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By Dr. Michael Fox, Published May 11 2012

Pet Care: Purr-less feline common

Dear Dr. Fox: Two years ago, I adopted a beautiful male snowshoe cat from the animal shelter. He is very sweet, natural and content to be with me. But in all this time, I have never heard or felt him purr. I’ve had cats my entire life, and I have never known one not to be able to purr.

Do you have any explanation for this? He’s 4 years old. – P.G., Virginia Beach, Va.

Dear P.G.: There is no scientific answer to your question, only educated guesses about genetics and individual differences. Many readers will attest to the fact that their cats never purr or meow. Some silent cats become vocal after a vocal cat in the home passes on.

Fear is a significant inhibitor of purring. The word “copycat” is appropriate – cats learn from one another, so being separated from other cats at a young age might account for some cats’ vocal sounds not being triggered.

Try brushing your cat, and learn some massage therapy to help induce deep relaxation, which I’ve detailed in my book, “The Healing Touch for Cats.” Hearing harp music or Gregorian chants can make cats relax and might get yours into a purring mood.

While cats may purr to relax and convey friendly intentions, one scientific theory holds that the vocal vibrations may influence bone density and help prevent osteoporosis. My view is that since purring may involve circular breathing to create an almost-continuous sound – a trick some musicians employ, as I do when playing a didgeridoo – the cats may be inducing a meditative or altered state of consciousness.

Dear Dr. Fox: We adopted a wonderful 2-year-old shelter dog last summer, but he has one bad habit we need your advice on: He eats his stool. We’ve been told it’s not uncommon, won’t harm him and he’ll probably outgrow it.

But the problem is worse because we have three other dogs, and he wants theirs too. Our vet gave us For-Bid to add to all the dogs’ food, but it didn’t work. We tried Stool-No! tablets, pepper on the piles and scolding and shaking coins in a can when we catch him in the act. We have to go into the yard with him and follow him around now.

Out in the cold last night, walking around with our flashlight, we started wondering what Dr. Fox would do. Since it’s not harmful, should we just relax, let him out unsupervised and try to not think about what is happening?

We walk our dogs every morning until they go, and we pick that up, but the rest of the time requires watching him closely. We used to be able to let our dogs in and out whenever they wanted.

Also, he poops about four times a day, which seems high. Is there a food or diet you recommend that might help with that? – B.B., St. Louis

Dear B.B.: I receive many letters from dog owners who, like you, have a stool-eating (coprophagic) dog. Go to my website, www.twobitdog.com/DrFox, and check the archives for various answers and solutions to treating this problem.

This obnoxious activity has psychological and physical causes. The former is linked with dogs being caged or crated for long periods of time and, out of boredom or desire to keep their “den” clean, they engage in coprophagy. The habit can persist even after dogs are provided normal living spaces and outdoor activity – which may be why he cleans up the other dogs’ poop. Try using a muzzle when he’s out in the yard with your other dogs; it may break his habit after a few weeks.

Possible physical reasons include dietary or digestive issues. Many dogs show improvement when given brewer’s yeast (1 teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight) in their food, plus 1 tablespoon of probiotic-rich yogurt or kefir. Many dog foods are high in cereals and fiber, which can mean large-volume feces and frequent evacuations, so you may want to transition all your dogs to canned food or low-fiber dry food – or you can try my home-prepared recipe.

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 Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.