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Cat might have joint disease

DEAR DR. FOX: Our healthy 12-year-old domestic shorthair cat started limping about four months ago. The problem seemed to be one of her hind legs. I took her to her vet, who could not elicit any joint pain or tenderness, and for whom Molly wouldn't walk out of fear — she crouches and shakes during vet visits — so he never saw her walking or limping. He asked me to get a video of her limping on my smartphone and bring it in to him to view. I agreed.

Molly's limp went away a day or two after the visit, and I was unable to capture her limp on film before its disappearance. I was surprised when Molly's vet said that cats rarely, if ever, get arthritis. It seemed to me that her limp was more pronounced after she had been sitting, and the hind leg appeared to feel a little better after she moved around.

The limp has returned, and I have captured it on film and will take it to the vet's office. What could possibly be the cause of on-again, off-again leg and hip tenderness if not arthritis? Molly is an indoor cat. — B.L., Chesterfield, Mo.

DEAR B.L.: Cats are notoriously difficult to examine in the veterinary clinic setting when they are tense and afraid. Pain symptoms are masked and palpation is difficult to perform when muscles and limbs are tensed.

Any veterinarian who says that degenerative joint disease and arthritis is rare in cats needs to have a refresher course in feline medicine and nutrition.

Check out my book "The Healing Touch For Cats" to learn the benefits of massage therapy for this common condition in older cats. I advise beneficial supplements, especially good-quality fish oils or omega-3s from algae if the cat does not like the fish oil source of these essential fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and help with arthritis and other conditions.

DEAR DR. FOX: My friend Dara rescued an elderly, medium-sized female dog, Josephine, from life on a short chain in the backyard. It took years for the "owners" to agree to surrender the dog, and only because the dog had become ill and would have died during the recent cold spells.

Josephine is still shy and reluctant in her new home, which she shares with Dara, her husband and two boy dogs. Josephine has taken ownership of the doggy door and will growl at the boys when they want to go outside. To my knowledge, she has not nipped anyone, but her growl is intimidating enough to stress out the boys.

What do you suggest? Josephine is still shell-shocked from her 10 years on a chain. Dara wants her to feel loved and accepted, but she cannot tolerate Josephine being the gatekeeper to the potty. — H.S., St. Louis

DEAR H.S.: Dogs with post-traumatic stress disorder need great sensitivity applied to any behavioral correction or modification. It is good that she is beginning to assert herself with the two resident boy dogs — up to a point. But if they are showing signs of anxiety, then some behavioral redirection is called for.

If she is not freaked out by the sound of a training clicker I would train her to come for a treat every time she hears it. Alternatively, you can use a squeaky toy; squeak it and the reward is for her to chase it.

This conditioning will have to be done with the other dogs in another room. Food reward rather than a squeaky toy reward may set up some rivalry between the dogs, so the choice of behavioral modification will have to be determined through trial and selection.

Alternatively, train the new dog to sit and stay on command, while on a leash. Give her a reward when she obeys. With her on the leash, close to the dog door, give the sit and stay commands when the boys want to go out. If she snarls at them, repeat the sit and stay commands. Coupling the verbal command with a raised then slowly lowered hand facilitate the learning process.

If these measures fail, I would set up a low, 4- to 5-foot-long railing on the doorframe so the dogs wanting to go out have some protection from her. I hope these ideas help.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com 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.