DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for your column — we all enjoy it and have found many helpful suggestions from it! A recent column was about introducing potentially hostile cats and dogs into a shared household. I would like to add another suggestion:
We went through this procedure when our son's girlfriend was forced to give up her lovely husky, Crash. Rather than see him go into a shelter, we took him in. At the time, we had a fairly bossy, mature female cat, Liza, who made it a habit to chase neighbor dogs out of our yard. We eased the getting-acquainted process by establishing a dog-free zone in our upstairs; we fed Liza in the upstairs landing and didn't allow Crash to ever go upstairs. Liza had the run of the two bedrooms and could come down and visit the rest of the house whenever she liked, but didn't have to look over her shoulder when eating or sleeping. In time, the two animals shared couch space and became, if not best friends, at least cordial.
Same house, several years later, different cat and dog: The upstairs is now off-limits to Jeanie. Mellow can eat in peace and then join us in the main part of the house. They behave like siblings, sometimes vying for attention, sometimes sleeping together.
It seems to me that this would work even in smaller spaces: Supply a gated-off room for the cat, or perhaps a kitchen counter — any space where the cat's food is undisturbed by dogs. — J.S., Washington, D.C.
DEAR J.S.: Your advice will be helpful for many people having or wanting to keep cats and dogs under the same roof. Cats also like to get away from each other at times, and enjoy having their own cubbyholes and hide-away lairs. With a little forethought, it is surprising how we can enrich our animal companions' living spaces and create these kinds of zones and out-of-bounds areas, as you have discovered.
DEAR DR. FOX: In your answer to the owner of the 8- or 9-year-old cocker spaniel with ear issues, there are a couple of important, yet simple, things for this person to do:
First, either have a groomer or her vet remove the excess hair from inside the ear canal — with tweezers or by hand — so the canal itself is open and visible, which makes it much easier to keep it clean and dry.
Second, have the groomer use clippers to remove the excess hair from the underside as well as the outside of the ear flap. Cockers have far more fur on their ears than is necessary, and clipping that off will do away with the heaviness of the flap and allow airflow, which will also help keep them dry. Just make sure that a professional does this, since trying to cut the fur away from the ears with scissors can result in cutting the skin of the ear flap.
As a certified vet tech and former groomer myself, I've seen cockers with the issues this person spoke of, and the above two steps can go a long way with helping to clear up those issues. — D.R., Martinsburg, Mo.
DEAR D.R.: Your concern is duly noted. Many letters that I receive must be abbreviated to fit the column and allow for more questions and answers. In the case of this dog, veterinary care had already been started, but the ear problem was persisting.
Plucking out the fur inside the external ear canals of dogs having this issue — such as cocker spaniels and poodles — to stop moistness and infection is one of the basics of canine preventive health care.
Dog caregivers should know about this and about other preventive routines, such as dental care, the first time they take their dog or puppy to the veterinarian for a full health checkup.
Cat harness concerns
I want to alert all cat caregivers that their pets may be at grave risk when, as I often advocate, they are trained to enjoy slow strolls outdoors wearing a harness attached to a leash.
Begin the training indoors, with an additional leash and snug-fitting neck collar so they become accustomed to the tensions around their bodies. This is because, unlike dogs, cats may suddenly spook outdoors and get out of their harnesses in seconds and run off in terror. Many people have lost their cats — some temporarily, some forever — after such tragic events. This recently happened to my wife, Deanna Krantz, and me with our beloved cat, Mr. Mark Twain, whom she rescued from the Minnesota winter a few years ago. We socialized this traumatized, feral soul to the point that we could kiss his tummy.
After he squirmed out of his harness and ran away, it took us 12 nights and days of constant vigil before we could get him close enough for me to get ahold of him and bring him indoors after he had a panic attack outdoors.
Cats like Twain, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, are especially prone to panic attacks, and he will never again wear a harness and collar.
Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.