Helping a Chihuahua overcome a fear of the water bowl

Chihuahuas Traviata (from left), Gioconda, Iago and Aida,

Chihuahuas Traviata (from left), Gioconda, Iago and Aida, run along Boston's Charles River with owner Domenico Mastrototaro. (Aug. 1, 2011) (Credit: AP)

Marc Morrone

Newsday columnist Marc Morrone Marc Morrone

Marc Morrone was born in 1960 in the Bronx and,

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Q: Our 8-year-old Chihuahua has developed a severe fear of his water bowl. (He might have had his head pushed down into his bowl by an overeager niece.) Anyway, he now is so fearful that when he needs to drink water, we have to gently hold his tiny glass bowl up to him, and then he very cautiously approaches it and takes sips. He is almost shaking he is so afraid of his water. We have tried to leave a small container near his food and also under the coffee table, but he prefers to drink from the tiny bowl that sits on top of the coffee table, so he begs for us to get his bowl. He waits to be given his water, and even then is very fearful.

We have been very patient, but this is a problem, especially when we travel and he goes to the kennel. We're told he will not drink water there. We've requested that he be "hand-fed" his water, but we're not sure the kennel staff does this. We love him very much and hate to see him so afraid. What can you suggest? --Theresa Schwab, Sayre, Penn.

A: The best thing to do here is to get one of those glass water bottles with a 5/8-inch tip that pet stores sell for puppies and large birds. It comes with a stainless-steel mounting bracket. Secure the bracket to the wall in your kitchen with a couple of screws so the bottle is hanging on your wall with the drinking tip as high as the dog's muzzle. Spread a bit of peanut butter on the tip and walk away and let the dog investigate it on his own. As soon as he starts to lick it, he will realize there is water in it and, most likely, he will cheerfully drink this way from now on.

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If you really want to get him over his fear of a water dish, nearly fill a bowl with marbles and just barely cover the marbles with water. Some dogs like yours will lick the water off the marbles. Gradually, you add more water and take away marbles. However, this is time-consuming. The water bottle is easier and you can bring it along with you when you board the dog.

Q:  I am feeding a colony of feral cats that have all been spayed and neutered. They really do not bother my neighbors, and I live in a built-up area where there is no wildlife for them to hurt. I feed them every day, but they do not allow me to touch them. I wonder if there is anything I can put in their food to act as an oral flea control since they will not allow me to put anything on their skin. --Robin Lee, Long Beach

A:  There are a few new products available from your vet that will work well for fleas on cats when given orally. (They will not kill ticks.) The issue here is how to give the pills to the cats and ensure the proper dose. The pills will work if you crush them into the cats' food, so the best thing would be to mixed the crushed medicine in with a bit of tasty deli chicken. Then, offer a dose to each cat you are caring for as the opportunity to feed it separately becomes available.

Q: My husband and I have eight cats -- six females and two males. All are rescued strays, and all live indoors. Our issue is with the two male cats, who are both about 4 years old. Faust was a kitten when we found him (four years ago) and Black Thorn was about 2 years old when we found him (two years ago). We suspect they may actually be littermates, as they look alike and were found in the same area.

From the very beginning, Black Thorn tried to establish dominance over the other cats. However, he would focus mostly on Faust, by stalking, staring at, attacking him, etc. Faust would respond by "spraying" in the house, which obviously was not acceptable.

For the past two years we have tried many things to help them get along (i.e. friendly pheromone diffusers, calming collars, calming ointment, calming medication), but have not been successful. Ironically, at times they can be in proximity and not seem to have an issue -- especially if there is food or catnip involved. We recently had our living room and kitchen floors done, and they were both hiding side by side under the bed for hours. However, at least once a day Black Thorn seems to go out of his way to instigate a fight, and things will go downhill from there.

We are at our wits' end at this point. Re-homing either of them is not an option, as they are part of the family. Do you have any suggestions as to how we can remedy this situation? Is it possible for two male cats with this history to ever coexist, if not actually be friends? --Lisa DeFeis, Stony Brook

A: You have tried many things here, except for one, which has worked for me many times: Prepare a bedroom in the house for a cat to live in isolation from the other cats, scratching post, bed, litter box etc.

Then, each day you will keep either Thorn or Faust in it. For instance, on Monday, Thorn is in it and then on Tuesday Thorn is loose in the house and Faust is in it until Wednesday. The fact they are sharing each other's bed, litter box and food dishes without any confrontation gets them so used to each other that when you finally do allow them to interact, they should basically just move on. The key here is that this takes a long time. You have to keep them this way for at least three months for it to work. But cats live a long time and three months spent in this manner to grant you many years of peace is worth it.