Q I have a rag doll cat who is 8. It has always been an indoor cat. The cat is active and friendly. The issue is weight loss. It's not much, but every time the cat is taken to the vet, the cat has lost a few ounces in weight. The cat's diet has always been a high-grade dry food.
I have tried many different foods to try to get the cat to eat more to gain weight, so far with no success. Any suggestions?
— Howard, Ronkonkoma
A Gradual weight loss can signal many things, from hormone imbalances, allergies and dental problems to illnesses and cancer. If your veterinarian has assured you that the weight loss is not health-related, then it could be the result of stress or aging. Cats can lose weight as seniors, and this can occur gradually over time.
If you think your cat is stressed, plug in feline pheromones around the home or place a pheromone collar around your cat's neck to reduce anxiety.
If it's related to aging, you can increase your cat's calorie count. It's about quality though, not quantity. Don't feed senior pet foods yet, as they are lower in calories. Switch to a high-quality, high-calorie wet food. Wet foods tend to be higher in calories than dry food. Look for foods higher in fat and protein, around 20 percent fat and at least 30 percent protein.
You can add cat food toppers to dry and wet food to encourage eating and add extra calories. Feeding your cat some cooked meat, such as boiled, unsalted chicken, can add extra protein and calories too.
My suggestion though, is that you don't try to do this on your own. Because it sounds as though you take your cat for regular checkups, you can ask your veterinarian to determine your cat's caloric needs to maintain or put on weight and recommend a comprehensive meal plan. Most people don't know veterinarians do this, but they do, and it's very helpful to have a nutrition plan specific to your cat's needs.
Q My dog, Sally Jane, has become overly protective of me since I was in the hospital for a week. She is a very sweet, obedient dog. She is a rescue who we fostered first, then adopted. She was abused and locked in a garage for three years. She doesn't trust people and she doesn't like new situations, such as going to the pet store. She doesn't play with toys or other dogs.
My main concern is that whenever anyone comes toward me or is around me, she attacks them, especially in the house. She has never bitten anyone, thankfully. With frequent visitors, I tried your advice about having them throw treats to her and then eventually she would take the treat out of their hand and it worked. What advice can you give me about the overprotective part of her?
— Judy, Hilliard, Ohio
A Overprotective dogs are often fearful and need some confidence building. The fact that visitors have won her heart tells me she can learn to trust people again.
Because dogs can't do two things at once, training her to "sit" or "down" will give her alternative things to do when she misbehaves. Use a clicker to train her. The click communicates she did something right and will receive a treat as a reward. When she associates the clicker with a treat, you will be well on your way to having a dog who listens to you.
Next, keep Sally Jane on a leash when visitors come over. If she exhibits overprotective behaviors, give her a calm, but stern "no" (never yell), then ask her to "sit," then "down," and click and treat. If she doesn't listen, face her, stand between you and your guest, and tighten the lead so she can't peek around your body to eyeball your guest. This will help her focus on you. Ask your guests to sit down and not approach you during this training period.
Once she is under control, make meeting people fun. If you know someone is coming over, feed her a little less food that day, so your guest can toss her treats. The treats can be the actual kibble you withheld that day, so you are not overfeeding her.
As her confidence grows and she learns meeting people results in treats, her protective behaviors should diminish. But this could take time, so be consistent and patient with her.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.