Q: Our cat, Martha, loves our two children, Emily, 7 and Justin, who is 14. Justin enjoys taking off all his clothes after school and walks around completely naked. It’s common in South Florida for children to run around naked. I am concerned about the effect on Martha. Do cats blush around naked boys? When Justin is fully clothed, the cat has no problem letting him pet her. However, when he’s naked, Martha becomes shy. Justin is just not into clothes, so reasoning with him is out of the question. But our concern is for our cat. Can you help? T. G., Boynton Beach, FL
A: Cats do not blush, or care if we’re wearing clothes unless they have a reason to care. It’s rather curious that Martha the cat is fearful of Justin when he has no clothes on. Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of counseling at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York agrees. “I am concerned there could be inappropriate contact with the cat, or that somehow this cat is at the very least being threatened in some way by Justin when he’s wearing no clothes. There must be an explanation for his fearful response. The scene you describe of a 14-year old boy running around with no clothes, in general, and in front of his 7-year old sister, in particular, is not conventional, and probably inappropriate. I don’t know that it’s common for 14-year old boys to wear no clothes just because it is Florida. Presumably, you’re Justin’s father, and you wouldn’t have written if you didn’t sense something isn’t right. Start by having a conversation with the family pediatrician.”
Q: We accepted a second a chance dog from our local shelter. He’s a neat little guy, except for his habit of whining. When I took him to a training class, he was totally obnoxious with his continuous whining, which goes on when I take him anywhere. In the car, he’s goes crazy drooling and whining. I’ve tried ignoring the whining and spraying him with water. What else might you suggest? C. L., San Diego, CA
A: Assuming your neat little guy has had a comprehensive physical exam to rule out a physical problem, what you describe sounds like anxiety. Spraying water or hollering at the dog only increases your dog’s anxiety. “The dog won’t be able to pinpoint exactly what it is that you’re angry about,” says Dr. Rolan Tripp, a veterinarian with a special interest in behavior, and co-founder of www.animalbehavior.net.
Tripp says, “Right now, predicting your dog’s anxious responses, you become anxious and your dog picks up on that. It’s like that mirror in Coney Island which a distorted larger image comes back.”
Teach your dog to relax, start off when there are no distractions. When the dog is nice and relaxed, simply say “settle” and offer calm praise and a cookie. Very gradually, work up to using the command in increasingly stressful situations.
Tripp, who is in La Mirada, CA, says, “Clicker training is a more elegant and precise method, but it will require more work.”
Start off by teaching your dog that click from a clicker (available online at various sites, including www.clickertraining.com and at pet stores) means a treat. Begin by taking your dog into a situation where there’s only a low level of anxiety. And click the clicker when there’s even two seconds of no whining. Soon, you’ll click the clicker for five seconds of quiet, and then ten seconds. Over time, you’ll be able to shape a calmer response to situations which previously created anxiety.
Before entering any sort of situation where you can predict your dog will be stressed, make sure he’s had a good game of fetch. Exercise, and also chewing on a toy, are great stress relievers in dogs. Also, never offer any attention at all for the whining.
If you can’t begin to get a handle on your dog, Tripp says consult with your veterinarian about seeing a veterinary behaviorist who may prescribe an anti-anxiety drug. Certainly, you’re asking this question because the whining is annoying and embarrassing, but imagine how worried your dog constantly is. Life can be so much better for your little guy.
Q: Less than a year ago, my fabulous husband of 51 years died. And now, my adored cat is having diarrhea and throwing up. Naturally, I’ve seen my vet – and then the cat will get better for a while and then get sick all over again. She’s had a biopsy of her bowels and liver, ultrasounds and blood work. She’s been given various antibiotics, amitriptyline and prednisone and she’s on a prescription diet. I honestly can’t afford any more. I’m so sad and depressed. I do trust my vet, and like him. He finally told me my cat has irritable bowel syndrome. Now what? P. R., Henderson, NV
A: I can’t explain why these bad events happen in bunches. I am so sorry about your husband, and that your cat is now ill. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. “The good news is that it sounds like your veterinarian has done all the right things,” says Dr. Kevin Guilikers, an internal medicine specialist in Mesa, AZ. “Still, it might be time to get a referral to a specialist in internal medicine. For example, there are some new medications. I certainly would explain your financial constraints up front, and be specific about how much you can afford. As veterinarians, it’s our job to keep your pet healthy, and keep you and your pet together. Balancing that job with financial realities can be a challenge at times. About your cat, there may or may not be an identifiable underlying condition causing these symptoms. And it would be up to the specialist and a discussion with you about what’s done next. But in all likelihood something can be done, or at least tried. Having said that, this could be a problem which you’ll have to control to for the remainder of your cat’s life.”
Q: Tell me about using brewer’s yeast to get rid of the fleas. S. M., Charlotte, NC
A: Dr. Michael Dryden, veterinary parisitologist at Kansas Sate University College of Veterinary Medicine, Manhattan, says “This is totally illogical because brewer’s yeast is used in labs to grow fleas. Instead, ask your veterinarian to create a plan that will be safe and will effectively kill fleas.”