Question Archive from Ask the Pet Doctor


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Question and Answer

3/5/00 Question from Cynthia in New York
My cat Chloe has had an obsession with picking his hair out and spitting it on the floor. He picks clumps out and then leaves them everywhere. Please advise how to treat? Thank you.
Dear Cynthia,

Chloe may be exhibiting a stereotypic behavior known as psychogenic alopecia, but personally I like the term "hairpicker" better. Typically the problem starts when the cat experiences anxiety over some change in its environment; such as a move, the introduction of another pet or a baby into the home, the loss of a companion, or even something as unlikely as another cat roaming around the outside of the house.

Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment; their home is their sanctuary. This is the key to successfully treating this problem. Animal behaviorists recommend reducing the environmental "stress" as much as possible, and providing a predictable routine for your cat. This would include specific times for feeding, playing, and socializing. Punishing or rewarding him by paying more attention to him when he is pulling his hair out would be counterproductive. It is better to ignore the behavior as much as possible. If you donít see a favorable outcome with these methods, your veterinarian may also prescribe a medication for a short period of time to reduce his anxiety.

It is important to mention that the diagnosis of psychogenic alopecia is one of exclusion. There could very well be a medical reason for Chloeís " hairpicking" such as external parasites or a fungal or bacterial infection of the skin. Cats also develop food allergies which could cause them to itch and pull out their hair. A microscopic examination of the hair shafts and other tests to rule out dermatologic conditions should be performed by your veterinarian.

3/5/00 Question from Fran in California

I recently heard that cats cannot take acetaminophen {tylenol}. Is this true?

Dear Fran,

You heard correctly. Cats cannot metabolize acetaminophen, and even a small dose might be fatal to a full-grown cat. The reason for this is, a catís liver cannot break it down the same way a humanís liver does, and so it effectively remains in the catís system for a long time, damaging the red blood cells and liver, and causing a severe anemia. If left untreated, the cat may die within 24 hours because its brain and other vital organs will become deprived of oxygen. A cat that has ingested acetaminophen will become very depressed, develop a rapid heart rate and rapid breathing, chocolate brown mucous membranes, and vomiting. If the cat manages to survive this acute phase of the toxicity, it may develop a swollen face and limbs, cyanotic mucous membranes, and possibly be comatose.

As you may imagine, no one wants to see their cat go through something so horrible. Fortunately, most people are very cautious about giving their pets any medication without first checking with their veterinarian. I read in a recent veterinary publication, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control Center reported receiving 232 calls from people about acetaminophen toxicity in cats from 1992 to 1997.

Dogs are also susceptible to acetaminophen toxicity at larger doses. They may be given acetaminophen safely at the proper dose. It is important to keep in mind that most dogs weigh considerably less than an adult human, and canít be given a full adult human dose of pain medication. Once again, it is best to check with your veterinarian before administering any over-the-counter medication to your pet.

Question from Karen in North Carolina:

My 10 year old poodle, Sammy, has started bumping into my new furniture. I recently redecorated my living room, and now he is having difficulty finding his way around the room. Could Sammy be losing his eyesight? I have also noticed that his eye color has changed. They used to be brown, and now they appear gray some of the time and blue at other times.

Dear Karen:

What you are describing is actually a normal part of the aging process in dogs and cats: namely the formation of cataracts, or a hardening of the lenses of the eyes. Sammyís lenses have probably been gradually hardening over time, and it has now become evident with the different placement of your furniture. Until now, Sammy was able to adjust to the gradual loss of his eyesight because he knew from daily experience where the furniture was, and could navigate along familiar pathways. When he was younger and his lenses were clear, it was as though he was looking through a clear window. Now, he is trying to see through opaque lenses, which is like trying to look through a window with the shade drawn.

As with humans, there is no known way to prevent or slow the progression of cataracts in animals. Surgical removal of the cataracts can be successfully performed by a veterinary ophthalmologist in aging animals and their sight restored, providing they are suitable candidates for anesthesia.

2/27/00 Question from Ed and Virginia in Colorado

We have no children and our pets are very important to us. We want them to have the best life possible, and strive to make sure they are well cared for. We genuinely love them and value their companionship. They give us a great deal of love and devotion in return. In your experience, are most pet owners like us?

Dear Ed and Virginia,

Your question makes me smile. I am continually amazed and heartened by the depth of feeling and love people have for their pets. I share your outlook completely, and according to a recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association [AAHA] , so do many people. From their survey of twelve hundred US and Canadian pet owners, theyĎve compiled these interesting statistics:

84% of respondents refer to themselves as their petís mom or dad

63% celebrate their petís birthday; 43% give their pet a wrapped gift

92% obtain regular veterinary checkups and vaccinations

82% have their pets neutered or spayed

68% provide their pets with regular exercise

53% have taken time off from work to care for a sick pet

66% take their pet to the veterinarian more often than they see their own physician

The researchers also discovered that eight times as many pets preferred classical music over rhythm and blues! My pets are not that discriminating, which is fortunate, since they often must listen to me sing at home and in the car. They never complain, and I am truly grateful for their presence in my life.


Question from Sandra B. in Ohio

My beloved dog Cassie is my greatest and most loyal companion. I want to ensure that she is cared for in the event of my death. Is there a way to include her in my will?

Dear Sandra,

Iím very glad you asked this question. Unfortunately pets are often forgotten during the will-writing process.  I have found a pamphlet prepared by the Association of the Bar of the city of New York which provides detailed information on planning for short-term pet care, with sample provisions which attorneys may find useful in preparing wills for clients with pets. It also includes guidelines on including pets in an estate plan.

For a free copy of "Providing for Your Pets in the Event of Your Death or Hospitalization," write or call the Association of the Bar of the City of New York at the following address. I recently called them to request a copy of the pamphlet for myself. I was treated very courteously, and actually spoke with a real person and not a recording.

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York
42 West 44th Street
New York, N.Y. 10036-6690
[212] 382-6695


2/10/00 Question from Roy in New Jersey

I have always given my dog the once-a-month heartworm preventative pill. Should I be giving it to my cat also?

Dear Roy,

Your question is a very timely one. Until recently, veterinarians believed that most cats were immune to heartworm infection. However, recent studies have shown the incidence among cats to be higher than previously believed. Cats are more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs, and can sometimes recover from the infection without being treated.

But many infected cats develop chronic problems as a result of an untreated infection, such as coughing, respiratory distress, vomiting, and weight loss. Some cats have no obvious symptoms. Others, unfortunately, have died suddenly and unexpectedly as a result of infection.

As you may know, heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, so outdoor cats are at a higher risk than indoor cats. Eliminating heartworms in cats is very risky, and can even cause death, so treatment is usually aimed at relief of symptoms. Prevention is the best course of action, especially for cats who live in high risk areas where the mosquito population is high. As with, dogs, a once-a-month prescription pill is available for cats through veterinarians.

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