Time To Stop Competitive Dog-Sled Races – The Animal Doctor

The Animal Doctor by by Dr. Michael W. Fox

DEAR DR. FOX: Our family recently lost our 16-year-old cat, Blinky. This is hard enough on its own, but made harder because one of our other cats, Ford, saw Blinky as a surrogate parent.

When Ford was just a kitten, he was “adopted” by my old tabby, Shakespeare. Ford worshipped Shakes — following him throughout the house, curling up with him and often lying right on top of him! Shakes would clean Ford, gently play with him and watch over him when he played with the other cats.

After Shakes’ passing 14 years ago, Ford grieved — for almost a decade. Ford began to over-groom, mowing through his fur with his teeth, to the point where he was nearly bald on his tummy and legs and showed numerous sore spots. A dermatologist was able to do little to modify this behavior with medication.

About a year after Shakes died, Blinky came into our home. Blinky bore a striking resemblance to Shakes. For Ford, it was almost as though his “daddy” (though now female) had returned. But Blinky was aloof, having come with a few years of her own trauma to overcome.

Ford would try over and over to get close to Blinky. After nearly 10 years, she accepted his attention, would cuddle with him and gracefully let him clean her. Ford stopped over-grooming frequently for the first time in years.

Fast-forward to now: Blinky passed two days ago. It happened at the veterinary clinic and there was no opportunity for Ford to see her body, so we can only imagine that he believes she’s just missing.

We’re afraid for Ford, who is now 14. He has his sister and another adopted sister, but Blinky, in many ways his rock, is gone. How can we best support him in his grieving to come? We are worried that he may sink back into his old self-destructive habits. — E.L., Takoma Park, Maryland

DEAR E.L.: I presume your veterinarian has tried giving Ford gabapentin, which is a miracle drug for many cats. If the first attempted dose was ineffective, it is worth a try at a higher dose. Alternatively, some cats can shake out of their grief by rolling in catnip every evening, but not all are responsive to this herb.

I would be sure to keep Ford on a wet/canned cat food because a dry kibble could cause issues with his fur being swallowed and accumulating in his stomach when he over-grooms. Adding a few drops of olive oil to his meals may help with this issue.

If he does start to engage in “trichotillomania,” I would give him 1 mg of melatonin in the early evening and 50 mg of L-theanine at bedtime and around midday. Crush the pills in his food, beginning with just a grain or two. Try these natural biologics for three to four weeks and continue as needed.

If none of these medications help, discontinue them and ask your veterinarian about using a psychotropic drug. My first choice for cats is fluoxetine, but it is very hard to get cats to take it because it is so bitter. (That’s why many veterinarians default to gabapentin.)

Alprazolam is also something to consider. It works much faster than fluoxetine, but we often see some ataxia (loss of balance) at first, which can be distressing. I would start with half of a 0.25 mg tablet and make sure there are no adverse effects. Alprazolam can be dosed much higher, if need be.

You might try wrapping Ford tightly in an infant’s T-shirt, securing with Velcro or tape. I would call this a “grief wrap,” like the “thunder wraps” that help some dogs that are afraid of storms and fireworks. This will also make it more difficult for Ford to engage in excessive grooming.


I deeply regretted hearing the news that Frans de Waal, world-renowned primate ethologist and evolutionary biologist, had died at the age of 75. He did much to overturn the view that attributing humanlike emotions to nonhuman animals is unscientific anthropomorphizing. Rather, he emphasized the many traits we have in common with other primates.

One statement in his obituary, posted at Animals24-7.org, especially stood out to me: “Civilization is not some outside force: It is us,” de Waal said. “… Social life is very much part of our primate background, as are cooperation, bonding and empathy. This is because group living is our main survival strategy.”

Yes, indeed — we are not the only species capable of cooperation, bonding and empathy. But we have yet to evolve the ability to respect those outside our immediate group, and this exclusion of others can lead to hatred, racism, slavery and war.

I send my condolences to de Waal’s family and all who knew him.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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 DrFoxOneHealth.com.)

Time To Stop Competitive Dog-Sled Races – The Animal Doctor

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