing the two pets. However, never put your cat in a position where she must defend her food against the dog; feed her with the bedroom door closed, and the dog on the other side.

Q: My 17-year-old cat is now alone for the first time in over 14 years. I adopted three cats from our local humane society, and he was the middle cat. The other two cats have now passed away, and Hunter appears lonely. At first, he didn't seem to care that the other cats were gone, but now he seems bothered, although he continues to eat well and sometimes does play. Any advice? -- M.C., Eagan, MN

A: "I'm very sorry to hear about your two cats," says Vancouver, Canada-based feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, editor of Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. "First, see your veterinarian to insure there is no medical explanation - and at 17 years, the reality is that it's a distinct possibility."

Scherk continues, "Once you rule that out, find something your old cat can interact with. Try an IPad." Scherk isn't suggesting that your cat learn accounting software or send email, but there are apps available with games specifically for cats. Playing a few games a day might be enough to replace your cat's interaction with his friends.

If this plan fails, consider adopting two kittens. In general, kittens are easier for older cats to accept because they're less threatening than adult cats. However, all that energy can be annoying to an old-timer. That's the theory behind getting two kittens; they can play with one another and not pester the 17-year old. However, they would associate with the older cat, providing companionship.

Q: Our usually healthy female, spayed cockapoo has been leaving puddles on the floors for a month. Although she had no signs of a urinary infection, our veterinarian gave her antibiotics anyway. The problem has continued, however, whether we're home or not. The veterinarian suggested kidney stones, but my research suggests hormonal incontinence. Any advice? -- G. B., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Ernie Ward agrees that the problem may, indeed, be estrogen dependent (or hormonal) incontinence. "Still, it's important that your veterinarian rule out various problems, ranging from kidney stones to Cushings disease (overproduction of the hormone cortisol), or diabetes," he says.

Ward, of Calabash, N.C., says that if the problem does turn out to be estrogen dependent incontinence, ask your veterinarian about an ultra-low dose of estrogen replacement or a drug called phenylpropanolamine, which increases the tone of the urethral sphincter.

(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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