Pet Experts Answer Your Questions at Central Veterinary Conference


SAN DIEGO, CA — These reader questions were answered at the Central Veterinary Conference West, held at the San Diego Convention Center, Dec. 5-9.

Q: Why does my cat go crazy if I step on an ant? She’ll roll around on the spot. — W.G., Cyberspace.

A: “I suspect it’s all about the smell,” says Vancouver, BC-based feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, editor, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. “I’m not certain of what’s happening, but here’s what we know. Cats are driven by pheromones (chemicals secreted by an animal that influences the behavior or development of other members of the same species). Ants are also influenced by pheromones (that’s how they know how to follow one another, for example). Perhaps, your cat is somehow sensing pheromones or the smell itself of crushed ants.”


Q: My cat was diagnosed a few months back with renal failure. I’ve been giving her treatments at home. She recently began to sit on counters and in the bathroom sink. Also, she no longer wants to sleep in bed with me. I need to know she’s not in pain. My vet can’t explain these changes in the cat’s behavior. Can you? — C.L., Cyberspace

A: “I wonder if this cat is seeking the smooth coolness of porcelain,” says Vancouver, BC-based feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, editor, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery and scientific advisor Winn Feline Foundation. “Your bed is warm, which apparently isn’t comforting, so I doubt it’s about you personally.”

Scherk adds, “Renal insufficiency can progress. What we don’t know is what else you might be doing to help. Certainly, giving fluids makes sense. Do ask your veterinarian about the cat’s potassium and phosphorus levels, if a kidney infection has been ruled out and if perhaps getting vitamin B12 may help. I don’t know the age of this cat, and if there’s arthritis, which is under-diagnosed in cats, but it seems the cat is jumping easily.”

Assuming there’s no arthritis or kidney infection present, or any unrelated issue like a gastrointestinal problem, your cat may be pain-free. But your questions are appropriate and you should have your veterinarian investigate further. If the veterinarian isn’t sure what to do, asking for a referral to an internal medicine specialist or feline veterinarian might be a good idea.


Q: We have a 10-year-old German Shepherd-mix named Charlee. For the past several years, she sometimes pushes against a cool spot, most often the toilet. I get migraine headaches and I know that an ice-pack helps me, so I tried this with Charlee, who seemed to appreciate the gesture. My veterinarian thinks I’m loopy to think a dog could have migraines, but I believe it. What do you think? — S.H., Woodruff, SC

A: “A nervous system is a nervous system; dogs’ nervous systems are pretty much identical to our own,” says certified veterinary pain practitioner Dr. Robin Downing, Windsor, CO-based past president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and Diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management. “We can’t ask if our dogs see stars, but we can observe their behaviors. Imagine how badly it must hurt to seek out a cool place and push your head against it. It’s your dog’s version of self-medicating.”

While Downing verifies that your observations suggest Charlee is in pain, what’s not clear is what’s causing the pain. One possibility is, indeed what we might call a headache, but why? Problems to rule out include, but aren’t limited to: dental problems (which could radiate to the head) and glaucoma. Brain tumors aren’t unheard of in dogs (likely benign in your dog’s case because it’s been going on so long).

Meanwhile, ask your veterinarian about additional pain relief for Charlee. However, since you seem to have discovered one answer, Downing suggests you buy a pair of inexpensive soft gel ice-packs, readily available at drug stores and big box stores.


Q: How can you tell if a cat doesn’t like his food, is simply getting tired of the food, or is just being finicky? — P.C., Cyberspace

A: “From nose to tail, possible medical explanations need to be ruled out first,” says feline veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and spokesperson for Cat Friendly Practice Program. The list of medical explanations is long, including everything from intestinal parasites to diabetes and kidney insufficiency.

“Next, look at what’s going on emotionally with your cat,” says Colleran, of Portland, OR. “Is there a new cat in the house, or any other kind of change going on? Perhaps, it’s as simple as the food bowl being moved.”

Another possibility: Your cat is getting so many table scraps that he’s simply not hungry enough to eat his regular food. Perhaps you recently switched pet food brands, and your cat dislikes the new food. Or perhaps it’s the reverse: Your cat has eaten the same food every day for so long that he’s simply tired of the diet. Healthy cats are not likely to have anorexia, so when all else is ruled out, why not do your kitty a favor and try a new food? There are certainly a wealth of choices.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services