A.P., Washington, DC
Tags: cat Washington DC
Mar 27, 2010
After reading a recent column, I was prompted to write to you about changes in animals when someone is about to die or has passed on.
My mother passed away at home last April from cancer. During her final days, she had two Siamese cats that had been with her their entire lives -- one is a sweet 21-year-old chocolate-point male, and the other, a 10-year-old chocolate-point female.
Several hospice nurses and I cared for my mother during the last two weeks of her life. During the entire time, both cats refused to leave my mother''s side. They would both curl up next to her, physically touching her at all times, whether she was sitting on the sofa, sleeping or just resting on a chair. In fact, one of them always wanted to snuggle up right next to my mother at the site of her primary tumor on her left side (she had a rare form of intestinal cancer). The other would often want to be on her chest near her heart.
This snuggling became uncomfortable for my mother at a certain point, but if a nurse or I tried to remove the cats, they came right back. We finally convinced the cats to lie next to my mother in places that were not uncomfortable. The cats left only to eat and use the litter box. When my mother drifted off to sleep (and eventually into a coma), the older cat would periodically go up to her face and sniff or hover over her mouth and nose, as if to check on her breathing.
When my mother passed in her bed and the funeral home came to take her body away, I was fascinated to see that the cats were still lying beside her on the bed. The moment of death had not made them budge. The kind gentleman who came from the funeral home noted this when he went up to survey the situation. I asked him if he had seen this sort of thing before. He lit up when I asked, as if he was able to unburden himself of something he had always wanted to share. He replied, "All the time." He had seen both cats and dogs hold vigil for their departed owners. I asked him if he had any suggestions on how to handle this. He suggested that I be the one to remove the cats from my mother''s body, but to make sure that they could see that her body was being taken away so they could know that she was gone -- all of which I did.
The next morning when I awoke and entered my mother''s now empty bedroom, the two cats were still in the room but they were sleeping on a chair beside my mother''s bed for the first time. It''s as if they knew she was gone but were not yet ready to leave the last vestiges of her presence. They remained there for the day.
Witnessing these two cats'' tender devotion and sensitivity to my mother during her final days was incredibly touching and beautiful, something I was totally unprepared for. The hospice nurses and I marveled at it. These two cats remained steadfastly available at all times to my mother -- watching, comforting and caring. I have no doubt they knew she was ill and dying. They helped ease my mother''s transition as well as my own grief. They were truly a blessing.
A.P., Washington, DC Mar 28, 2010
Thank you for an important letter that helps put to rest the unfounded belief that only humans have any concept of death and dying. Many animal species and individual members thereof seem to be quite aware, and the devoted attention of your mother''s two cats is deeply moving.
B. & J.S., Arlington, Va
Tags: dog Arlington VA
Mar 27, 2010
We have a wonderful 10-year-old female toy poodle, Lulu. She does have one flaw, however: She gets up during the night to go out and do her business, sometime three or four times -- not good for her and not good for us.
She gets fed twice a day, morning around 6 a.m. and again between 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. She is fed 1/4 cup of Science Diet Small Bites along with 1 teaspoon of Mighty Dog and 1 teaspoon sweet potatoes with a little deli turkey.
During the day, she is fine for 10 hours without having to go out. She gets walked at least a mile, sometimes two, every day. We let her out before we go to bed (9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and we''re up between 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m.
We would appreciate any suggestion on how to keep Lulu from having to go out at night.
B. & J.S., Arlington, Va Mar 28, 2010
Your dog is getting on in years and that can mean that she is suffering from kidney disease or diabetes, conditions that can make dogs drink more and need to urinate more.
I advise a full health checkup to rule out any physical cause for her nocturnal restlessness. If she is physically well, she may be developing age-related cognitive impairment/canine dementia that can first manifest as nocturnal anxiety. In some instances (also in cats), there is discomfort associated with arthritis, and appropriate treatment, including a warm sleeping pad, will help. Medications such as seligiline and melantonin or herbs such as passionflower and hops can help with nocturnal restlessness.
T.T., Silver Spring, Md
Tags: dog Silver Spring MD diet food
Mar 27, 2010
I have a 13-year-old rescued dog. He has always hated being left alone in the house. Whenever I leave the house, he gets sad and acts depressed. When I return, he drools, his breathing is rapid, and his anxiety appears to be sky-high. This lasts for about 10 minutes until he finally calms down.
My landlord tells me he barks constantly while I''m gone. What can you recommend for treating his separation anxiety?
T.T., Silver Spring, Md Mar 28, 2010
Separation anxiety is a common canine problem, and there are various "cures" to try.
- 1. Give your dog a treat when you leave so he associates your departure with a reward. Stuff an old marrowbone or rubber Kong with peanut butter or cream cheese that''s set hard in the fridge beforehand. You can also try a dog-food puzzle, such as those from Nina Ottosson or Canine Genius.
- 2. Leave a radio or TV on for "company" and to mask outside noises that may trigger more barking.
- 3. When you come home, greet him calmly so as not to make your return such an exciting event to anticipate.
- 4. Try habituation/desensitization over one weekend, coming and going from your house at irregular intervals of five to 15 minutes.
- 5. Get a big crate with a blanket to serve as a security den. Keep the door open.
- 6. Try the dog pheromone DAP or put a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender on a bandana around his neck.
- 7. Treat him with valerian or passionflower, which this may help reduce his anxiety. The @-Eaze calming gel from PetzLife (888-453-4682) may also work wonders.
S.S.M., Virginia Beach, Va
Tags: small pet Virginia Beach VA
Mar 27, 2010
Do you know which prisons in the Virginia Department of Corrections offer programs that give male inmates the opportunity to assist with training dogs? Every prison program I have ever seen on Animal Planet has only been available to female inmates in other states. There have been rumors circulating that there is a Virginia prison program that offers specialized training for difficult dogs before adoption. From a win-win perspective, I can definitely see the benefits for inmates dealing with depression as well as the much-needed one-on-one intense training and attention that difficult dogs would receive. Prior to my incarceration, I owned three beagles and five cats. If such a program actually exists in the Virginia prison system and I were eligible, I definitely could see the mutual benefits for the dogs as well as myself. I decided to ask you because you are considered a national authority on animals and your prescribed remedies for ailing pets never cease to amaze me. Thank you for your assistance.
S.S.M., Virginia Beach, Va Mar 28, 2010
I agree that it would be a win-win situation for selected male inmates to have the opportunity to join a dog-socialization or basic-training program, even advanced training for assistance dogs. I say "selected male inmates" only because some may be incarcerated for spousal abuse or other violent crimes that are often associated with cruelty to dogs and other animals during childhood and adolescence. The www.Paws4Prisons.org Web site details an assistance dog-training program at the women-only USP Hazelton facility in Bruceton Mills, W.Va. And there is another program at Stafford Creek Correction Center in Walla Walla, Wash. I would encourage Virginia and other state and federal prison authorities to accept dog training as part of inmate rehabilitation for selected male as well as female inmates, and to implement similar programs in their correctional centers.
Y.H., Arlington, Va
Mar 20, 2010
I am writing about cats showing empathy toward sick people. Every time I was sick, feeling poorly, crying or in pain after surgery, my cats knew I was hurting. They would show their sympathy in various ways -- rubbing their little faces against my teary cheeks, sitting outside my bedroom after I returned from surgery, looking at me with concern and sympathy, etc. They instinctively know we are in pain. How do they know that? Because they love us, and love is a knowing thing, meaning you love someone when they are happy and when they are sad. Since they cannot speak or mail sympathy cards, they show their concern by being physically near us. I have also seen cats show the same sympathy for another cat when the cat was sick. There are many recorded stories of companion animals mourning the loss of their master.
Y.H., Arlington, Va Mar 21, 2010
I absolutely agree with you. Many readers will appreciate your confirmation of cats'' abilities to empathize and to express loving concern. I wish more members of our species were like that.
Many cats in households with a new human baby become very upset when the infant cries. The distress calls of a human baby are not unlike their own, and such cats should be reassured and allowed to be close when the baby is being attended to, in order to help alleviate their empathic concern.
E.L., New York, NY
Tags: cat New York NY diet food
Mar 20, 2010
I have a healthy but overweight 12-year-old female cat. She weighs 18 pounds and eats 3/4 cup of dry Iams ProActive Health Hairball Care per day. She wants to eat all of the time, but I do not know if she is actually hungry or just bored. At this point, she can barely jump up on anything higher than a couch. I know that the Iams isn't healthy for her, but I would really prefer to buy her food. Do you have any suggestions as to what brand of cat food I should buy that would help her lose weight and still feel satisfied? She hasn't developed any health problems yet, but I know that if she doesn't lose weight she will have problems in the future.
E.L., New York, NY Mar 21, 2010
Many of the "weight control" diets for cats are simply high-fiber/low-calorie formulations of various ingredients that may not provide adequate nutrition, which results in animals being constantly hungry -- a distressing condition indeed.
The main culprits in setting off the metabolic disorder of obesity are over-feeding high-cereal content cat foods and highly palatable, high-caloric canned foods. The consequences can be serious, including diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart problems and painful joints. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins' book "Your Cat" will help you and many other cat owners with unhealthy fat cats. For a start, transition onto a no-cereal cat food like Natura's EVO for cats (also canned EVO or PetGuard's canned beef for cats) and feed one teaspoon six to eight times daily, along with a good quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement for cats that your veterinarian can prescribe. Encourage your cat to play, especially in the early evening. Perk her up with some catnip, and give her a drop of good quality fish oil and a pinch (5 mg) L-carnitine (crush the pill into a powder) in her food once a day, slowly working up to a teaspoon of fish oil daily and 50 mg of L-carnitine. These supplements will help reduce inflammation and help with weight loss, respectively.
Y.H., Arlington, Va
Tags: cat Arlington VA
Mar 20, 2010
I am writing about some insights I have gained about cats soiling outside of their litter boxes. My cat, Stormie, was the perfect cat. I had placed his litter box in the kitchen. The space was small and right in front of the oven. He used it a few times and then would go and do his thing behind the piano in the living room. That space was more open, next to a window that let in sunlight. I would get angry with him and spend a lot of time cleaning the carpet he soiled. Then I thought he was trying to tell me something, so I moved the piano, covered the area with lots of newspapers and placed his litter box on top. From then on, there were no more incidents.
We humans tend to place the litter box out of the line of traffic and out of sight. Yes, it should be out of the line of traffic, but not necessarily out of sight; it must be placed where the cat feels comfortable. A way to work around that problem can be a Japanese screen made of pressed paper to block off the view of the litter box. The screen looks attractive and leaves plenty of room for the cat to go in or out. The screen also gives the cat some privacy -- they know they are doing unpleasant things.
Y.H., Arlington, Va Mar 21, 2010
Many cat owners with house-soiling cats will appreciate your insightful observations. Of course, there are physical as well as psychological reasons that cats stop using their litter boxes. Being afraid or feeling insecure are factors to consider when relocating the litter box.
G.A., Palmyra, Va
Tags: small pet Palmyra VA diet food
Mar 20, 2010
About eight weeks ago, our daughter saw an ad on eBay for a 6-year-old conure parrot adoption. Knowing that her father always wanted this type of bird, she went ahead and surprised him with Cookie, whose previous owners placed him up for adoption because their son eventually moved out and didn't want the bird. We were thrilled to welcome Cookie into our home, but it turns out that he is a biter. He has attacked my husband three times and drew blood. This has made my husband reluctant to be near him, much less handle him. We give Cookie a good deal of time out of his cage -- he doesn't fly, which is something the vet can't explain. He has new toys, a beautiful, large cage and a good deal of attention. He shows enjoyment when I hand-feed him and scratch his back and head, and he's always looking for my attention. But if I offer my hand to hold him, he bites! We would appreciate any advice you may have on how to get Cookie to stop biting.
G.A., Palmyra, Va Mar 21, 2010
I regret that your husband's avian gift has turned out to be a nightmare. From your description, since the bird will take food from your hand and enjoys being scratched, he has been improperly socialized and was probably teased. This could trigger either defensive aggression or assertive-dominance aggression. That he is most aggressive to your poor husband may imply sexual rivalry/dominance, or result from being taunted by a male person. Birds are complex, intelligent animals. Desensitize all involved by training the bird to perch on a finger or hand covered with a thick, leather glove. Never put an ungloved hand or finger in front of the bird unless you are offering food.
Living a solitary life with no contact with his own species is no doubt behaviorally and psychologically disruptive. It may not be too late to adopt a female conure -- they could live in adjacent cages until they settle together. Your bird cannot fly because his flight feathers have been cut; or worse, his wing tendons -- a deplorable practice called pinioning.
G.M., Washington, DC
Tags: cat Washington DC diet food
Mar 13, 2010
I''ve heard that tuna is bad for cats, but there are many kinds of canned cat food that have "tuna" on the label. What''s the truth?
G.M., Washington, DC Mar 14, 2010
Manufactured cat foods are notoriously mislabeled. Read the small print. A "tuna dinner" isn''t all tuna -- it could include other fish, chicken byproducts, meat byproducts and heaven knows what else.
While some cats are allergic to fish, others become addicted, especially when given a taste of canned tuna, and they turn up their noses at their regular food. I joke that regular feeding of tuna turns cats into thermometers because of the mercury content in fish. But on a more serious note, mercury residues can cause neurological problems; and flame retardants and other chemical contamination of seafood may be a factor in feline hyperthyroidism.
Regular consumption of tuna can lead to painful muscular weakness called steatitis or yellow fat disease. This disease is caused by vitamin E deficiency and unsaturated fats from the fish being oxidized into a substance called ceroid. This gives the cat''s body fat a yellow-brown pigmentation, triggering an inflammatory reaction that can make it painful for cats to be handled, even petted.
Tuna is also low in such essential nutrients as taurine and has too little calcium and too much phosphorus. It contains an enzyme that destroys vitamin B1 (thiamin), and deficient cats can develop neurological problems, including a staggering gait and seizures -- a condition called polioencephalomalacia, which is fatal if left untreated.
The overfishing, dolphin-killing, sea-life-depleting seafood industry notwithstanding -- that includes the harvesting of whale food such as krill to feed farm animals -- lay off the tuna for cat''s sake!
D.F., Trumbull, CT
Mar 13, 2010
I have a 13-year-old male cat I adopted about 10 years ago. He has recently been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which was found through routine blood work and which I am told is rare. He is asymptomatic and is a happy cat. His recent ultrasound came back normal, showing no problems with his lymph nodes or internal organs. I am reluctant to start him on a course of Leukeran/Prednisone because he has no symptoms. Two veterinarians (both in the same group that has treated him) have differing opinions on the proper course of treatment. One agrees with me that we should wait; the other feels it's best to start him on the chemotherapy before he begins to exhibit some symptoms, when the leukemia will be more difficult to get under control. I'm told cats tolerate Leukeran rather well with minimal side effects. Can you tell me if I'm doing more harm than good by waiting to treat him with chemo? Is there another alternative?
D.F., Trumbull, CT Mar 14, 2010
I would vote on the side of the cautious "wait and see." While chemotherapy (with or without Prednisone) could lead to a "cure," your cat's immune system seems to be doing a good job all by itself. So it may be best to do nothing at this stage. This entails avoiding any stress in your cat's life -- such as getting another cat, having to board your cat, getting booster vaccinations, chemotherapy or spot-on anti-flea treatments.
Considering your cat's age and happy disposition, I would do nothing more than add a few drops of top-quality fish oil to his daily diet, like Nordic Naturals or New Chapter's Wholemega human dietary supplement.