Spray of pheromone might help jumpy, traveling cats

DEAR DR. FOX: My husband and I are moving from New York to Florida. We have two large, male, indoor cats. Both were feral when we got them as kittens six years ago. One is leery of people other than my husband and me.

We plan on moving them in my husband's cargo van, with the back cleaned out and set up for their comfort with a litter pan, food bowls, etc. We are concerned about their anxiety levels (as well as our own). We plan on making this a nonstop trip, except for gas.

Could you offer any suggestions on something I could give them to help them through this ordeal? We plan to take them to the vet for a complete checkup before we leave. — R.M., Beacon, N.Y.

DEAR R.M.: Provided the cargo-van interior is safe and cat-proof, I would let the cats have several supervised opportunities to spend time in the vehicle. Having them eat, play, sleep and use the litterbox will help precondition them for the journey. Eventually, run the engine while they are inside and then take them on short drives.

Tranquilizing animals can make them more difficult to handle and many become fearful when the drugs temporarily impair their sensory and motor functions.

Spraying inside the van with the cat pheromone Feliway may be quite calming for the cats.

DEAR DR. FOX: One of your recent articles discussed a small dog with a collapsed trachea and its breathing problems. I think our experience may be of interest.

Buddy, our tiny Yorkie, had a serious coughing problem from the first day we brought him home. Sadly, even with many visits to several vets and many ineffective medications, we resigned ourselves (and him) to living with it.

More than 10 years later, I realized the coughing was at its worst when in the house and when on his pillow on our bed. Yes, we did tell the vets these details. Finally, I realized he might be allergic to our laundry soap. We changed it to Ivory Snow, and I shampooed the carpet with plain water.

Immediately, his coughing subsided to an occasional chuff. Unfortunately, by this time he had less than a year to live. A combination of things, including an enlarged heart and a collapsed trachea, took him from us. I deeply regret all the years he suffered because none of us realized that allergies were his problem. Should not at least one of the vets have considered this? — M.L., Springfield, Va.

DEAR M.L.: Many readers will appreciate your insight, and your story may help many dogs (cats and humans) who develop asthmatic symptoms following repeated exposure to laundry and other household products, especially room fresheners and scented cat litter. Synthetic fragrances and other volatile chemicals are to blame.

Buddy had other health issues, owing in part to hereditary factors; but you were at least able to improve his quality of life, even though it was close to his end.

Those in-house chemical pollutants can also cause allergic skin reactions and lead to other health problems by impairing the animal's immune system, the standard treatment with steroids causing further complications. The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org, 202-667-6982) has some excellent materials on these and other house and garden chemicals that we are best advised not to use for our own health's sake, as well as for pets' sake.

DEAR DR. FOX: Like others who have written, we have a psycho cat, named Teddy, whom we really love. We've had him since he was 4 days old. Teddy was feral, born in the wild and rescued by us, and has not been raised with other cats. He was bottle-fed until he was weaned. He is litterbox trained, beautiful, clean and black and white in appearance.

Most of the time, he is calm. But we never know when he will go into "psycho mode," which entails hissing, biting, scratching and attacking anyone around, including our dog.

After his attack, he settles down, curls up in a ball, and sleeps. Even our vet can't handle him — the cat has to be sedated first.

Teddy is a house cat, but goes out in our backyard every day. He loves the yard and is content to stay within the fencing. How can we treat or modify Teddy's cat rages? — D. & B.F., Virginia Beach, Va.

DEAR D. & B.F.: Your cat could simply be upset by an encounter with a rival cat outside or one who came by and marked Teddy's territory. Making your yard cat-proof with a cat-fence addition (various designs are available online) on the top of any existing fence may be your answer.

Try remotivating him with dangling and wriggling interactive toys to catch and "kill." See if he likes catnip (dry herb or tea) — this could have a calming effect. You do not say how old Teddy is. The older he is, the greater the chance of his having thyroid cancer, one of the signs being increased aggression and irritability.

If Teddy is very old, he could have painful arthritis or be developing dementia, even Alzheimer's disease. A full veterinary checkup may be advisable to rule out any possibly treatable physical causes for his psycho behavior.

Visit Dr. Fox's website at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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