Q: My sweet cat has a dirty little secret; he uses the litter box, but not to poop in. He urinates in the box but doesn't cover it. He's an inside cat and actually has two litter boxes, located in different places. In an interesting twist, he does his business within two feet of one box, though not in it. So is the problem that he doesn't know where his rear end is? — D.C., Cyberspace
A: While your cat knows where his rear is, and where both litter boxes are, it's the twist about going so near one box but not hitting the target that's most revealing. Cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett says, "Generally, when a cat goes so close to the box, it's something about the box that he doesn't like. Is there enough litter in the box? Maybe even too much litter? You say the box is clean, but would your cat agree? Do you scoop at least once daily? Perhaps the box itself is over a year old and hasn't been changed. My first guess is that the box being missed is a covered litter box (as a possible solution, simply place another box near it which is not covered, and see if your cat uses that), or that the cat just doesn't care for the litter (in either box) to do No. 2 in."
If you're scrupulously scooping and the box being missed is uncovered, try another kind of litter. Place the new litter (or even better, offer two other choices) in a box near the one the cat is now missing.
Oh, one more thing, perhaps you have too large a cat for too small a box. While many cats are obese, many litter boxes marketed as "large" are actually too small. Most cats tolerate the inconvenience, but some don't. If you have a larger cat, try using a plastic storage container for him to defecate in — the kind you'd store sweaters in. Also, ask your veterinarian about arthritis if your cat is older.
Q: We adopted Misty, a Pomeranian-mix, because a neighbor was going to take her to the pound. He mentioned that Misty was afraid of big trucks. He didn't mention that she was afraid of all loud noises, inside and outdoors. If I drop something in the house, Misty runs and hides. If she hears a loud noise outside, she won't go potty outside and relieves herself in our bathroom instead. I'm so frustrated I'm nearly in tears. Our vet suggested a doggie psychiatrist. Any advice? — E.S., Seminole, Fla.
A: I imagine by "doggie psychiatrist," your veterinarian means a veterinary behaviorist. And I agree, that's a good idea.
Offering general advice is veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi. "What likely happened is that the dog was afraid of one or two noises, but began to generalize to any loud noise," he comments. "And anticipating the noise, the poor dog's world has become more and more narrow, and more and more scary."
Ciribassi says that for a dog this bad off, it's impossible to change the emotional response without help. An anti-anxiety medication will allow Misty's system to relax so she not literally in panic mode at all time. Once the medication is working, you can go about dealing with life as Misty knows it — gradually. Outside, begin by controlling the time of day you take Misty for walks, or the location (away form loud noises). Indoors, you can drop things on purpose many rooms away and behind closed doors, gradually moving the noise closer to Misty, offering treats or games as distractions.
It's definitely a good idea to consult a veterinary behaviorist for help with all this. Find one at http://www.dacvb.org.
Q: I hear over and over from dog owners that fecal testing is not necessary because their veterinarian has told them flea and tick products kill all parasites. If this is true, why does my veterinarian want to do fecal testing? As you often suggest, I visited the Companion Animal Parasite Council's website; they recommend year-round preventatives and also at least an annual fecal test. What is the truth? — J.J., Cyberspace
A: Since the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) creates guidelines used by veterinarians, for the "truth," I contacted CAPC executive director Dr. Michael Paul (who was on his roof cleaning up after Hurricane Earl). "Generally, flea and tick products don't cover internal parasites," he says. "Heartworm preventatives do cover internal parasites. However, they all should be used. For example, aside from other problems caused by fleas, they do spread tapeworms. While ticks can cause may diseases, they don't spread internal parasites."
Paul continues, "All of the heartworm and flea products recommended by veterinarians are very good, likely 95 percent or more effective. And they're recommended by a veterinarian who will know which internal parasites are an issue where you live and also take into consideration the lifestyle of your dog. Still, 95% isn't 100%, and since some internal parasites can be spread to people, you do need to know (if they are there). The best way to do that is with a fecal exam. Also, there are some more unlikely parasites which none of the heartworm products cover. Our recommendation is at least an annual fecal exam so any parasites can be discovered, and even more often if your veterinarian is seeing a problem which exists with certain lifestyles in certain parts of the country."
Check the CAPC website at http://www.petsandparasites.org.
Q: Chica, my 18-year-old Chihuahua, is going deaf. Do they make hearing aids for dogs? My neighbor says yes. — B.D., San Diego, Calif.
A: I'm afraid that neighbor is pulling your tail. Even better than a hearing aid are physical cues for what you want — taught to young dogs who can hear just fine — starting with teaching your dog to pay attention to you.
Who knows, maybe 10 years from now hearing aids will be available for dogs and cats. Questions have also been raised about the feasibility of cochlear prostheses or cochlear implants in dogs. These devices are implanted in deaf humans, with a bundle of stimulating electrodes inserted surgically into one of the coils of the cochlea.
Deaf Dalmatians were used in the development of these devices but no one is presently implanting them in real life. The devices cost $20,000 to $25,000 before the cost of the surgery itself, and considerable post-implant training is required. In reality, such devices are a good idea but not too practical for deaf dogs or cats.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute."