LAS VEGAS, NV -- These reader questions were answered by experts attending the Western Veterinary Conference here Feb. 16-20.
Q: One of our cats suffered with separation anxiety, leaving puddles on our shoes whenever we left the house. This problem was solved with the arrival of our little tomcat. The two now cuddle and groom one another, but early in the morning they fight; this happens an hour or two before we get up (or want to get up). I'm gone 11-12 hours a day, and have limited time to play with the cats.
A: "You are so right, these cats are probably sleeping all day, so let's find a way to keep them busy," says feline veterinarian Dr. Susan Little, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, editor and co-author of "The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management" (Elsevier/Saunders Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 2011; $180).
"Get yourself a pair of timed feeders. It could be the cats are anticipating food in the morning, hence their focus on waking you up. Set the feeders to deliver food in the morning, and their focus will hopefully turn to the feeders." Also, set the feeders to deliver a meal during the day when you're not home.
You could also teach your cats to roll around treat-dispensing balls and use food puzzles. Eventually, you could hide the puzzles with about 10 percent of your cats' daily food allotment in various places around the house so they must "hunt" to find their reward -- providing another activity when you're away.
Your cats also need more opportunities to play during the day, so think toys. Just remember, having lots of toys isn't as important as rotating toys. Playthings can be simple, from wine corks to milk carton tops, ping pong balls in the bathtub to catnip in an empty box.
"Feeding a meal before bedtime might also help," adds Little. "The essence is that these cats need more to do."
Sometimes even negative attention, such as a spritz of water (which could be interpreted as a game) or hollering only reinforces a cat's behavior. In any case, those strategies aren't helping.
Try to carve out more time spend with your pets. Cats should never be ignored. Surely you can find 10 minutes a day to play with them. The best bet would be two play sessions per day, each five minutes long using an interactive toy, such as a fishing pole-type toy.
For more info on enriching your cat's environment, check out The Indoor Pet Initiative: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/
Q: Our 5-pound Yorkie licks everything. Our veterinarian says this is a nervous habit. She licks herself, her bedding, the floor, the furniture and her toys. We don't like the option of anti-anxiety medications. Any advice? -- J. B., via cyberspace
A: Dr. Kate Knutson, of Bloomington, MN, says the first thing she'd do is take a look in your pup's mouth.
"Periodontal disease is painful, and the dogs lick. Soon, it also becomes a habit. I see this in all dogs, but most commonly in small dogs," she notes.
Knutson, president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says another common cause of persistent licking is nausea. She suggests full-mouth x-rays, blood work and a thorough physical exam.
Meanwhile, enrich your dog's environment. Create activities your Yorkie can enjoy when you're away. Leave food or treats in puzzles, available at pet stores and online. Also, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise.
Only when all possible medical explanations are ruled out does a compulsive behavior, or "nervous habit," become a real possibility that might benefit from anti-anxiety medication. Still, there's no magic pill. A referral to a veterinary behaviorist makes sense with this diagnosis.
Learn more about compulsive behaviors in dogs in the new book "Decoding Your Dog," co-edited by myself, Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi, authored by members the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27).
Q: My boyfriend and I have two cats, Tony and Norbert. Tony has had frequent hairballs for some time. My vet says nothing is wrong, but I don't believe Tony's constant vomiting is normal. Now, both cats are puking all over the place! What's going on? -- M.D., Minneapolis, MN
A: Dr. David Twedt, an internal medicine specialist at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Fort Collins, says the vomiting you describe is, indeed, not normal, and something is wrong.
"Starting with the obvious: Brush your cats' (coats) daily," says Twedt. "Additionally, ask your veterinarian about hairball medications. If that doesn't help, consider a referral to a (veterinary) specialist in internal medicine. There may a dietary food allergy, and because this is common, perhaps both cats have the same problem. Also, do your best to rule out that the cats are getting into something they shouldn't, such as eating plants."
(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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