My Pet World: Antisocial cat could be tough to place in new home

TORONTO — More than 3,500 veterinary professionals attended the combined conferences of the American Animal Hospital Assn. and the Ontario Veterinary Medical Assn. from March 24 to 27 at the Metro Toronto Convention Center.

AAHA certifies veterinary hospitals that attain standards for excellence in veterinary care. The AAHA logo appears at accredited hospitals, indicating those facilities and their personnel have withstood assessment by AAHA reviewers. AAHA also provides general pet care information, and offers medical care guidelines on various topics (including vaccines and Life Stage Guidelines for Cats), available at http://www.healthypet.org.

I sniffed out experts at the event to answer some of your questions.

Question: My friend took in an antisocial cat, giving this declawed and formerly abused animal a good home. Now, my friend has cancer and not much time to live. He can't find a home for this cat. I don't believe the cat could survive outdoors. Any advice? —T.G., Cyberspace

Answer: "I am so sorry for this situation," begins Dr. Michael Moyer, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia, and AAHA president.

"No question, if you know this cat, it would be in the pet's best interest if there's some way you could keep it," he adds. "However, I suspect you wouldn't be writing this letter if that were possible. Perhaps there's a friend who could take the cat. With all the sociable cats available for adoption — except for maybe a shelter that specializes in special needs cats — it will be challenging to find a shelter to accept this cat. It's certainly not in the cat's best interest to be just let outside."

Moyer continues: "Perhaps, if you think about it and do some research, you can find some support in your community, such as a pet food bank, so you could keep this cat to honor your friend. That would be the best thing."

Q: We rescued a 5-year-old golden retriever. The vet we saw for this dog has different recommendations from those of the vet we've seen for eight years for our Scottish Terrier. The new vet advises against using a heartworm product, but does want us to come in every six months for a bordetella (kennel cough) booster shot. I don't know why, since we don't board our dogs. We love our animals and want to do what's best for them. What do you do when veterinarians offer different opinions? Tell me what shots are required and I'll certainly comply. — M.J.D., Las Vegas

A: Dr. Link Welborn, of Tampa, Fla., chairman of the AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines Task Force, explains that some vaccines are indicated as core vaccines (strongly suggested or required), while others are non-core (depending on a dog's potential exposure to various diseases based on geographic location and lifestyle).

Welborn says new canine vaccine guidelines will be available later this year. While he can't yet announce which vaccines will be labeled core or non-core, Welborn says the bordetella vaccine (kennel cough) will be a non-core vaccine.

"The veterinarian and family should assess what the risk will be for an individual dog," says Welborn. "So, if a dog goes to dog shows, is kenneled (in a boarding facility), regularly goes to groomers or dog day care, the dog is a very good candidate for a bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine.

"Of course, there are conflicts of opinion in any profession," adds Welborn. "Stick with the veterinarian you trust most and have the most confidence in. There's nothing wrong with checking the Internet on your own for legitimate guidelines or websites with credible information."

By the way, the American Heartworm Society suggests year-round heartworm protection for all dogs. While heartworm disease (spread by mosquitoes) isn't nearly as prevalent in the Las Vegas area as in Florida, for example, it does occur.

Q: My son and girlfriend bought two male Maltese/poodle puppies four years ago. The problem is, the dogs fight with each other, even drawing blood. They've also bitten my son and his girlfriend. The dogs are very spoiled. One is more aggressive, and neither is fixed. Both dogs can be affectionate, but they're scary around new people, most other dogs, and cats. At this stage, is it too late to help? — K.M., Cyberspace

A: "The good news is, it's never too late to deal with most behavior problems," says Palm Beach, Fla.-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lisa Radosta. "A good place to start is to neuter the dogs. With some types of aggression, neutering can have a significant role to lessen aggression; the kicker is that it may not solve the problem."

For all types of aggression, you need hands-on help. Contact a veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org), or a veterinarian interested in behavior (http://www.avsabonline.org). Meanwhile, your job is to keep the dogs safe from one another, and people safe from the dogs. Aside from maintaining the peace and preventing injury, the idea is to stop the aggressive behavior.

"If you can determine triggers (which spark aggression in the dogs), avoid them," says Radosta. "For example, if the dogs fight over food, feed them separately. If a dog growls when sitting on the sofa as another person approaches, don't allow the dogs on the sofa.

"It can never hurt to add some structure to the home. And begin a learn-to-earn program," Radosta advises. "Have your dogs sit before they receive anything they may want, such as food, petting, play or treats."

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