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Dr. Michael Fox, Published March 28 2014

Pet care: Indoor cats need stimulation

Dear Dr. Fox: While I agree with all the serious issues regarding the problem of outdoor cats decimating the bird and small-mammal populations, and the dangers of being outside, I wish to play devil’s advocate for a moment.

I am concerned about the physical and psychological effects on cats enclosed inside 24/7. Cats are very physical beings that delight in all types of sensation. Indoor cats never feel the sunshine, wind, rain and other aspects of nature. They never feel the earth and its energy under their feet, nor the joy of walking freely outside.

Also, some people live in dwellings that cannot provide any kind of outdoor fencing structure to accommodate cats’ needs.

I would appreciate your opinions. –T.T.

DEAR T.T.: I appreciate your sentiment and concern, though you’re somewhat anthropomorphizing cats, since we tend to base our feelings on what we enjoy and need. The accuracy of such empathic projection is determined by the science of ethology: the study of animal behavior, choices and preferences.

In my book “Supercat: How to Raise the Perfect Feline Companion,” I spell out how to make the home environment cat-safe, cat-friendly and cat-stimulating. First of all, have two cats instead of one. Be sure to provide scratching posts and sunning areas – including window-ledge shelf inserts, an enclosed deck or porch or a window box extension – and engage in interactive games. Our two formerly feral cats have all of these, and they have never cried or tried to get outdoors.

I agree with you: Too many indoor cats suffer a solitary, boring and dispiriting existence, which, with a little effort, can be easily improved.

Dear Dr. Fox: Do you remember Minna, the bossy female German shepherd you met at Battery Kemble Park in Washington, D.C., 13 to 15 years ago?

After Minna’s departure, we adopted Markus from the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue. He is a very gentle, friendly, beautiful German shepherd. He has a few issues, though, including what we might call obsessive-compulsive disorder – he licks anything around him.

Sometimes, his obsessive licking turns into a crisis. It is as if his throat is blocked; the motion of his tongue goes faster, and he seems to have trouble swallowing. There are usually a few pots of lemon balm outside, and he finds relief devouring them. Otherwise, if he is not watched, he goes for the rug at the front entrance. To prevent this, we offered him a chunk of bread with four drops of Bach Rescue Remedy (a stress reliever for pets), pet him and try to calm him down. At the end, it has worked.

Our holistic vet thinks this situation is related to gastric problems. This, however, has improved since Markus started taking Gastriplex at the vet’s recommendation.

Markus started licking his behind in spring 2012, and we spotted a bit of dark reddish mucus stuff in his stools on and off. We took him to his regular vet and his anal glands were checked and drained. His infection was treated with antibiotics. This situation has been going on for some time, including a visit to a surgeon for a second opinion on his anal glands. The glands were normal during the visit.

We read your column every week and have found it very educational and helpful. We also have fond memories of you, your wife and your dogs at Battery Kemble Park. We would appreciate your opinion, comments and advice regarding Markus. – M. and D.S., Washington, D.C.

Dear M. and D.S.: Yes, I have fond memories of the park and how we all ran to put our dogs back on their leashes when the police came to ticket us – what a stupid ritual! So much for the freedoms of democracy. Does D.C. have a free dog park yet?

Dog liberation and radical civil disobedience aside, I believe that your veterinarian is correct; it’s an OCD issue associated with internal discomfort.

You may remember our dog Tanza, which we rescued from Tanzania, running with the friendly pack at the park: She also developed OCD when she had a tummy upset. Markus probably has a food allergy or intolerance to one or more ingredients in his diet, which can trigger anal gland inflammation and colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. German shepherds are especially prone. Check my website, DrFoxVet.com, for my many responses to dogs with these symptoms.

Try my home-prepared diet or put him on a whitefish and potato diet to see how he responds.

A grain-free diet and supplements such as glucosamine, glutamine, probiotics, aloe vera juice, montmorillonite clay or kaolin and pectin may also prove beneficial. Let me know how he progresses.

Keep up on pet food issues

The website TruthaboutPetFood.com provides pet food consumers with the “truth” about the food we feed our pets. This unbiased and 100 percent consumer-supported website provides free education for those who want to understand what they are feeding their pets.

Susan Thixton, the website’s author, is a pet food consumer advocate providing pet owners a voice with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Food and Drug Administration. The website offers two products – Petsumer Report ($17.95 for a one-year subscription) and the List (from $10 for the list of trusted foods) – to support Thixton’s advocacy work.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. 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 at DrFoxVet.com.