These reader questions on dog behavior were answered by veterinary behaviorists at the Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, held July 25 to 29 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.
Q: I feed my cat about half a manufactured raw diet (and half) other healthy brands. Still, Charlie keeps getting ear infections, which my veterinarian believes may due to do food allergies. We now have the cat on a prescription duck and pea diet with the raw food. What do you think? – N.F., Cyberspace
A: Dr. Kate Knutson, of Bloomington, Minn., says food allergies usually manifest with itchiness around the face, and perhaps on a cat’s flanks – not with ear infections – although this can occur.
Knutson suggests your veterinarian look into your cat’s middle ear and get a sample of the fluid there, which requires anesthesia. The problem may be a deep ear infection, unrelated to food. While your cat is under anesthesia, consider full-mouth X-rays. Knutson says she’s seen dental abscesses which may cause secondary ear infections.
Knutson says your veterinarian has likely ruled out ear mites, which don’t generally occur in healthy adult cats unless they have some sort of other illness compromising their immune system.
If the above possibilities don’t apply, it’s time to consider a food allergy, says Knutson, a participant in the Pet Nutrition Alliance and immediate past president of the American Animal Hospital Association. Talk to your veterinarian about putting the cat on a novel protein diet, featuring something your cat has never eaten. The pet must remain exclusively on this diet, with no other food or treat supplementing, for 12 weeks.
If, at that point, the cat does better, there’s a strong implication that allergies were causing the ear infections, after all.
Q: We adopted a sweet 2-year-old Chihuahua from our local humane society. Buddy was saved from a puppy mill. His name truly fits; in the short three months we’ve had him, he’s become a valued family member.
Alas, he does have a problem. For the first three months, he never fussed when people came to the house. Now, he’s begun to howl when visitors arrive, and won’t stop until they leave. We’ve tried to get him to stop by picking him up, isolating him and offering toys, but nothing helps. Any advice? – S.W., Cyberspace
A: Congratulations on rescuing a puppy mill dog. Buddy’s history may or may not have something to do with this unusual behavior, according veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kathryn Houpt, of Gaylord, Mich.
“It would be helpful to videotape this dog, perhaps using a smart phone,” Houpt says. Your veterinarian can determine better what the dog is thinking by watching the video. It seems the dog may be distressed; that’s usually what howling is communicating. He may also may be fearful, or aroused.”
Houpt says picking up Buddy might only reinforce the behavior. You’ve got the right idea with distraction, but up the ante. Take a toy and stuff liver treats or low-fat peanut butter instead, or offer a chew toy which takes some time to gnaw.
If the problem persists, you could seek help from a veterinary behaviorist, certified dog trainer, or dog behavior consultant who might make a house call, get howled at in person and access the situation.
Q: I took your advice and asked my veterinarian about the leptospirosis vaccine. I’m curious, though, about this virus being transmittable to pets in the fall or winter. Isn’t leptospirosis a tropical climate illness? – C.T., St. Paul, Minn.
A: Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection (not a virus). The bacteria that cause Leptospirosis are spread through the urine of infected animals (mostly rodents like rats and mice, but also skunks, raccoons and other critters), which can get into water or soil and survive there for weeks to months. Here’s a reason to beware of that yellow snow.
To your point, in the U.S., lepto is most common in Hawaii, a tropical place.
Chicago veterinarian Dr. Natalie Marks says, “In some places, lepto is increasingly common, and potentially can be transmitted to people, which is one reason I’m so passionate about protection. Also, lepto can be a very serious disease. Yes, spring and summer are more common for transmission in northern climates, but lepto does exist year-round. Besides, the protection, a vaccine, provides year-round defense.”