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Dr. Michael Fox, Published May 02 2014

Pet care: Mysterious deaths tough on owners

Dear Dr. Fox: Four days ago, I returned home to find one of my cats dead. His third birthday would have been two days later. He was never sick, and he seemed fine when I left for work that morning. My cleaning lady happened to be there that day; she left at 1 and said he seemed fine other than vomiting up a hairball.

The night before, my beagle attacked the cat when he walked by the dog’s treats. I couldn’t find any bite marks or signs that she hurt him, and he sat with me for the better part of the rest of the evening purring and letting me pet him. He was very affectionate, so that was normal. He ate his treats before bed and even ate a good breakfast the day of his death.

I have three other cats, one of whom is his sister, and they gave no sign anything was wrong.

I have been completely devastated by this. The suddenness and not knowing, especially because he was so young, are making me inconsolable. I had him cremated and will be scattering his ashes. My vet said necropsies aren’t done at any facilities in the area and would be prohibitively expensive for me.

I really need help or guidance in coping with this. I’ve had to euthanize two older cats in the past due to illness, but this feels worse given the circumstances. I could use a pet bereavement group but haven’t been able to find one. Please give me some advice. I’m in terrible pain. Thank you for your attention. – E.D., Flint Mich.

Dear E.B.: My condolences. This must have been a terrible shock.

First, don’t punish the dog. It could have been a threat-snap and growl as a get-away warning to the cat with no actual physical contact. Only an autopsy would reveal if there was a bite injury, and most surely your cat would have shown some signs of pain.

My educated guess is that your poor cat had a vascular reaction to the beagle’s attack, which triggered the flight response and sudden change in the diameter of blood vessels after release of the fear hormone, adrenaline. This in turn could have affected blood flow and coagulation, leading to a blood clot or embolism forming.

In some cats, this can lead to paralysis of one or both hind legs when the blood clot moves and blocks a major blood vessel in the lower half of the body, or to a heart attack when the clot or clots occlude the coronary blood vessels of the heart.

Giving your cat half of a baby aspirin may have helped prevent this, but if there was internal bleeding, such medication could have made things worse. Either way, you did not and could not have known this was happening. It is not your fault.

In the future, stay by your dog when she is eating and having treats because of her food-protective aggressive potential.

Dear Dr. Fox: My Lhasa Apso is 9 years old. She has been scratching so much that she bleeds. The problem is all over her body – there’s no specific place. She scratches her ears, belly, sides, etc.

My vet thought she might be allergic to chicken, so I changed her food to Pinnacle Grain-Free Salmon and Potato, yet she is still itching. I am giving her medicine almost every day for a bacterial yeast skin infection, and she has special shampoo to help with this issue – Selsun Blue does not give her enough relief. She is still scratching everywhere.

I have been to five vets, and they do not know what she is allergic to or what is causing this issue. Any advice? – C.B., Fort Myers, Fla.

Dear C.B.: You have certainly had the run-around with this poor dog. What you have learned is a fact, not of veterinary incompetence, but of the difficulty in diagnosing and curing your dog’s dermatological disease.

I am sure that treatment with long-acting prednisone and with a non-drowsy antihistamine has been tried. If not, I would be in shock. There are skin tests for specific allergies and a number of possible treatments that I have mentioned repeatedly and are archived on my website, http://drfoxvet.com.

You may even try experimenting with a hydrosol of essential oils, which have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, such as lavender and tea tree, applying over affected areas twice daily for seven to 10 days, not allowing the dog to lick treated areas, of course. Natural herbal skin treatments such as PetzLife Scratch Eaze anti-itch gel may be worth a try.

Reporting illnesses related to pet food

The Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to veterinarians requesting that they report cat and dog illnesses related to pet foods and treats at http://safetyreporting.hhs.gov. This is after the FDA received reports that 3,600 dogs and 10 cats became ill after eating jerky-type treats. Approximately 580 animals died as a result.

While various authorities post concerns about the potential risks of bacterial contamination of raw pet foods, a major report from government researchers highlights the risks of dry dog food. Some 53 people in 21 states and two provinces in Canada became ill; 32 percent were hospitalized in 2012 as a result of feeding salmonella-contaminated dry dog food to their canine companions, all from one pet food manufacturing company in Gaston, S.C.

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.