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Published November 04, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Pets show when they aren’t well

Dear Dr. Fox: I appreciate your protection of animals other than dogs and cats. I also wonder how you can even stomach or print the letters like the person who insists on toilet training the cats and now has one peeing on her bed.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I appreciate your protection of animals other than dogs and cats. I also wonder how you can even stomach or print the letters like the person who insists on toilet training the cats and now has one peeing on her bed.

I’m writing about my cat Marshmallow, who has hopped on my toilet seat many times to poop or pee. I never taught her that. Another interesting thing is that when she is having a urinary problem, she shows me when I am on the toilet. She will go in the tub next to me, pee and stare at me. Or while I’m scooping litter, she’ll come to show me she is straining.

– J.Z., Ayr, N.D.

Dear J.Z.: Cats are notably adept at communicating to their human caregivers when they are ill. Cystitis is one of their most common maladies, and many cats will deliberately squat, strain and, if they can, void some urine (often tinged with blood) at their human companions’ feet. A few uninformed owners think their cats have suddenly become house-soilers and scold them or put them outside.

I would like to hear other readers’ comments about when, how, where and why their cats, dogs and other animals have communicated that they are ill, suffering or in need of help. Many simply go into hiding out of pain and fear. Remember that any such sudden change in temperament calls for an immediate veterinary evaluation.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a 5½-year-old male Brussels griffon named Callie. Callie was diagnosed with primary Addison’s disease almost two years ago. Since Callie’s diagnosis, his doctor has recommended that he receive a Percorten injection every five weeks, in addition to ¼ tablet of prednisone 5 mg daily.

Callie struggles with stress, so I try to eliminate as much stress as possible on a daily basis. During a recent examination, his doctor detected a heart murmur and recommended that Callie see a cardiologist for his heart defect. I worry about the additional stress this may cause (in regard to visiting a new office) and understand that his daily dose of prednisone does have a significant impact on his heart.

In your opinion, would Callie benefit from seeing a cardiologist? I understand there may be nothing they can do for his heart murmur. Callie is a very sweet and loving dog, and he depends on me to make the right choices for his medical care. Your time and thoughts are greatly appreciated. – A.S., Fairfax, Va.

Dear A.S.: Your poor dog’s condition is unfortunately quite common in dogs today, but the cause of this condition of poorly functioning or exhausted adrenal glands is not yet known. It could be a condition of breed and temperament, coupled with an as-yet-unidentified external trigger. These triggers may include an increasing number of so-called endocrine disrupters, as well as injections or vaccinations that are associated with evoking autoimmune diseases.

You must continue with the hormone replacement medication and periodic monitoring. Supplements of buffered vitamin C with bioflavonoids, N,N-dimethylglycine, licorice and melatonin may help the adrenal glands.

Many dogs have heart murmurs, and I would not subject Callie to further tests at this time. Supplements such as magnesium and coenzyme Q10 should benefit his heart muscle. But any signs of fatigue, swelling of limbs or abdomen, pale or bluish gums, or coughing and difficulty breathing warrant an immediate heart checkup.

Dear Dr. Fox: Over the years, you’ve published letters from people asking about cats who licked off their hair. You’ve responded with possible physical explanations, but you haven’t said the causes may be emotional or psychological. I think you should include that suggestion in future responses.

I believe the experience of Milady Cat (my companion of 19½ years) suggests that such compulsive behavior can result from emotional states such as depression.

We moved from a pretty, well-lighted second-floor apartment after 10 years together there (where she grew up from a 4-month-old kitten) to a much darker, ground-floor “garden” apartment. She hid away for hours after the move. After six to eight months there, her belly hair started to disappear. This continued, and I found a local vet who tried several physical remedies (not food changes), including a strong drug that affected her so powerfully she was limp on the bedroom floor.

After four years there, we moved to a town house with lots of windows and lots of light. This was our second move together, and she clearly knew what was up this time and let me know she approved of our new place – rubbing on a corner, coming back to rub on me, back to rub on the banister, back to me, and purring at megaphone level. This was a huge, important “thank you,” an enormous “yes.”

After a year or so in this new place, her belly hair started to grow back. I rather hoped she would recover all that hair before she died, and she did – completely grown back, totally beautiful, for the last years of her life. – A.T., Silver Spring, Md.

Dear A.T.: So-called psychogenic alopecia in cats who groom excessively – to the point of self-mutilation and patchy, often extensive hair loss – is an issue worth revisiting. It is a condition triggered by emotional stress such as the death of a companion, moving to a new place or even one family member going off to college. In my book “Cat Body, Cat Mind,” I tell the sad saga of one cat who was so grief-stricken that he chewed off part of his tail after his companion kitten died.

The rule of thumb in diagnosing possible psychogenic and psychosomatic disorders in animals is to first eliminate physical causes such as flea-bite hypersensitivity, food allergy or thyroid gland disease.

Cats are extremely tactile and sensitive to touch, and they will briefly groom themselves when they are suddenly surprised or become anxious, such as before a thunderstorm or after a spat with another cat in the home. This is a self-comforting behavior that can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder when stress factors persist. The herb catnip, as well as various psychotropic prescription drugs, may alleviate symptoms.

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 website at