By Steve Dale
Tribune Content Agency
Q: My 4-year-old Australian Shepherd now barks at people on bicycles as they go by the house. She never did this before. What's going on? - C.J., San Diego, CA
A: Certified dog behavior consultant and longtime Australian Shepherd owner Liz Palika says, "That's about the age this urge to chase kicks. Set up a training session with someone you know riding a bike, first at a distance that's just at the point where your dog might react. Redirect your pet and offer her treats. If the dog is paying attention to you and not the bike, ask the cyclist to ride slightly closer, then closer still as you have more success over several training sessions."
Palika, of Oceanside, CA, author of the "IDIOTS Guide to Dog Training" (Penguin Group/ALPHA Books, New York, NY, 2014; $19.95), notes that you might need help from a certified dog behavior consultant or dog trainer to get the timing just right.
"Also, realistically, you might always need to be prepared with treats to distract your dog (from cyclists). That herding instinct is very, very strong," she says.
Q: My cats are 15- and 13-years-old, and both are being treated with hyperthyroid medicine. The older cat goes downstairs and wails and howls. Why does he make these goofy noises? - D.S., Menasha, WI
A: "Many cats with hyperthyroid disease vocalize, often in the middle of the night, but not necessarily," says Atlanta, GA-based feline veterinarian Dr. Drew Weigner. "I know your cats are being treated, but sometimes the medication (dosage) needs to be adjusted over time."
Weigner adds that interestingly, hyperthyroid disease may mask high blood pressure or kidney disease, but once hyperthyroid is treated, the symptoms for one (or both) of these other conditions may occur, such as the vocalization you describe.
Weigner, a board member for Winn Feline Foundation (a non-profit that raises money for cat health studies), says it's also possible your cat is complaining because something hurts; the problem might be anything from arthritis to gastrointestinal or dental issues. Clearly, a visit to your veterinarian might reveal why your cat is making "goofy noises," Weigner says.
Another explanation or contributing factor for the vocalization may be feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (a sort of kitty Alzheimer's). Typically, there's at least one other sign occurring simultaneously with FCDS, which could be general confusion (like the cat forgetting what room he's in), accidents outside the litter box, changes in sleep/wake cycle (sleeping more during the day, or getting up overnight), and/or changes in interactions with others in the household (people and/or pets).
Q: My 12-year-old Labrador Retriever has been on (the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) Rimadyl for several years. I'm searching for a different pain relief pill and came across articles on the dangerous side effects of Rimadyl. I discovered that Quellin is safer, and I believe it's less expensive. My dog has had no adverse effects to Rimadyl to date. Any thoughts? - L.C., via cyberspace
A: The generic name for Rimadyl is carprofen. Dr. Daryl Millis, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Center for Veterinary Sports Medicine there, notes that Quellin, while manufactured by a different company, is also carprofen.
Millis says he doesn't know about pricing, but suggests the safety profile has got to be about the same for either Rimadyl or Quellin. Both are essentially the same.
"NSAID drugs are always a concern regarding adverse reactions," says Millis. "But then they are the most effective drug class for pain relief in dogs. We're very leery about giving a NSAID to animals with certain pre-existing conditions. Also, people should know that if there's diarrhea or increased urination and/or drinking or loss of appetite, to contact their veterinarian. Most drugs have possible side effects, and animals on NSAIDs should be watched, but the risk for most animals is minimal."
Millis says there are other drugs which can be used for pain relief, but they also have pro's and cons. Depending on your dog's pain issue, hydrotherapy, shockwave therapy, or acupuncture might help. Millis adds that for osteoarthritis in dogs (and cats), often the best treatment has no side effects: weight loss.
Q: My 2-year-old Ragdoll mix was using her litter box like a pro, but slowly she stopped doing that. Now she goes in waves, during which she might or might not use the box. She has a skin issue we're still trying to figure out, but our veterinarian feels that isn't related to her not using the box. We've put out three litter boxes, so it's not like she doesn't have choices. One box is in the room with our rabbit, another is in the basement and the third is in the living room. The cat uses the one in the living room most often. Otherwise, she's a perfect sweetheart. Any advice? - S.M., Chicago, IL
A: Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sara Bennett, of Berwyn, IL, notes that you don't mention the nature of the skin problem. Some skin issues are caused by stress, or stress contributes to the problem. Certainly, inappropriate elimination in cats can also be caused by stress, or stress may be a contributing factor.
Bennett wonders if your veterinarian has ruled out bladder stones, a urinary tract infection, or idiopathic cystitis.
Bennett says that mapping out where your cat is having accidents is relevant. For example, if the cat is going next to or very near the litter box, she's communicating that the general location is fine, and that she would use the box except there's something offensive about the litter - or the box itself.
Many cats tolerate running down to the basement to use the litter box, but others don't like this. The fact that your cat avoids the box near the rabbit is understandable. You might want to relocate one of the boxes.
If anxiety is involved, plugging in Feliway diffusers (containing a copy of a calming pheromone) in the rooms where your cat goes most often could help, and certainly won't hurt. Meanwhile, you may want to consult a veterinary dermatologist about the skin issue. If your veterinarian rules out other medical issues, consult a certified cat behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist.
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This column was printed in the February 8, 2015 - February 21, 2015 edition.