Answering Reader Questions at AVMA Convention


SAN DIEGO, CA — These questions were answered by experts attending the Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Aug. 3-7 at the San Diego Convention Center.

Q: My 5-year-old black Labrador is sneezing. It’s like he needs a tissue. Is this the flu? What can we do? Should we just wait this out? — D.R., Cyberspace

A: There is flu specific to dogs. Dr. Mark Russak, Starkville, MS-based president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says the Canine Influenza Virus has several distinct signs, including a nasal discharge, cough and general lethargy. Many dogs with the flu run a fever.

While in most instances dogs get better on their own, some do worsen and develop pneumonia, and in rare cases die of the flu. Where dog flu is prevalent, and for dogs with a social lifestyle, it’s a good idea to ask your veterinarian about the vaccine for dog flu.

“Whether or not your dog has the flu is hard to say,” says Russak. “It might also mean your dog has bordetella (kennel cough). If your dog is scratching at his nose, it might even mean something has gotten up in the nasal cavity. Potentially, allergies are also possible. In any case, if the signs haven’t gone away by the time you read this, see your veterinarian.”


Q: We have two cats, Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock has a potty problem. He sometimes would poop outside the litter box, but now he’s completely stopped using the box. Instead, he uses a fabric chair, which I have to wash and then dry with a hairdryer. He’s also used my bed. Clearly, I’m desperate for advice! Can you help?. — H.M., Lawrenceville, VA

A: It’s been long rumored that the actors who portrayed Kirk and Spock on “Star Trek” didn’t get along in real life. Maybe the same is true in your house. Sometimes it’s clear cats that aren’t best buddies, but sometimes the tension between two cats may be harder to spot.

“If the cats are having a problem, you might need some hands-on help,” says Dr. Sally Foote, of Tuscola, IL. “For sure, you need one more litter box than the number of cats in the home, and you might even consider a fourth box. And all the boxes shouldn’t be in the same room.”

It is possible Mr. Spock has an aversion to the cat litter itself, to the litter box, or both. Foote adds that most cats prefer unscented activated charcoal litters, and boxes without a hood. Of course, scooping the box daily is important.

Especially, if Mr. Spock is overweight — and even if he’s not — Foote suggests adding at least one larger and relatively flat box. You might try the type of plastic container usually used to store clothing under the bed, or even an extra large lasagna pan. Meanwhile, consider removing Spock’s favorite chair or it, and use an enzymatic cleaner. Certainly, seeing your veterinarian for a physical exam makes sense.

As Mr. Spock once said, “What is necessary is never unwise.”


Q: I read your column on the transdermal thyroid medication patch for cats. My cat was just diagnosed hyperthyroid. Where do you get these patches? My friend also has a hyperthyroid cat she gives a pill to twice a day. Her veterinarian didn’t know anything about a patch. My friend and her husband are retired and they’re having a problem going anywhere since the cat sitter can’t administer the pills. That patch sounds like the solution for them, as well as me. — N.T., Las Vegas, NV.

A: Ottawa, Canada-based cat veterinarian Dr. Susan Little explains that the transdermal medication is a cream (not a patch) and is applied on a cat’s ear. It must be given twice a day, but would be potentially far easier for the cat sitter to use than trying to give pills to an unwilling feline.

Little, author of “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” (Elsevier/Saunders Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 2011; $180) and a past president of the Winn Feline Foundation explains that radioactive iodine is a potential cure for hyperthyroid cats, eliminating the need for transdermal medication or pills in the future. Cats must visit a facility offering this treatment. Veterinary schools and some specialty clinics offer radioactive iodine. The cat must remain at the clinic several days for treatment, administered by injection. The radioactive iodine is absorbed into the cat’s bloodstream and the diseased thyroid tissue, preventing the gland from overproduction thyroid hormone.

Other potential therapies include surgery or a prescription diet. Now, you and your friends are better equipped to speak with your veterinarians.


Q: I’m 8 months pregnant. My cat, Sox, is really fun, but he has a temper and will sometimes scratch. I’m worried about this, as well as the change when I move in with my mother, who will help with the baby. My mom’s Chihuahua, Sammy, and Sox have never met. Mom is worried that they won’t get along. She’s also concerned about Sammy’s collapsing trachea. The vet says if he had a barking fit, he could go into cardiac arrest. What should we do? — M.M., Cyberspace

A: Veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi notes that we may be hearing only half the story. A surprising number of older small dogs have heart disease; he wonders if that’s why the veterinarian is concerned about Sammy having heart failure. (A collapsing trachea wouldn’t cause cardiac arrest.)

Ciribassi, of Chicago, says to introduce the two pets slowly when you move to your mom’s house. Keep Sox in a separate room (such as a bedroom) with a litter box, food, water bowl and toys for several days, before letting him explore the rest of the house. Do this when Sammy is out in the yard or on a walk. Meanwhile, place a blanket or bed which Sox has slept on near Sammy’s food dish to create a positive association. And visa versa.

Ciribassi says this situation is perfect for the use of pheromone products — Adaptil for Sammy and Feliway for Sox — to calm the pets. Plug in a Feliway diffuser in the room with Sox. Sammy can wear an Adaptil dog collar.

The more gradual the introduction, the better the results will be. After several weeks, if you can, put a screen door up so Sox and Sammy can meet face to face, but do no harm. When you catch them coming together without hissing or barking, offer both a special treat.

Ciribassi stresses that you should never allow an infant to be alone with any pet. And he suggests Soft Paws (nail covers) to prevent scratching.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services