Dr. Michael Fox, Animal Doctor


DEAR DR. FOX: About 2 1/2 years ago, I lost my beloved cat; he was 18 years old.


The house seemed so empty and quiet, so I thought I would go out and adopt two cats (littermates). I found a foster-cat agency, looked on their website and it was love at first sight: There were two cats, a black-and-white tabby and an orange-and-white tabby, brother and sister, 6 months old.


We had a home visit from the agency, and after we were approved, we went to the foster mom's house. I brought a carrier with me, and told her that I was interested in both cats.


When the time came to put them in the carrier, the foster mom got a blanket, cornered them and wrapped them in it, then transported them into the carrier. At first, I thought nothing about this behavior. But I realized when I brought them home that we could not touch them.


I thought maybe it was fear of the new surroundings, but this has gone on for over a year. I worked with the two cats diligently, and now I can pet them briefly, but as soon as they see my hand come near their faces, they run. I think they were abused and no one said anything to me.


I would never give these two up for any reason. My question is: What can I do to pick these cats up and hold them — in other words, get them to trust me? Is there anything I can do to correct this problem, or is it something that I have to accept?


My fear is that I will have to take them to the vet for a checkup and I won't be able to get them in the carrier. I don't want to do what the foster mom did with the blanket, in case that would make them afraid of going to the vet.


Another thing that I fear is that I won't be able to pick up the cats in case we have to evacuate the house for any reason. Recently, every smoke alarm in the house went off due to a malfunction. I called the fire department and they told us to get out of the house ASAP, so I had to leave the cats in the house, which bothered me tremendously. Thank God it turned out OK.


This has been bothering me since Day 1. Why was I never told that these cats would not let us pick them up and hold them? Is there anything I can do? — L.S., Manchester, New Jersey


DEAR L.S.: My guess is that the kittens were never properly socialized to people.


You cannot force yourself on a cat. The cat must come to you. Our latest rescued cat, who has been with us for a year now, does not like to be picked up. Many cats are like that. Most like to be stroked, and I can now stroke her briefly, either when she is eating or occasionally when she is in bed — that would be my chance to pick her up and put her in a crate in an emergency.


Try just touching your cats when you put their food down. This may help desensitize them with the conditioned reward of food, or some yummy favorite treat. Our cat enjoys chasing a bunch of feathers tied to a 4-foot cane, with which I can gently pat her. I put this wand under a sheet of newspaper and move it around underneath and she goes wild, leaping and "killing" it. Your cats may enjoy chasing a laser light, too.


Cat play in the evening has a bonding function. Also, try them on catnip. Some cats get quite "high" and become very contact-seeking!


Kids with dogs might have lower risk of schizophrenia


Children younger than 13 who have a dog in the home might be less likely than their peers who don't have a dog to develop schizophrenia, particularly if exposure to a dog occurs before age 3, researchers reported in PLOS One.


The researchers say more studies are needed to verify the finding, but the phenomenon could be explained by immune system changes that occur with childhood exposure to pets, although the effect was not observed with bipolar disorder risk. (Dec. 19)


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.