Advice from the Experts

Yelling at your cat won't solve her litter box issues

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ORLANDO, FLA. -- These questions were answered by experts attending the North American Veterinary Conference here Jan. 18-22.

Q: My 4-year-old Siamese cat is an absolute doll, except that she's started defecating in my bathtub or shower, rather than in her perfectly clean litter box. I pick her up and say, "No! No!" She turns around and looks at me like I'm crazy, but looks guilty. Then she dashes off. She obviously gets the message, but repeats the same behavior over and over. What's going on? -- A.D., Delray Beach, FL

A: "Consider that your cat may have a medical problem, likely related to bowel discomfort," says feline veterinarian Dr. Marge Scherk, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. "Does your cat vocalize while defecating? Is the stool very hard? I believe it might be that your cat is actually trying to get your attention, suggesting in the only way she can that something is wrong."

See your veterinarian, who will consider constipation, dehydration, or a gastrointestinal issue. Of course, a sudden change of diet might also be the cause.

Scherk, editor of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, adds, "Hollering 'No! No!' would never solve the problem, whether there is a medical explanation or not. I doubt your cat looks all that 'guilty,' though I do believe your cat is looking at you like you're crazy, as she has no idea why you're hollering 'No! No!' She dashes off not because she understands, but because it's unpleasant to be hollered at."

Q: My 12-1/2-year-old Bassett Hound was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney failure. He's lost a quarter of his body weight. He won't eat the special food suggested by my veterinarian. He's dehydrated and his eyesight has gotten worse, along with his coordination. Any advice? -- C.C.L., Hockinson, WA

A: "A low-protein diet is an old approach," says Dr. Ernie Ward, of Calabash, N.C. "What we know today is that these dogs require a diet rich in protein, and most of all, the dog needs to eat, even if it's a homemade diet (approved by a veterinary nutritionist or your veterinarian). Your dog may periodically require subcutaneous fluids and a supplement of electrolytes, perhaps even Pedialyte (sold at drug stores or food stores), Ward says. Also, offer various water dishes with fresh water to encourage drinking.

Ward adds that he's enjoyed success with a supplement called RenAvast, a combination of naturally-occurring amino acids and peptides that support kidney function.

Q: My friend's dog is terrified of loud noises. She shakes violently. Anything sets her off from a cap gun to noises outside. I've heard that coddling a dog like this isn't a good idea. I've heard your radio show and thought you might have suggestions. -- W.K., via cyberspace :

A: Dr. Deborah Horwitz, a St. Louis, MO-based veterinary behaviorist, says, "There are many things you can do. For starters, an Adaptil collar can immediately lower the (dog's) anxiety level some." (Adaptil is a copy of a naturally-occurring pheromone which helps dogs relax.)

Horwitz, lead editor of "Decoding Your Dog," written by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27), adds that, "Comforting the dog can help, or not; it depends on the dog. Definitely, if you can pre-empt the noise, then take her to an interior room, turn on some relaxing music, and offer a chew toy with peanut butter inside. Create a dog's version of a Zen environment."

If this dog is so terrified of storms that she can detect their approach better than the Weather Channel, she isn't merely afraid of the sound of thunder and rain; she also knows when a storm is approaching based on changes in barometric pressure, as well as simply looking up the sky. If she's truly terrified, the best bet is to ask for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist, or to visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorist website,

Q:My Coton de Tulear is constantly chewing on one of her hind legs. Why does she do this and how can I help? -- W.D., via cyberspace :

A: "It doesn't take more than a small number of fleas to cause an allergic response," says veterinary dermatologist Dr. Karen Moriello, of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Madison.

While fleas are unlikely in Maine or North Dakota right now, if you live in the South, even in winter the buggers can abound. If you can rule out fleas, your veterinarian will next consider environmental allergies. Moriello wonders if your dog has other itchy places, such as her ears or paws, that you didn't mention in your email. Food allergies are another possibility, but unlikely based on your description.

You could ask your veterinarian about a medicated antibacterial dog shampoo; it couldn't hurt and might help. Ultimately, you may need to visit a veterinary dermatologist for a diagnosis.

However, since the dog is only chewing on one leg, the problem may have nothing to do with allergies. It's also possible the leg is painful. You need to see your veterinarian, and also consider an x-ray of the dog's leg.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.