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Published September 09, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Canine stressed by storms

Dear Dr. Fox: We adopted a small terrier mix that no one claimed. She was found wandering around the devastation in Joplin, Mo., after a recent intense tornado. My husband and I went there to help relatives for a few days. We named her Joppy. Perhaps her owners were killed.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: We adopted a small terrier mix that no one claimed. She was found wandering around the devastation in Joplin, Mo., after a recent intense tornado. My husband and I went there to help relatives for a few days. We named her Joppy. Perhaps her owners were killed.

At any rate, she took to us quickly. The only problems are that she hates to be left alone and really gets upset with stormy weather and thunder. How can we help her get over this? – M.A., Springfield, Mo.

Dear M.A.: Good for you and your husband for giving assistance in Joplin (a tragedy, indeed) and for adopting Joppy.

She is most probably suffering separation anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Give her an open dog crate with a pillow or blanket to serve as a secure den. Put treats inside it when you leave the house so she associates being left with a reward. Leave on the TV so she can have the possible comfort of human voices. Don’t make a big fuss over her when you return. Once she feels more secure, her separation anxiety should be resolved.

The post-traumatic stress can be helped by closing the curtains during a storm and turning up the radio or CD player with loud but soothing music. Try the CD “Through a Dog’s Ear,” available online. Wrapping her in a light towel or T-shirt, secured with duct tape, should have a profound calming effect. Giving 1 milligram to 3 milligrams of melatonin about half an hour before a storm arrives has helped many dogs, along with a couple of drops of lavender oil on a bandanna wrapped around the dog’s neck.

If these measures do not help, ask your veterinarian for a prescription of alprazolam (Xanax), a short-acting psychotropic medication that can benefit dogs with post- traumatic stress, “thunderphobia” and fireworks fears.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a sweet 4-year-old tabby cat called Mitts. My problem is that she is very shy and always hides under furniture, especially when we have visitors – then she never comes out. Any suggestions to build her trust? – B.M., Houston, Texas

Dear B.M.: Most cats like to get up on things, the higher the better so they can look down on the world. Get your cat a tall, non-wobbly cat condo and also secure some carpeted shelves on the walls so she can be off the ground and not feel so small and vulnerable.

Coax her to play with various cat toys, one of the best being a cane and string like a fishing pole with a bit of fur or feather tied on the end.

Her self-confidence might also be boosted by letting her explore outdoors (provided the neighborhood is quiet). Put her in a harness attached to a leash, so she can’t run off if she spooks. Remember, you walk a dog as the leader, but you follow the cat on a leash.

Dear Dr. Fox: I am writing because my otherwise very healthy 13-year-old male cat has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.

He has been seen by my vet and went to the emergency vet and spent last night in an oxygen cage. He seems to be doing better now. His breathing is still somewhat rapid, and his heartbeat is around 150. They have him on 5 milligrams of thyroid medicine and have recommended that he be seen by a feline cardiologist for possible heart damage. Both vets found that he has a heart murmur.

I am so distressed about this, as I should have recognized the signs a long time ago: increased water consumption, loss of muscle mass and change in behavior. I even mentioned to my vet that he was feeling “bonier,” and she said it probably was just his getting older. I also mentioned to her that he was drinking more water, so we were keeping an eye on his kidney functions. This diagnosis threw me for a loop.

Regardless, what is the best course of action to maintain his health? I am not ready for him to leave me. Does the thyroid medication work? What if he does have heart disease?

He eats Fancy Feast wet, grilled variety, with occasional raw chicken livers as a treat. What supplements would you recommend? Also, he is neutered. – C.D., Norfolk, Va.

Dear C.D.: Whenever an older cat develops symptoms like your cat, the possibility of thyroid disease and diabetes should be considered.

Cats, dogs and humans are exposed to environmental chemicals, from bromide-based flame retardants in carpets and other household materials to fluorides in drinking water and chemicals in plastic and canned food containers. These are endocrine disruptors, and they can play a significant role in thyroid disease, diabetes and even abnormal sexual development in boy babies.

Now that your cat’s condition has been diagnosed, there are various treatments your veterinarian will decide on to put the brakes on his hyperactive thyroid. Whatever heart condition is diagnosed (such as cardiomyopathy), supplements such as fish oil, magnesium, potassium, CoQ10 and l-carnitine, as well as a low-salt diet, will help. Gradually transitioning your cat back to a raw food diet would be worthwhile. I am surprised that the veterinarian adopted a “keep an eye” approach, guessing at a possible kidney problem, and did not do any blood tests to help determine what might be going on.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at