Question: Our 5-year-old rescued cat nurses on one particular fleece blanket. She puts her mouth on it, sucks and purrs, then kneads. Was she weaned too early? Is this a problem? — J.L. Quinton, Va.
Answer: "My cat, Cannoli, kneads while sitting in my lap and drools," says New York City-based certified cat behavior consultant Beth Adelman. "Add sucking on fabric, and it's the behavior you describe, which is a juvenile behavior as an adult. It could mean the cat was weaned too early, but probably not. Many cats are comforted by sucking on a soft or wool fabric, and they may simultaneously drool and/or knead."
Some people don't like to have wet blankets lying around, but there's really no harm here as long as the cat doesn't seem to be compulsive about needing to suck, or isn't ingesting pieces of the blanket (which could cause gastrointestinal upset, or even a blockage requiring surgery).
Adelman says, "It's a cat's version of comfort food — like eating mac 'n cheese like Mom used to make; it just feels good."
Q: Quincy, our Multi-Poo (Maltese/miniature poodle) has the worst breath. His teeth are clean, which makes me suspect possibly something in his stomach is causing this stink. We've tried "green chewies" advertised for fresh breath, but they don't work. Any suggestions? — T.D., Largo, Fla.
A: While it's possible that the smell might be coming for your dog's "insides," veterinary dentist Dr. Jan Bellows, of Weston, Fla., says odds are we're talking about periodontal disease. "Sixty percent of the tooth is below the gum line, so your veterinarian can't actually see what's going on," says Bellows. "Odds are, plaque there requires removal. Also, dental X-rays — just like we get — are probably a good idea."
If Bellows is right and the problems are hiding below the gum line, there's no product that can replace a veterinary dental. However, there are products which help prevent problems from getting that bad in the first place, and can help deal with tartar on teeth. Many products are marketed as "dental" products, but only a pawful are certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council; their website lists products proven to work at http://www.vohc.org.
Pet's with stinky breath likely have a dental problem (or as you point out, a physical problem, such as kidney disease). "Dog breath" is actually a symptom.
Q: Recently, you wrote about canine cognitive dysfunction, and used an example called D.I.S.H. I can't find the column. Can you go over all that again? — M.J., Richmond, Va.
A: It turns out that dogs age very much like people. Instead of Alzheimer's disease, some aging dogs suffer canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. The signs are a combination of the following (actually referred to as D.I.S.H.A.; the 'A' was recently added):
1. Disorientation: Confused, a dog may stop on the stairs forgetting whether he/she was going up or down, or seem to no longer recognize familiar family members.
2. Interactions with people are decreased: A previously outgoing dog becomes withdrawn.
3. Sleep pattern changes: You have an insomniac dog, or maybe all your dog wants to do is to sleep.
4. House training errors: Your dog is having accidents without a physical explanation.
5. Activity level: While all older dogs become less active, some dogs become entirely disengaged.
If your dog has two or more of these symptoms, see your veterinarian. Very often there's a physiological explanation for the behavior change, at least, in part. For example, a dog who doesn't pay attention or seems to forget his/her name may not be hearing well.
Like so many things, it's helpful to catch problems early. Dogs (and cats) with cognitive dysfunction may be helped with a variety of drugs, nutritional supplements, neutraceuticals, even a change of diet.
There's also good science to demonstrate that a lifetime of exercise and learning can potentially delay or prevent the onset of cognitive dysfunction in dogs and cats.
Q: I live in a small apartment and I want a Siberian husky. My cousin, who shows huskies, thinks I'm crazy. I do jog every day, and I realize these dogs need tons of exercise. Should I even attempt this? — S.H., Boston
A: I don't see the issue here. Let's take husky No. 1: This dog lives in a mansion but gets stuck in the huge backyard all day, without socialization or the chance to do anything except find a way to jump the fence
Now, for Husky No. 2: This dog's savvy owner lives in a studio apartment but runs daily with his dog (which huskies need), and socializes the pet with other people and other dogs (which huskies relish).
If I'm a husky, I'm much happier in that apartment than big backyard.