Q After seven months missing, our indoor cat was found by a neighbor. The poor cat suffered through below-zero temperatures. We are assuming he lived in a garage or barn. Our neighbors were not aware our cat was missing. They found him eating out of one of their cat dishes in the middle of the night. They trapped the cat and brought him to us. The cat immediately ran down a hallway and hid under our bed. This is very normal for him to do. It has been three weeks. He continues to live under the bed, coming out in the middle of the night to use the litter box and to eat. The past few days we’ve dragged him out (from under the bed), and he has let us pet him for about five minutes. Then he goes crazy and runs under the bed. My question to you is, can he be saved? I miss the old friendly cat, but understand he’s been through a lot.
Marti, Coventry, Connecticut
A Your poor cat. It’s not easy for a comfortable housecat to suddenly be outside in the frigid cold. Thank goodness your neighbors found him.
Your cat has suffered a trauma and needs time to feel safe again in his home. Talk to your veterinarian about giving your cat some medication, like Prozac, to reduce fears. Don’t grab him to medicate him. Instead, crush the medication and sprinkle it on some wet cat food.
Next, put a few hidey-hole cubbies around the house to give your cat some additional places to hide. This may encourage him to come out from under the bed and try a new hiding place, eventually making his way to you.
Finally, sit in the room where your cat is hiding and talk softly to him. Toss treats onto the floor or get a ribbon toy to entice him out from under the bed. Once he is out from under the bed, don’t make any sudden movements to grab him or pick him up. He is startling very easily right now, and you don’t want to reinforce his fears.
It could take weeks or months for him to recover, but please don’t give up on him. He can recover. Your cat just needs your love and patience — and a little medication — to trust his environment again.
Q I adopted a 4-year-old Maltese mix several months ago. He has a very sparse amount of hair on his chest area and inside of his legs. The rest of his hair is fine and thin. I thought this might be due to stress and diet. He eats well and is a very happy dog. I read that sometimes melatonin can help a dog regain a fuller coat. Is this true and if so, what dosage?
RK, Boynton Beach, Florida
A Melatonin is what people take to sleep at night, but some veterinarians may suggest it for extra-label use in dogs with thinning coats.
To get more information, I called Dr. Linda Aronson of Petshrink.com in Berlin, Mass. Through the years, Aronson has collected a lot of data on dogs and melatonin and I thought she would be a good resource for its efficacy and safety. In the data she’s collected, she said only four dogs out of 1,000 had side effects and none of them were serious. (One dog was reportedly hyperactive, and the other dogs were just more tired than normal.)
Aronson says melatonin is “very safe for dogs,” but in the instances of hair loss “results are not immediate, and it can take up to six months before you know if it’s effective or not.”
While you can try melatonin, Aronson recommends ruling out more serious diseases that can cause hair loss, “like Cushing’s disease, which can be fatal, or hyperthyroidism, which is not fatal, but can make a dog feel miserable,” she says. “Some cancers can also cause alopecia.”
Your veterinarian can recommend a brand and dosage, but “1 milligram three times a day is generally what’s recommended,” says Aronson. She says she has used melatonin for years on dogs, mostly notably with show dogs and rescue dogs who suffer from sound phobias.