My Pet World: A cat with a case of the Bieber Fever

Question: Whenever certain people are on TV, our cat Lilly runs to the TV and begins to scratch at the set. This happens with certain music comes on.

Recently, when Justin Bieber appeared on TV, the cat went crazy. Lilly doesn't have her claws anymore, so there's no damage to the TV, but what is this scratching all about? — S.U., Pasadena

Answer: Cats often express their excitement with a good scratch. Even cats without claws go through the same motions. I can't explain why certain music is more exciting to your cat, who apparently enjoys Bieber!

Q: I'm concerned that the vaccine to protect cats against rhinotracheitis and the calici virus actually causes the (viral infections) and helps destroy a cat's immune system. I know two cats whose deaths directly resulted from the feline leukemia vaccine. Can you please tell people not to use these vaccines? — A.A., Cyberspace

A: I'm afraid I can't help because you're wrong. Feline herpes virus (rhinotracheitis) is the most common cause of upper respiratory disease in cats. Calici virus often causes inflammation in the mouth, oral ulcers and/or limping, and can be very serious. Both infections occur most often in kittens, cats in stressed or overcrowded environments like animal shelters and those in multicat households.

Once infected, there may be chronic flare-ups throughout a cat's life.

Feline veterinarian Dr. Susan Little, of Ottawa, Canada, says, "The vaccine for the feline herpes virus and for the calici virus were never intended to prevent infection. Vaccination does in some cases prevent symptoms, or at least lessens their severity, so cats don't die."

As for your claim about the feline leukemia vaccine, it's simply not true, says Little, a past president of the Winn Feline Foundation. Most veterinarians do agree that not all cats should be vaccinated for feline leukemia. This has nothing to do with the vaccines but instead is about the lifestyle of individual cats.

For example, indoor only cats are unlikely to be exposed to the disease, and may not require the vaccine.

"For some reason, this myth (about the danger of the feline leukemia vaccine) has persisted for decades," Little says.

Certainly, here and there cats do have reactions to vaccines; the most feared of all may be vaccine-associated feline sarcoma at the vaccination site. Some researchers have suggested this aggressive cancer may be associated with some feline leukemia vaccines (those with an adjuvant), but it's not proven, and in any case it's very rare. If you're concerned, ask about the nonadjuvanted vaccine for feline leukemia.

The American Assn. of Feline Practitioners Vaccine Guidelines are free to read at

Q: I take my dog to visit a hospice once a week. I wish I could describe what a difference this has made for the patients. For our border collie, Lucy, the emotional outlet and work has been wonderful. Border collies like to work, and I believe Lucy was born for this job.

For the clients, oh my! There are smiles and tears — over and over again. Petting a dog might be the last thing some of them do on earth. Some patients without families take to the dogs even more; they find an understanding soul.

I was sure I'd be sad working in a hospice, but I haven't felt that way at all. Instead, I have a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. I'm writing in hopes you can convey better than I how programs like this make a difference. How can I learn more? — S.C., Marietta, Ga.

A: For 10 years, my wife and I were privileged to take our Lucy to visit patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as a certified animal-assisted therapy dog. To this day, dozens of people don't remember our names or Lucy's, but they do recall the little black-and-white dog with the blue eyes who changed their lives. Therapy dogs are sometimes able to wiggle their way into hearts and minds where medical science cannot.

Science has repeatedly documented what such dogs can do. I was talking with my friend David Frei, who participates in animal-assisted therapy with his dog through a program he founded called Angel on a Leash.

No one knows how these dogs are able to achieve the miracles they do. Frei and I agree that while they are patients in hospitals, rehab facilities and hospices, people are living like our dogs live — in the moment. This creates a special connection. And, of course, dogs don't care how patients look or their diagnoses; they love everyone unconditionally.

Actor John O'Hurley has written books about dogs. He says, "When a dog wags his tail, it's connected to his heart." He may be right.

I recommend Frei's latest book, "Angel on a Leash: Therapy Dogs and the Lives They Touch" (BowTie Publishing, Irvine, CA, 2011; $16.95).

After our beloved Lucy passed away in 2011, we set up a fund in her honor with the American Humane Assn. to support the Hero Dog Awards for animal-assisted therapy:

STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to

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