My Pet World: Cat needs immediate help

Q: About three weeks ago, stray dogs attacked our cat. We took our cat to the animal ER. They indicated his kidneys were failing. He also had broken ribs, a badly cut tongue and his lungs were filled with blood. He's been home for a week and half, and he's barely eating or drinking. The doctor said it's possible that if he begins to eat and drink normally, his kidneys could come back. But the way it looks now, he may starve to death. What do you think?

— M.M., via e-mail

A: I implore you: Get your cat to your veterinarian today! Cats can become very ill even under the best of circumstances when they are not eating or drinking. "It sounds as if a feeding tube might be sensible — it's not heroic, just the right thing to do," says Dr. Jane Brunt, a feline veterinarian in Baltimore and executive director of the CATalyst Council. She adds, "Your cat probably also requires pain medication. There's no indication whether kidney issues were present before the dogs attacked, but that condition may indicate a special diet."

Q: I enjoy your column, but can't believe your responses concerning indoor-outdoor cats. I've had several cats who go outdoors whenever they want. The oldest lived in good health until he was 16. Two others lived until 14 years old. Cats deserve to be outdoors to get fresh air.

— H.S., via e-mail

A: Cats are domestic animals, and they deserve responsible owners. I am glad your cats lived to ripe old ages, but they may have been treated for abscesses from attacks from other cats, or who knows what over the years. You never know what can happen if our pets are unsupervised, or what the repercussions may be. (See the question above this one.)

Of course, cars are the most dangerous predator of all. In the cold, indoor-oudoor cats will seek warmth by slinking under car hoods. Cats can be mangled or die when the engine starts. Other cats may lap up many sweet-tasting and toxic antifreezes.

The list of hazards is a long one. And outdoor cats are hazards, as well, particularly to songbirds, innocent neighbors' gardens and homes with indoor cats who may begin to spray at the site and smell of your wandering outdoor cats.

I do agree about fresh air being a good idea. A trend in large cities is a fully enclosed patio known as "catio." Cat fencing is available for yards to keep cats in and protect them from predators. You can also take cats for a walk on harness and leash or in a cat stroller.

Q: My old male cat began to pull his hair out. The only thing different is my friend decided to take him outside for 15 minutes a day. What would cause him to pull his hair out?

— D. M., via e-mail

A: It's interesting that your cat apparently never had this happen until he began to go outdoors. Fleas are the first thought of veterinary dermatologist Dr. Cecilia Friberg of Chicago. "Even if you don't see the fleas, cats are so good at grooming them off it doesn't mean your cat hasn't been bitten — and worse, the fleas may be living indoors now. Many cats are allergic to an antigen in the saliva when the flea bites. Some cats don't need very many bites to react."

If fleas are an issue, your veterinarian can recommend effective flea protection.

If those little buggers aren't biting your cat, the next most likely culprit is the same one that makes me and millions of other people sneeze: inhalant allergies. Friberg says that living indoors, your cat perhaps suffered low-grade allergies and itched some — but you assumed your cat was merely grooming. Being outside regularly could have made the itchiness worse, leading to hair-pulling.

Your veterinarian can suggest an oatmeal lotion product, which helps some cats. Another idea is an antihistamine, but don't just randomly pick one up over-the-counter. See your veterinarian; the dosage has to be right and you never want to use on a cat an antihistamine that includes a decongestant or aspirin.

If the problem persists, you may consider asking for a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. Friberg adds, "Rather than giving a cat a pill (the antihistamine), long-term we're often better off with allergy shots, which the cat prefers and might also be more effective."

Q: My dog takes me for walks, and my arm is getting longer. Any ideas?

— R. J., Tacoma, Wash.

A: There are lots of ways to teach dogs not to drag you down the street. Whatever method you choose, don't worry about punishing the dog for pulling. That method doesn't teach the dog what you do want.

Dog-behavior consultant Cheryl Smith of Port Angeles, Wash., says that a flex-type leash actually encourages dogs to pull; her top choices include body harnesses and head halters.

Smith is a fan of clicker training. First, teach your dog what the clicker means by offering kibble or treats whenever you click in the house. Your pup will soon pay very close attention when he hears the click.

Smith, the author of "Quick Clicks," says that once you have the click down — whenever your dog pulls on the leash — stand still. When the leash goes slack, click. Your dog will pay attention to you, and return to you for a treat, which you just happen to have with you. By rewarding no tension on the leash, you will eventually teach your dog to walk on a loose leash.

Steve Dale welcomes questions andcomments 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 PETWORLD@STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state.

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