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Q: Koko is a wonderfully affectionate cat and is in good health, except that in the past year he began to chew the fur off his tail and lower hips. The veterinarian said Koko is “barbering” himself. I changed his diet to a higher-protein food. Koko has access to our garden and lots of fresh water. Can you suggest a solution and/or and ointment to stop the itching? – V.M., Las Vegas

A: The first thing to rule out, based on where Koko is scratching himself and that fact that he spends time outside, is a flea allergy, says feline veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Colleran of Chico, Calif. “Sometimes only a few flea bites can cause a real problem. If fleas are absolutely eliminated, then your veterinarian can do a skin scraping or biopsies. I once had an instance when rare mites were getting on the cats from an owner’s pantry,” Colleran recalled.

Once parasites are eliminated as the cause, allergies may, indeed, be the problem, says Colleran. The same environmental allergies which cause us to sneeze may cause a cat to scratch. If your veterinarian is inclined to believe food allergies are the issue, transitioning to a high protein diet won’t matter. Instead, Koko should go on a food trial lasting several months, where he would only eat a prescription diet.

“Cats really hate topical treatments,” says Colleran, a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and spokeswoman for Cat Friendly Practices. “Besides, what you need is to learn what’s causing the problem in the first place. Ultimately, you may need a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. Perhaps, sooner is better because it sounds like your poor cat is losing his mind itching.”

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Q: I’m interested in adopting a Labradoodle but worry about shedding. I know poodles never shed, and Labradors are constant shedders. What about this breed? – B.D., Cyberspace

A: No dog never sheds, although poodles shed very little. Labradors do shed more than most dogs. In mixed breeds, there’s no guarantee of minimal shedding, although that is usually the case – and one significant allure of Labradoodles.

While many people with allergies can coexist with poodles just fine – or with only a few trips to the pharmacy for over-the-counter allergy meds – there’s no truly hypoallergenic dog. And while people with allergies may generally be far more tolerant to Labradooles, success depends on the individual person and the individual dog.

By the way, while Labradoodles are popular, and may well be on their way to being called a breed, to date, these dogs are simply a mix. And in my personal opinion an expensive mix compared to a shelter dog. In fact, some shelters receive numerous smaller part-poodle mixes.

Q: Why don’t cats like taking baths? – C.M., Spartanburg, S.C.

A: While most cats shun water, I can’t count the number of times readers have written about cats who voluntarily jump into the shower, sometimes even into a bathtub.

Domestic cats likely derived from species with little experience with water, and many cats appear hard-wired to avoid being in water.

Having said that, there are wild cat species who enjoy rivers and ponds, such as the Asian Fishing Cat or Bengal tiger. It seems that for at least some pedigreed cats, taking a dip is actually fun. The Turkish Van, Turkish Angora, American Bobtail and American Shorthair are known to enjoy water.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. He will answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state.