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By Dr. Michael Fox, Published February 10 2012

Pet Care: Collie mix having ‘accidents’

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a border collie mix who is about 15 months old. She was spayed at 6 months and seems to be in good health. We feed her Halo dry food and one cup cooked food as per your recipe, along with chondroitin and glucosamine supplements.

A few weeks ago, we noticed that she started having “accidents.” (She has been housebroken for a long time.) After checking her urine, the vet decided it must be urinary incontinence due to being spayed. She is now on two phenylpropanolamine pills a day and, according to the vet, she will have to take them for the rest of her life. Also, she has always had very strong urine and has completely destroyed the grass in our backyard. So now she is also taking Nutri-Vet Grass Guard Max pills.

I feel we are overloading this poor dog with pills and would like to know if there is a better way to do this. She gets lots of exercise, is a very sweet dog and doesn’t seem to have an ounce of extra fat on her. – K.A., St. Peters, Mo.

Dear K.A.: Your dog is young and, provided with good nutrition, does not need the chondroitin and glucosamine supplements.

Being so young, she is prone to develop cystitis. If your veterinarian did not check her urine for bacterial infection and simply attributed her incontinence to being spayed, I would consult another animal doctor. It is true that because of the hormonal deficiencies caused by spaying, some dogs have poor urinary sphincter control. This is the risk-benefit trade-off with having a dog spayed.

Other notable benefits include reduced incidences of cancer and uterine infection (pyometra). But since urine tests may not reveal that the dog has mild cystitis, I would treat her for that possibility for a few days to see if she improves – then put her on the anti-incontinence medication prescribed by your veterinarian if she needs it.

Take her off the purported grass-protecting pills. Give her a teaspoon of cider vinegar or two tablespoons of unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate or tomato juice mixed in with her food daily. Also take her off the phenylpropanolamine, which often has mild to severe adverse side effects on some dogs, and see if she improves. If there is no cystitis and the incontinence persists, diethylstilbestrol (DES) is an alternative medication that is effective, is needed only periodically and is one that you should discuss with your veterinarian. This hormone replacement treatment, used for a few days, can have beneficial effects that last for months without repeated treatment.

While DES is not without risk, especially with long- term use, it is the best choice for dogs who have adverse reactions to phenylpropanolamine, as did my own two spayed dogs. With the first dose they became highly agitated, developed heart palpitations and were clearly in a state of drug-induced discomfort and distress. In some instances, dogs will vomit, develop high blood pressure, pant, become lethargic, show tremors or twitching and require hospitalization, often because of drug overdose. This can be avoided by stopping the medication as soon as adverse signs are evident.

Dear Dr. Fox: My boyfriend and I just adopted a 1½- year-old cat. She’s our princess, and we’ve tried to make her as comfortable as possible since she is alone all day in our one-bedroom apartment.

We bought her shelving to perch on, two scratching posts (one vertical, one horizontal), numerous toys, cat grass and a water fountain. She’s a loving, friendly, healthy cat. One thing, though, is unsettling: We can’t seem to redirect her scratching. We put double-sided tape on the couch and mattress, and she doesn’t scratch there now. However, she doesn’t appear to use her scratching posts, either. I know scratching is necessary for cats to mark their territory and stretch.

What can I do to teach her that she is allowed to scratch appropriate items to her heart’s desire, but not certain other things? – V.S., Washington, D.C.

Dear V.S.: Cats generally avoid using scratch posts that are not secure. A post or board that wobbles when they are reaching up and clawing can spook them. Some posts are simply too short for the cats to enjoy a full stretch before they start clawing. Providing a good, solid scratch post is the first step. Then rubbing dried catnip into the material on the post may make it more attractive to your cat. Be sure the material is not cheap, looped carpeting that snares the cat’s claws. Most cats seem to like a short-cut pile or sisal woven twine or even a sturdy log with natural bark. Our two cats enjoy the sturdy, veterinarian-designed PurrFect Post, available at www.purrfectpost.com or by calling (800) 989-2542.

Since some cats are “copycats,” get down on your knees in front of your cat and claw the post with your fingers. Then place her front paws against the post and alternately move them up and down so she gets the idea. Several repetitions of this should do the trick. Keep a squirt gun filled with water to spritz her when you catch her clawing where she shouldn’t.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website, www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.