These reader questions were answered by experts attending the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla., in January.
Q: We’re about to travel a long distance in the car with my 18-year-old cat. She has always been miserable on car rides. I’ve increased the bedding in her carrier. The veterinarian suggested (an anti-anxiety drug) called Alprazolam, but it hasn’t helped. When traveling, the cat cries nonstop, which makes me want to cry. Any advice?
– I.G., Appleton, Wis.
A: Given your cat’s age, the best answer is simply to avoid traveling with her. Instead, have a neighbor, relative, friend or sitter look in on her.
If you must take her along, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Ont., suggests making sure your cat is comfortable in her carrier.
“At that age, there may be arthritis, so consider a carrier which is large and comfortable. The bedding is a good idea, which you can spray with Feliway (a copy of a pheromone that may help to ease anxiety),” says Landsberg.
Lansberg, co-author of “Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat-Third Edition” with Dr. Wayne Hunthausen and Dr. Lowell Ackerman (Saunders/Elsevier, New York, 2013, $94.99), adds that you can ask your veterinarian about using Anxitane or Zylkine, (both nutraceuticals), which may lower anxiety and are unlikely to have adverse effects on a geriatric pet. Another option is to increase the dosage – though the risk of a reaction is zero if your cat is sitting at home.
Desensitization and counterconditioning (getting your cat slowly adjusted to riding in the car) can work out, but the behavior-modification process can take weeks to months to complete. For instructions, see a veterinary behaviorist or a certified cat behavior consultant.
Q: Buster, our 12-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback/shepherd mix, was just diagnosed with lung cancer. At this point, he’s doing well and is quite active. Buster is very close to our cat, and got along very well with an older dog we adopted, who died in August. I was planning to adopt another dog, but now I wonder if the time is right. I’m torn between the benefits of a new canine companion for Buster versus stressing him. Any ideas?
– D.H., Cyberspace
A: I’m sorry for your recent loss, and for Buster’s diagnosis.
Your question is excellent. “The fact that Buster has previously benefited by having a dog friend in the past is significant,” says Dr. Jeff Werber, of Los Angeles. “It seems as if you like adopting older dogs, which takes a special heart. One advantage is that Buster wouldn’t be driven crazy by an energetic puppy. And you clearly know how to introduce dogs. Of course, make sure the dog is cat-friendly.” Remember, though, that Buster is a part of the family, and my hope is that he can participate in the decision by meeting any dog you’re thinking of adopting.
Q: We have a multicat home. Right now, our 10-year-old male poops in the litter box but pees on the floor or in the bathtub. Tips?
– D.M.H., Long Island
A: First, rule out medical issues by visiting your veterinarian, says feline vet Dr. Ilona Rodan, of Madison, Wis. “It’s certainly possible you simply don’t have enough litter boxes for the number of cats,” Rodan says. “The general rule is one more litter box than the number of cats. If you have two cats, three boxes are best, for example.”
Are all of your cats getting along? Some people think their cats are best buddies when they’re merely tolerating one another or not getting along at all. Cats who adore one another will sleep in a pile and groom each other.
If the litter boxes you’re using are too small for the cat, a bathtub provides plenty of elbow room. It could be the boxes aren’t kept clean enough.
Perhaps this cat has grown to prefer the smooth substrate of the bathtub or floor. Or perhaps due to feline lower-tract disease, it hurts to use the box, so the tub became the next-best option.