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Dear Dr. Walt: I have a 5-year-old, spayed house cat who is very friendly, but for some reason has become very aggressive and hostile towards my mother-in-law. While some may speculate that I may have trainedmy cat to attack my in-laws, I'm at a loss. The cat has interacted sparingly with her and never been aggressive until about a month ago when she bit her. Recently, the cat again snarled and growled repeatedly at her, chased her, and tried to bite her. The cat is docile with my mother-in-law when I am near and I have attempted to let her sniff and smell her to get used to her, yet the cat still becomes very aggressive. I brought my first baby home 2 days ago and the cat was noticeably unnerved with the baby (wagging tail and afraid to get close). My mother-in-law has been in tears, shaking with fear, and I am afraid to introduce my beloved cat to the baby for fear of danger to the child. Do you have any suggestions?
You appear to have been placed in the role of trying to negotiate peace between various 'warring' factions in your household. While it is not uncommon in cats, it can be a formidable problem to overcome. Cats, like dogs, will develop territorial comforts and, if these become challenged (whether real or perceived), they may respond with aggression. This same scenario can also occur when another cat is introduced into the household, so your mother-in-law should not take this personally!
The environmental change of a new addition (your newborn) may have created anxiety for your cat, anxiety that she is now redirecting towards your mother-in-law. The reality is that there is no quick fix to this problem and it generally requires environmental and behavioral modification, as well as time to address. In some refractory situations, the use of medications (anti-anxiety products commonly used in people) are necessary as adjunctive therapy. First and foremost, let me begin by recommending the involvement of a veterinary behaviorist. These are veterinarians who have undertaken additional training to gather expertise specific to behavioral problems in companion animals. While aggression is the ultimate symptom in your case, there are many different precipitating causes (e.g., territoriality, redirected, etc.), many of which need differing approaches to correct that, if not done properly, can perpetuate rather than correct the behavior being expressed.
First, does your mother-in-law have a cat of her own? As cats are very smell oriented, even the odour of another cat can elicit a response. Consider ensuring that your mother-in-law eliminate this odour prior to coming, if possible. Also, having clothes specific to your household (and rubbed on your cat so as to gain her odour) may help diffuse a smell/olfactory precipitating factor.
Second, ensure that both sources of anxiety (i.e., your newborn and mother-in-law) do not confront the cat in unison. Babies generally don't precipitate aggression untilthey become mobile, so you have time on your hands; however, do not leave your cat with the baby unattended. Therefore, there may be times when it is best to confine your cat to a room separate from the family activities. Third, try to use your calming influence to positively influence your cat's behaviour. Withhold her food for about 12 hours prior to your mother-in-law coming. Once the initial commotion of her arrival has died down, have your mother-in-law (in your presence) try feeding the cat either a treat or her meal. Hopefully this will equate her presence with a pleasurable experience your cat will come to look forward to.
Dear Dr. Walt: We have a 4-month-old, male Jack Russell terrier who suffers from car sickness. As soon as the car starts moving he begins to salivate, lick his lips, and inevitably throws up within a matter of a few minutes. All my other dogs have always loved their car rides and we find this current problem quite frustrating, not to mention "messy"! My vet suggested that we simply persevere, starting with small trips around the block, but this has not helped. Is it possible to use something like Gravol to help this condition?
This can be a very upsetting problem, especially for dog owners who travel frequently with their pet. Take comfort in the fact that what your veterinarian has saidis correct: most young dogs that experience this do outgrow it. However, there are some steps you can take to help alleviate the problem sooner.
Some dogs are more prone to car sickness when they have a full stomach, others on an empty stomach – experiment as to which seems to work best for your dog. Try to acclimatize your dog to the car first, meaning brief bouts in the car with it stationary followed by the short trips you have been trying. Sometimes confinement to a crate within the car helps as it focuses your dog's attention on a stationary versus moving object. Finally, car sickness medications used in people (such as Gravol) can be effective when used in dogs. Discuss this with your veterinarian before administering to ensure there are no reasons to prevent using the medication and to get an accurate dose. Happy travelling!
This month's pet myth exposed:
" We fed our dogs table scraps and they did well. As such, I don't see the need for commercially available dog food."
It amazes me that people can take a single case example and apply it to the population as a whole. This statement is no different than saying "I knew someone that was a 2-pack a day smoker who lived to be 90 years old, therefore smoking is not bad for you." First off, one wouldn't consider a meal consisting only of scraps adequate for us and the same applies to our dogs. Second, many veterinarians are attributing the longer lives dogs now enjoy to the advancements made in nutrition that have been applied to commercially available dog foods. Third, dogs have specific nutritional requirements that would require us to cook from a recipe to even attempt to meet; this is consistently done with premium quality pet foods. The use of table scraps provides a haphazard feeding regime that is far from nutritionally complete. And lastly, some dog owners have taken this one step further and are feeding raw food only diets, suggesting that this better mirrors the dog's evolutionary dietary habits. This fails to address points 1-3 above and also increases the risk we all face when eating under-cooked food - namely bacterial infections such as salmonellosis. There are case reports of the latter happening in pets fed raw food diets and this can be transferred to people. All in all, it makes one wonder why any pet owner wouldn't take advantage of the quality and convenience of a one of the many excellent, premium-quality diets now available.
About Dr. Walt Ingwersen
Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.
Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. -- Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.