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Pets: ‘Creative cats’ top question list

After 20 years of writing this column and answering, on average, four reader questions weekly, that’s 4,160 answers! My fingers should be “dog-tired,” but instead I’m invigorated because each month (sometimes each week), I receive letters and emails saying my answers motivated someone a visit to a veterinarian, or even saved a pet’s life.

By far, the questions I’ve received most often over the years have been about “creative cats” who think outside their litter boxes.

As a certified animal behavior consultant, I am qualified to answer many pet behavior questions. Still, I often seek input from colleagues and veterinary behaviorists for additional perspective. Regarding medical questions, I always seek out veterinary expertise, and many of the most renowned veterinary specialists have commented here.

For most of this column’s history, Dr. Sheldon Rubin read all my answers to ensure accuracy. Now, Dr. Natalie Marks does the same, all for the benefit of pet owners. And for all 20 years, I’ve worked with the same editor from Tribune Content Agency, Stacy Deibler. Although I’ve received a wide range of unusual queries, I never could have predicted these questions:

Q: My dog sees ghosts. At about 3 a.m., usually once a week, she stares at a wall – where the ghost must reveal itself – and emits a low deep growl and barks. What should I do?

– B.D., San Diego

A: Who you gonna call? Apparently me! I suggest that your dog is not seeing ghosts, or anything else. Instead, she’s hearing something outside or even in your walls. Could you have termites instead of ghosts? Could your dog be waking up from bad dreams? You didn’t mention your dog’s age, but what you describe could be symptomatic of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (canine Alzheimer’s). See your vet.


Q: Whenever certain people are on television, our cat, Lilly, runs to the screen and begins to scratch. This always happens when she hears Justin Bieber. She goes crazy!

Lilly’s claws have long been removed, so there’s no damage to the TV. Why does she respond this way?

– S.U., Pasadena, Calif.

A: Cats often express their excitement with a good scratch. Even cats without claws will go through some scratching motions. I can tell you that much. I can’t explain why your cat has “Bieber fever.” Apparently, Lilly is a fan.


Q: My hedgehog seems to enjoy sleeping with me, but I’m worried that I may crush her.

Any advice?

– C.H., Las Vegas

A: Despite your hedgehog’s apparent bond with you, I think you’re right to be concerned. Rolling over the wrong way might mean the demise of your prickly friend.


Q: We were sitting at dinner, and Marmalade began to meow. Then my husband meowed back a few times.

Marmalade went crazy, I’d never seen her like this, and she actually attacked and bit my husband, then ran off screaming. Could he have said something in ‘cat language’ to offend her?

– S.C., Marietta, Ga.

A: It’s not likely your husband’s “meow” offended Marmalade. However, I do wonder whether your cat (especially if she’s older) twisted the wrong way, it hurt, and your husband was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another possibility could be a seizure or other neurological concern.

If such behavior recurs, see your veterinarian.

Steve Dale welcomes questions and comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is; he hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.”