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Dr. Michael Fox, Published June 28 2013

Pet care: Comfort before death

Dear Dr. Fox: Thank you so much for your answer to the reader who asked how animals feel about being euthanized. I read it the day before my 17-year-old cat Oliver died, and your vision of animals in an afterlife helped me through the next days.

I adopted Oliver from the Humane Society as an 8-month-old kitten as my husband was dealing with alcoholism. Oliver and my three other cats slept with me, keeping me warm and comforted through a very long winter.

Oliver stoically accepted my new husband and his two brother cats with only a few disagreements. Oliver was the king of the household, and even in such a lively environment, the house seems strangely empty without him.

I knew he was dying when I read your column. The next day, he hid in the basement and I couldn’t find him, though he called out a few times. When my husband and sons came home, they did a more careful search and found him. We brought him upstairs, put him on a soft blanket on a warm radiator. We all had a chance to pet him and talk to him before he died 15 minutes later. When my husband petted him, Oliver’s back legs pumped a little and we told the boys he was already in another world chasing mice.

Thank you for letting me write about my cat. The day after he died, I talked to my pastor, who had recently lost his beloved dog, and we agreed that God certainly brings our animals into that “life after life” that you mentioned in your column. – D.W., St. Louis

Dear D.W.: Thanks for sharing your story about your beloved Oliver. Animals often go off to hide when they are close to dying. That is why it is important to keep an eye on dogs and cats who are terminally ill and might slip outdoors, since I have received a few letters from people whose aged animals have “disappeared,” leaving the family to wonder about their fate and to have no real closure. It is a comfort to pets, I believe, to spend their last breath surrounded by their loved ones.

Dear Dr. Fox: I need some advice for my nearly 5-year-old cat. He is constantly scratching himself. He seems to be especially sensitive from about his mid-back to the base of his tail. He does not have fleas.

He is a somewhat large cat, so it is difficult for him to reach his lower back area. When he tries to do this, he loses his balance and tumbles over. He is also very insistent on someone petting him in this area. He will purr, mew, turn his head all around, and then he will start trying to bite at something on his leg. I’ve noticed that he’s now managed to scratch a bald patch on his back.

We took him to the vet a couple of weeks ago, and he was diagnosed with dry skin. The vet had an oil product that could be placed on his food. My cat will not eat anything that is put into his food. How would you get a cat to consume something like this? The vet also recommended trying a humidifier.

He was given a steroid shot, which seemed to help for about a week. The vet did not think this problem was food-related. He eats Pro Plan Indoor Care Salmon and Rice. He is free fed and has five-eighths of a cup a day and never eats the entire bowl. I am not sure why he is so large.

Please advise. – J.I., St Louis

Dear J.L.: One of my cats had the same problem, and after considering hyperesthesia syndrome (hyperthyroidism and food allergy/intolerance), he greatly improved after I removed salmon from his diet. For other cats it could be corn, beef, dairy products, eggs or even rice – you have to do some detective work.

Check the archives of my column on my website, DrFoxVet.com for more insights. Let me know the outcome.

Dear Dr. Fox: Our dog, Ellie, is an 11-year-old English setter rescue who we have had for about three years. About six months ago, she began to have fecal incontinence.

We have a doggy door and she goes in and out many times a day, but she seems to have no awareness that she is defecating. We took her to the vet and she was diagnosed as having arthritis of the spine.

Our vet said there isn’t much that can be done for the incontinence, but said we could try giving her Proin (used for urinary incontinence) to see if it would help at all. This seemed to offer no relief, so we discontinued it. We have been giving her Pepto Bismol to make the stools firmer and easier to pick up, but that seems to not work any more. Do you have any other suggestions? Other than this problem, she is an active, happy girl. She survived a double mastectomy two years ago. – J.C., Florissant, Mo.

Dear J.C.: Old dogs do have this condition quite frequently, and it takes some patience and forbearance to be on the alert to get the dog outdoors in anticipation of the next evacuation.

Keeping the stools firm for easier indoor pick-up is best accomplished with 1 teaspoon of soaked psyllium husks (not the seeds) per 40 pounds of body weight every day, mixed in with the dog’s regular food. Regular massage along the back and around the abdomen may also be helpful.

There are disposable doggy diapers that may make life easier for you and be quite comfortable for your old dog to wear.

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.