Dog Doesn't Like Boyfriend, Cat Attacks, and Flea Fiesta: Your Pet Questions


LAS VEGAS, NV — This week, experts attending the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, NV, Feb.15-19, have answered your queries:

Q: My Chihuahua growls constantly at my boyfriend, even snapping at times. My boyfriend does give him treats, or tries to, but the dog is scared. My dog seems to respond this way to all males. How can I get him to stop? — N.S., via cyberspace

A: “Put yourself in your dog’s position, a vulnerable small dog and big boyfriend; it’s intimidating,” says Dr. Michael Paul, who resides in Anguilla. Perhaps, your dog wasn’t socialized to men at a young age, or for whatever reason, is afraid of dudes. You certainly have the right idea as far as your boyfriend offering the dog treats. However, the problem may lie in the way he does this. Imagine a 30-foot giant with a scary giant voice (how your boyfriend may appear to your dog) coming up to you with $100. You might run and hide, despite the lure of the cash! But what if he left a few bills around for you to pick up, then walked away? That’s a different story.

Whenever your boyfriend arrives, have him toss very small tidbits of hot dog, low-salt cold cuts or cheese to your dog, then simply walk off. Also, have him deliver your dog’s meals, then walk away. When he walks away, the perceived threat disappears.

“On walks, have your boyfriend take the leash sometimes,” Paul suggests. “Over time, your dog will feel more comfortable.” Indeed, walking is a bonding experience.

When your boyfriend watches TV or reads at your home, have him sit on the floor, which is less threatening than standing. Then allow your dog to make the call, and visit with your friend only if and when he desires.

If this advice doesn’t pan out, contact a veterinary behaviorist, a veterinarian with a special interest in behavior or a certified dog behavior consultant.


Q: My cat is moody. Since we adopted him, we’ve had a problem with him biting to show his displeasure and annoyance, particularly toward me. He gets so vicious sometimes that I have to lock myself in the bedroom until he calms down. We hope to have children soon, so we’re concerned. Any advice? — D.A., Palatine, IL

A: Dr. Vicki Thayer, executive director of the non-profit Winn Feline Foundation (which funds cat health studies), says first, it’s important to determine what’s going on with your cat, starting with a veterinary visit to rule out a medical explanation. If your cat is in pain, from a gastrointestinal or dental issue, for example, this might explain his behavior.  Due to the extreme nature of the cat’s response, the problem could conceivably be redirected aggression or feline hyperesthesia syndrome.

Thayer, of Lebanon, OR, suggests keeping a log of where and when these attacks occur, and exactly what’s going on at the time. For example, did you just return home? Is your cat looking out the window just before attacks occur? If possible, videotape an attack, if only with your phone, and play it back for your veterinarian.

Feline hyperesthesia is a little understood syndrome during which a cat’s skin ripples, the pet vocalizes, and then often attacks. This syndrome could be partially neurological, and/or might involve a dermatological issue. Usually, medication is required, as well as behavior modification, which may mean petting the cat less and rewarding him for calm behavior.

If the problem is redirected aggression, it could be your cat is seeing something outside or smelling something on you, then directing his aggression at you. If redirected aggression is diagnosed, your veterinarian could suggest behavior modification, as well as using tools like Feliway (a copy of a calming pheromone), and perhaps psycho-pharmacological intervention, as well.

Regardless of how the problem is diagnosed, steps which may help (and can do no harm) include enriching the cat’s environment (such as adding more places to climb and food puzzles that dispense treats), and lowering the anxiety level with Feliway (a copy of a calming pheromone to relax anxious cats), Thayer says.

Q: I went to the store and carefully chose positively-reviewed products to keep fleas off our dog, but nothing has worked! What should I do? — V.D., Tampa, FL

A: “Most over-the-counter products have no studies to verify efficacy (that they’re effective enough to deter fleas),” says veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine-Manhattan. “Many contain pyrethroids, which fleas are often resistant to, particularly where you live.”

Dryden, often called “Dr. Flea,” says he’s ecstatic about the newest generation of flea products that offer a quick speed of kill, including AcuGuard, Bravecto, Comfortis, Nextguard and Vectra 3D. “They are remarkable,” he cheers, “And they do work, even in Tampa, or any place in southern states. Using any of these products correctly, you will defeat the fleas.”

Dryden explains, “Speed of kill is important for several reasons, among them the fleas don’t have the chance to lay eggs in the environment.”

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency